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Published: Tuesday, 10/2/2012

Ursuline once led class of 75 first-graders

Sister M. Johanna Leyland, 1914-2012

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sister M. Johanna Leyland, a distinguished Catholic educator who shared a longtime passion for teaching with her sister, fellow nun Sister M. Joachim Leyland, and a joint enjoyment for the baseball teams managed by their nephew, Jim Leyland, died Saturday in the Ursuline Center. She was 97.

Family and friends didn’t cite a specific cause of death, but said Sister Johanna had been ill for quite some time and her condition had recently deteriorated.

Born Eleanor Rose Leyland in Butler, Pa., she grew up on Collingwood Boulevard, and changed her name after she entered the Ursuline Convent in 1942. Already a teacher for several years at St. Thomas Aquinas School, Sister Johanna was drawn both to the community's religious devotion, and its focus on teaching, said a nephew, the Rev. Thomas Leyland.

"She enjoyed young children and she seemed to relate to them," he said.

Sister Johanna taught for 47 years, at St. Charles, Good Shepherd, and St. Francis de Sales in Toledo, and at St. Mary and St. Joseph in Tiffin. She expected, and sometimes demanded, that her students perform well, but did so with gentleness, said Sister Kathleen Padden of the Ursuline Sisters of Toledo.

Not one to complain, Sister Johanna accepted what came graciously, despite facing at times what would be, for some, overwhelming stress in the classroom.

Father Leyland recalled one year when his aunt was assigned to a first grade classroom of about 75 students. Despite the huge size, she managed the room and kept order.

"I never forgot that," he said. "It's almost unthinkable [to teach that many students], but she just took it and handled it."

In 1976, she was nominated for and won the National Catholic Education Association's Teacher of the Year award while teaching at Toledo's St. Charles School.

"She was an excellent teacher," Sister Kathleen said.

Sister Joachim, six years younger, followed into the the Ursuline Convent two years after Sister Johanna, and also led a decades-long tenure in elementary education. The pair taught at many of the same schools, though not always at the same time. Sister Kathleen said the younger of the pair was the feisty one, while Sister Johanna was more subdued.

Sister Johanna retired in 1983, and grew even closer to Sister Joachim, who also retired in her 70s. The pair lived in rooms next to each other in the Ursuline Center, and would visit family and go to church together, Sister Kathleen said.

Sister Johanna helped other Sisters to appointments and ran other errands. Despite needing a wheelchair in recent months, she remained active and let no one push her around until recently, propelling herself forward with her feet.

The sisters shared an affinity for teams Jim Leyland managed -- the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies, and currently the Detroit Tigers -- following closely his and their fates. At times, the games would make them too nervous to listen to the radio, so they'd leave the room and pray for him, Sister Kathleen said.

When Sister Joachim died died Oct. 11 at the age of 91, Sister Johanna took it very hard.

"I think she showed some signs of sadness," Father Leyland said. "She kind of lost some of her enthusiasm."

Sister Johanna was the last survivor of 16 siblings. 

Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the Ursuline Center, where visitation begins at 3 p.m. Wednesday, with a vigil at 7.

Tributes can be sent to the Ursuline Convent of the Sacred Heart.

Contact Nolan Rosenkranz at:
nrosenkranz@theblade.com
or 419-724-6086. 


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