CAMBRIA HEIGHTS — Like many women religious, Sister Barbara Kradick OP chose education as her vocation. But while countless sisters over the years have dedicated their lives to teaching, her path hasn’t been a linear one.
It’s true that she served as a teacher at Sacred Heart School in Cambria Heights for 24 years, then spent another 20 years as a principal of St. Catherine of Siena, in St. Albans. After leaving her principal’s post, however, she followed a different path, opting to become a school secretary. She then retired from her secretarial job and decided to volunteer her time in a school.
She doesn’t consider going from principal to school secretary a step down. Not at all. In fact, she believes that when one serves the Lord, one should put the ego aside.
Sister Barbara, a member of the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Amityville, is celebrating the 60th anniversary of her vows this year.
She vividly recalls her feelings on that day in 1962 when she took her final vows. “It was exciting. It was a little scary in a way. I couldn’t believe that it was happening, that I was doing it,” she remembered. “This was a very different path than I chose from all of my friends. They all married. It was hard to explain my choice. It’s just that I saw a spiritual part within myself where you develop a relationship with God.”
She was familiar with the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Amityville from childhood. “I was educated by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville in elementary school and in high school and I admired what they did,” she explained.
Born and raised in Queens, she first encountered the religious order while attending St. Luke’s School in Whitestone and then got to know them again at St. Agnes Academic High School in College Point.
Joining the religious order was a perfect fit. “It seemed natural,” she recalled.
As for her ministry, she had a choice and took care in her decision. “When I chose the Sisters of St. Dominic, the two primary ministries at that time were education or nursing. And both ministries attracted me, but particularly education. I just thought it was a great thing to work with young people,” Sister Barbara said.
She attended St. Joseph’s College for a year before her novitiate. After her novitiate, she enrolled at St. John’s University and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree at the College of New Rochelle.
Sister Barbara started teaching at Sacred Heart in 1964. It was a different world back then, to say the least. There were 72 students in her second-grade class. “And teaching was very traditional. It was the basics. As time went by, physical education was introduced. And then quite a number of years later, computers began to be introduced,” she recalled.
The approach to education evolved, too. “We went from, I guess you would say, working with the whole class with the children sitting in straight rows, to working with children in small groups in order to meet their individual needs as much as we could,” she said.
Sister Barbara never shied away from changes. Rather, she embraced them. “It was really a case of going to workshops and updating ourselves. So it was looking and evaluating what we were doing and looking to see how we could update and meet the needs of the students and also to address the changes that were coming about,” she said.
Societal changes also seeped into the classroom. Family structures changed, for example. She saw increasing numbers of single parents taking their kids to school, “And I experienced quite a number of grandparents raising their grandchildren,” she added.
Traditions such as children going home for lunch gave way to in-school breakfasts and lunches and early drop-off programs to accommodate working parents.
In addition to teaching at Sacred Heart, she also mentored young people outside the classroom through her involvement with a teen group at Sacred Heart Church. “It was really focused on serious discussion on involvement with the Catholic Church and being a part of the parish,” she recalled.
After 24 years at Sacred Heart, her career took her to St. Catherine of Siena School. She served as principal there for 20 years.
When she eventually left the principal’s post, she realized she wasn’t finished with education. She took a job as a secretary at St. Margaret’s School in Middle Village. She served in that capacity for several years before officially retiring.
However, she still wasn’t done. “I volunteered. I worked at St. Agnes Academic High School for three years, fulfilling different roles — office work, things like that. I didn’t teach but I worked within the school, filling in wherever I was needed — sometimes proctoring a class or supervising a class,” she said.
Sister Barbara also served on the board of directors of St. Agnes. “It was just something I was so happy to do, having been a graduate,” she said. She was sad when the school closed in June 2021.
But as Sister Barbara looks back at her life in education, she feels a sense of joy. “I have to say that in the ministries that I was involved in, I was very happy,” she said.