Sister Judith Marie Rollo (1940-2021): Dedicated principal of Mount St Agnes
A long-serving principal at Mount Saint Agnes Academy and one of the island’s last Sisters of Charity has died at 81 after devoting 36 years to the school.
Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Judith Marie Rollo came to Bermuda in 1968 as a nun on a mission from the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, and began teaching at the island’s only Catholic school on Dundonald Street in Hamilton.
She served as a principal from 1980 until her retirement in 2005, when she was succeeded by Jim Silcott.
Sister Judith told The Royal Gazette last December, as she prepared to leave the island for an assisted living community in Massachusetts: “I would do it all over again.
“The greatest gift to me was my vocation.”
In 2005, she was awarded the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour for her service to the island’s children.
After retirement, she continued supporting the school and serving in ministries throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese.
Sister Judith started out in Bermuda teaching religion, maths and science to junior high students.
She also ran a class teaching English to the island’s Portuguese-speaking residents.
She shared the role of principal for several years with Dolores Sullivan, a fellow nun and friend who followed Sister Judith to the island.
Sister Judith headed grades seven through 12, while Sister Dolores served as elementary principal.
Both retired in July 2020. The two were the island’s last Sisters of Charity when they left at the year’s end.
The religious order founded Mount Saint Agnes in 1890.
A tribute from the school praised Sister Judith’s “extraordinary passion and dedication”.
“Her personal faith was reflected in her day-to-day interactions with those around her.
“Her choices were deeply rooted in Gospel values, with intentional focus on loving God and serving others.
“Sister Judith was enthusiastic in her encouragement, forming long lasting relationships with students and their families.”
MSA said her push for excellence ranged from the science lab to the basketball court.
An ardent Red Sox baseball fan, Sister Judith could be found cheering her team whenever a match showed on TV.
“She will always be remembered for her thought-provoking prayer services, poignant Christmas tableaux, her cheers from the sidelines in basketball games, and her enthusiastic 'Go school’ every time she entered the staffroom.
“But she may be best known for her 'unknowns’ chemistry assignment which was a rite of passage for all high school science students.”
The school added: “It will be hard to imagine the start of a new school year without her messages of encouragement and reminders in faith.
“We will be eternally grateful to her and she will be sorely missed.”
Sister Judith was under no illusion that times had changed as she prepared to leave Bermuda.
She told The RoyalGazette: “No young ladies want to enter the convent any more.”
There were 26 Sisters when she arrived in Bermuda at the convent on the corner of Cedar Avenue and Laffan Street.
But Sister Judith also saw the positive side of change, saying in a 2010 interview: “Girls weren't supposed to be that educated, and even at the turn of the 20th Century, they were supposed to do fine artsy kind of things; they weren't supposed to go that deep into learning.”
She added: “I think young people years later may not remember what you taught them – but they remember something about how you treated them."
Sister Judith’s funeral will be held today at St John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
A live stream of the service, at noon Bermuda time, can be viewed here.
MSA said a memorial mass was planned for this autumn, with details to be shared.
⋅ Judith Marie Rollo, a nun and former principal at Mount Saint Agnes Academy, was born on January 10, 1940. She died on July 27, 2021, aged 81.