Sister Celeste says goodbye


Claudia Lee

Sr. Celeste enjoys the sunny weather during some of her last days on the Hill.

As Flintridge Sacred Heart’s 2022-23 school year comes to a close, many things are the same as they always were. Seniors preparing to head off to college, teachers giving their last lesson plans and somewhere out there, 8th graders ready to become freshmen wait in joyful and nervous anticipation. But one thing is very different from previous years. This year, a familiar face on the Hill is leaving. 2023 will be Sr. Celeste’s last school year, and FSH is getting ready to say goodbye to the woman who has led the school for 21 years, and who exemplifies the qualities of faith, integrity and truth that are such a cornerstone for FSH as a community.

Although it may be difficult to think of Sr. without thinking of FSH, the truth is that she got her start in education many years before she ever dreamed of setting foot on the Hill. First a math and science teacher, Sr. Celeste spent years teaching elementary and junior high students on behalf of the Mission San Jose up and down California. She taught at places as varied as St. William’s in Los Altos and St. Elizabeth’s in Oakland, and later led St. James in San Francisco as principal for seven years. She was also principal of St. Frances Cabrini school in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots. After teaching and leading younger students for so long, Sr. Celeste wasn’t certain about becoming a high school principal.

“I said, ‘I don’t really want to be a high school principal. Everybody is so much taller than I am,’ and they said “Sr., everybody is taller than you now, anyway.” And I said, ‘Okay. Let me try,’” Sr. Celeste said.

She spent a year as dean of students at San Gabriel Mission High School before taking over FSH as principal. In her own words, she has “loved every minute.”

“To see a freshman come in, wide eyed, sometimes looking like a deer in headlights, and then to see that young Tolog, not young anymore, graduate, looking so beautiful on the inside and outside, it’s a privilege. A privilege to think that somehow, you have touched their life,” Sr. Celeste said.

When thinking about her goals as principal, Sr. Celeste has a clear one she stood by.

“I wanted every person that walked into this school to find their niche. Whether it is academia, whether it is athletic, whether it’s in the arts, visual and performing arts, whether it’s in speech and debate, academic decathlon, anything, that will find them a place, because if a student does not find a place and feels that they’re loved here and welcomed, they won’t succeed,” Sr. Celeste said.

Mrs. Rebecca Bostic, Sr. Celeste’s successor as principal, believes that Sr. ‘s love for the people here on the Hill is what has made her such a great leader.

“She knows the names of everyone’s kids, she knows if their pet is sick, she knows all of the students and your parents and she really takes the time to spend with people and get to know people,” Mrs. Bostic said.

Ms. Abigail Davitt ‘12, Religion teacher and Campus Minister, has only good things to say about Sr. Celeste.

“I have really fond memories of her [from my time here as a student] and I feel like not much has changed, she’s still super funny, and caring, and very compassionate and just really really cares about the students and the teachers,” Ms. Davitt said.

Sr. Celeste was the one who told Ms. Davitt about the opening for campus minister and encouraged her to apply. When Ms. Davitt got the job, Sr. Celeste gave her a present that she now has pinned to the wall next to her desk.

“On my first day of school, school year 2017-2018, she left me this note in my box…it says ‘Abby, Welcome Back. Always, Sister Celeste,’” Ms. Davitt said.

Ms. Davitt also touched on Sr. Celeste’s character, and how she has inspired and instilled confidence in her.

“She has, definitely, a power within her, and I think that’s just because of what she represents and she represents so much love and compassion, but she’s also really witty and super funny, and then she also can be stern when she needs to,” Ms. Davitt said.

Mrs. Bostic agrees.

“Sister Celeste is not just an amazing person, but she’s an amazing friend… I think that’s part of what has made working for her so special and one of the reasons she will be so missed,” Mrs. Bostic said.

Meghan Garrity ‘23 has known Sr. Celeste since she was in the 4th grade.

“Sr. Celeste has obviously been a mentor and a good example of living out Veritas and being a strong, faithful woman…she has inspired me to take on leadership roles, but also more than that she’s been family to me and someone I can always approach when I have problems,” Garrity said.

When asking about Sr. Celeste, the word that came up the most was “icon.”

“It’s not every job that you know you’re working with a living legend,” Mrs. Bostic said.

Sr. Celeste will be taking her legacy to her new job as Congregational Prioress at Dominican Mission San Jose.

“My position, my job, my responsibilities as they say, is tending the soul of the congregation,” Sr. Celeste said.

She is excited about this opportunity, and grateful to be able to serve these women she already knows and loves.

“All of our sisters I know, to varying degrees, so it’s not like I don’t know who they are or what their personalities are like. But the challenging thing for me is to be there for them,” Sr. Celeste said.

Though Sr. Celeste was surprised about her new position, not everyone was.

“She was like “So, I got elected to be prioress, ha ha” in a funny way, but it’s like yeah, obviously, of course you did. What’s not to love about her?” Ms. Davitt said.

Both Ms. Davitt and Mrs. Bostic are happy that being Congregational Prioress means that Sr. will still be involved with FSH, although it will be in a different way.

“She’s becoming the leader of the Dominicans, so she actually has a lot of influence still in our school when she departs,” Ms. Davitt said.

Mrs. Bostic is grateful that Sr. Celeste will still be someone she can reach out to. 

“I know that I’m going to stay in close contact with her…because she is still, as the Prioress of the MSJ Dominican sisters…very much involved in not the day to day of our school but the big picture leadership,” Mrs. Bostic said.

Mrs. Bostic will especially look forward to the texts she receives from Sr. Celeste.

“She’s the best emoji user that I know. She uses the sunglasses emoji guy a lot, so I get a lot of, Sister will text me “OMG!” all the time,” Mrs. Bostic said.

Ms. Davitt is certain that Sr. Celeste will do great things in her new position.

“She’s very much a team player, she listens to people’s input, she’s not a dictator, she’s very collaborative and I think that really goes a long way in a leadership situation,” Ms. Davitt said.

Though Sr.’s future is somewhat away from FSH, she knows she’ll use the same tools she has here to continue making meaningful connections with everyone she works with and for.

“Without love, and safety and security, [people] won’t grow. It’s like a plant. They need water, they need sunshine, sometimes they need fertilizer,” Sr. Celeste said.

Sr. Celeste is grateful that her new job will allow her to combine two aspects of her life.

“Even though I live here, I move away, this is not my life. I love what I do, but this is not my life. My life is a religious woman. Prayer, community. But [at the mission], it’s all one, really,”

Sr. Celeste’s support from her family is something she’ll continue to appreciate as she moves forward.

“My brothers say to me, “you’re spoiled,” I say “I am, thanks be to God, and you’re still continuing to spoil me.” But I think I’ve had a happy, lovable family and I think that is important,” Sr. Celeste said.

Sr. first met the Dominican Sisters as a student, and her admiration of them led to her desire to become one herself. After so many years as a sister, she is thankful she made the choice to join the mission and for the paths her life has traveled down.

“It’s a life I would choose again, because I’m happy,” Sr. Celeste said.