Sunday, February 8, was an unusual day for Sister Rose Marie Dillman.
As the reader board outside Kennedy High School proclaimed, that was the date for the dedication of The Dillman Center, created and named in her honor by the past and present alumni, students, faculty and administration of the high school where she has been a cornerstone for 64 years.
She admitted to having butterflies in her stomach the morning of the dedication, which was unusual.
“I’ve had three Jubilees here but I’ve never had that feeling,” Sister Rose Marie said.
A standing room only crowd turned out to participate in the Mass, brunch and open house held to dedicate the transformation of the former home ec room into a 2,800-square-foot student lounge and gathering area for alumni and parents. It is equipped with wireless Internet access, a full-service kitchen, a hot chocolate bar, all the latest technology for meetings and presentations, and a gas fireplace.
Above the brick fireplace rests a portrait of this beloved teacher.
“We are here to celebrate a special teacher’s legacy,” Principal Michael Prato told the guests in his homily during the Mass. He described Sister Rose Marie as an elementary teacher in her early years in ministry who became restless and prayed to find meaning and purpose in her work.
She found that meaning and purpose at Kennedy High School, where she knew each student by name and had no favorites.
Her greatest gift: Unceasing prayer
“The gifted, the talented, the struggling, the popular, the not so popular,” she cherished them all and formed relationships with many of them that extended long beyond high school. The principal said her greatest gift was her unceasing prayer.
What made her successful as a teacher was intimacy, availability, love and the grace of God, he added.
Retired from teaching since 1995, Sister Rose Marie still is a daily presence at the high school and is its official No. 1 fan at athletic events.
Following the Mass celebrated by Father Michael Batterberry, the guests moved from the chapel to The Dillman Center for the blessing ceremony. “Sister has the last word,” the principal said, and Sister Rose Marie told her audience, “I won’t apologize for the time this will take.”
Just don’t call it “Rosie’s Corner’
She took them back to the origins of Kennedy High School, giving a mini history lesson many had never heard before. They applauded at her observation that “this center may have my name, but it is a tribute to all the Sisters of Providence who have ministered here and left their footprint.”
When she was first approached with the idea to create the center, so students would have a place to go when they had time on their hands, she had no dream that it would be something of this magnitude, Sister Rose Marie has said. “I said just don’t call it Rosie’s Corner,” she quipped.
She did not realize the scale of the project until she was invited to celebrate her birthday by knocking down the wall to create the large room.
Her former students took charge of the planning, fundraising, design and construction of The Dillman Center. More than $130,000 was raised from about 225 donors, including about $20,000 netted from the annual school auction. There also were many in-kind gifts from alumni. People still have the opportunity to contribute to a scholarship fund in Sister Rose Marie’s name. One scholarship is fully funded and a second is being worked on now.