Sister Donna Marie Crochet, SSMN, first teacher to hundreds, dies at 73
FORT WORTH — When Priscilla Sotelo enrolled her daughter, Hailey, in St. Cecilia’s pre-kindergarten program, she worried about sending the four-year-old to the Dallas school for an entire day. Sister Donna Marie Crochet, SSMN, eased the transition for the nervous mom.
“There was never a day my daughter didn’t want to go to school,” said Sotelo, who watched her child blossom under the veteran educator’s care. “Sr. Donna Marie was always enthusiastic about the day. She made every student feel very special. That’s one of the reasons why I keep my girl at St. Cecilia’s.”
As children and parents in North Texas prepare to celebrate Catholic Schools Week, they are also mourning the loss of one of Catholic education’s most fervent supporters. Sr. Donna Marie Crochet, 73, died suddenly on Jan. 26 leaving behind hundreds of former students who were inspired by her tireless dedication to them.
A Mass of Christian Burial is set for 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at St. Andrew Church with interment at Mount Olivet Cemetery. Members of her community, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, will lead a prayer service at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 30 at Thompson’s, Harveson and Cole Funeral Home, 702 8th Ave. Fort Worth.
Sr. Donna Marie taught Christina Nunez, St. Cecilia’s school secretary, in kindergarten. Years later, Nunez’ son and daughter were in the sister’s pre-K4 classroom.
“I can’t put into words what made Sr. Donna Marie so special. She just had the personality to be a pre-K teacher,” the school parent explained. “She had lots of patience and was so creative. I have boxes of things my children made in her class.”
The long-time educator enjoyed having the children of former students in her classroom. Although Sr. Donna Marie taught at schools in Fort Worth and Houston, her longest tenure was at St. Cecilia’s in Dallas, where she spent five years in kindergarten and then 25 years in the pre-K4 classroom. She also served for one year as the school's principal.
“She would tell my kids stories about me when I was in kindergarten,” Nunez recalled. “They thought it was amazing that we had the same teacher.”
One of eight children born to Romeil Antoin Crochet and Jimmie Rosamund Love Crochet, a young Donna Marie grew up in Houston, where she attended Resurrection Catholic School. Inspired by the Sisters of St. Mary who operated the school, she joined the order in 1963 and received the religious name Sister Agatha. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with early childhood certification from Dominican College in Houston.
Sr. Donna Marie began her teaching career in 1968 at Our Lady of Victory School. She taught seventh and eighth grade religion at Nolan Catholic when the school had a junior high school and fifth grade in Dickinson, Texas. The seasoned educator joined the faculty of St. Cecilia Catholic School in 1984 where she remained until retiring in 2014.
After leaving the classroom, Sr. Donna Marie served as a member of St. Cecilia School Advisory Board.
“Even though she was retired, she would come back to visit the classrooms and say hello to the children,” Nunez explained. “She was very much involved with the children and did everything she could, along with the other Sisters of St. Mary, to give tuition assistance to our students so they could get a Catholic education.”
A versatile caregiver, Sr. Donna Marie volunteered at Casa De Esperanza — a home for infants with HIV/AIDS — and Magnificat House, both in Houston. After moving to Fort Worth in 2014, she helped coordinate activities at Our Lady of Victory Center and served on the Provincial and Local House Councils.
Her participation in the Congregational General Chapters in Namur, Belgium, provided an opportunity for Sr. Donna Marie to meet Sisters of St. Mary from other nations and cultures.
“She was just an all-around wonderful person,” according to Sister Joan Markey, SSMN. “If you said something silly, she had a way of bringing you back down to earth.”
Sr. Joan once asked her teaching colleague where she got the energy to manage a brood of little ones every day.
“Sr. Donna Marie found it freeing because there wasn’t the paperwork teachers in the upper grades have,” Sr. Joan explained. “She said there were no report cards, IQ tests, or letters of recommendation to write. With four-year-olds, all you have to do is get their attention!”
During a Jubilee celebration in 2013 marking Sr. Donna Marie’s 50th anniversary as a Sister of St. Mary, she shared the benefit of teaching preschoolers.
“It requires a lot of energy but it keeps me young,” she told the North Texas Catholic. “I love every minute.”
Sr. Donna Marie’s devotion to Catholic education never waned.
“She stayed involved with the children and on the school board at St. Cecilia’s until the end,” Sr. Joan added. “That’s a credit to the school, the pastor, and Donna Marie.”
Sr. Donna Marie is survived by three sisters, a brother, other relatives, and her religious community.