Barbara’s Life of Service – The Royal Gazette


Barbara Petty with her favorite mini drill (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

When Barbara Petty attended Mount Saint Agnes Academy, she admired the nuns who were teaching at that time so much that she wanted to be one herself.

“I don’t think I was even 16 when I told my parents about it,” the 82-year-old recalls. “I think a lot of girls my age wanted to be nuns. Most of the girls ended up coming out, but for me the idea stuck.

Her parents, William and Dorothy Petty, were not particularly religious. It was her grandmother Mary Chiappa Petty who insisted that she go to school. They were not happy with his choice of career and there were many family disputes about it.

When Ms. Petty graduated from MSA, she had no way of defying their wishes. Instead, she went to work for Eagle Airways.

She loved the job. She spent a summer working as a passenger service agent for Eagle at Heathrow Airport in London, England.

“It was wonderful,” she said.

She and several other employees lived in an attic on Money Lane in West Drayton, a few miles north of the airport.

But work had its constraints. She remembered having almost caused a workplace incident at the airport.

“One day I encountered a flight and a little old lady was arriving from Europe with all her belongings,” Ms. Petty said. “She had an extremely heavy bag on the counter. She couldn’t move it. So I put my hand on the handle to lift it up for her. One of my colleagues was nearby and stopped me. She said if you had put this bag on the floor, all the porters would have come out. They were with the union. I would have taken a porter job.

Barbara Petty working for an airline in the early 1960s (Photo provided)

But even though she loved working with airlines, she still wanted to become a nun. In her early twenties, she decided it was finally time to enter a convent.

“I had the means to do it,” she says.

In 1963, she went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada to join the Sisters of Charity. Her parents were still not enthusiastic, but still accompanied her to show her their support.

“I walked in with 65 other young women,” Ms. Petty said. “There was a group in front of us out of 65 others. There was a lot of regimentation. At that time, there were a lot of changes in religious life, but we still wore changed habits. “

The young women lived in dormitories.

“I was fortunate to have a bed by a window so I could open it sometimes and get some fresh air,” Ms. Petty said.

At 9:30 p.m., silence.

“You didn’t have time to go out and do anything yourself,” she said. “You were always in tune with the group. “

They took classes at a nearby college.

After two years, Ms. Petty’s health deteriorated.

“I suffered from migraines and ulcers,” she said.

She returned to Bermuda and suspended her religious training. She worked for airlines again for the next 12 or 13 years, working her way up to the position of Airport Passenger Supervisor at Air Canada.

Then at the end of the 1970s, she returned to the convent.

“At that time, the novitiate was in New York, and things were very different,” she said. “The sisters no longer wore clothes. They had also diversified into different ministries.

Barbara Petty training to be a nun in 1963 (Photo provided)

As part of her training, she obtained a BA in Social Work from St John’s University in Queen’s, New York, followed by an MA in Social Work from Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York.

His first ministry was at St Mark’s Church in Shoreham, Long Island, New York. She became the ward social services coordinator, leading the parish volunteer service program. They served 26,000 families.

After eight years, she accepted a job with Catholic Charities as a clinical social worker. She has run three mental health clinics in the area, including the Glendale Mental Health Clinic in Glendale, Queens, New York. The clinic was located across the East River from Manhattan.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, she walked 40 minutes to work, as she sometimes did.

“It was an absolutely beautiful day,” she said. “There was a cloud in the sky, and it was beautiful.”

Among other services, her clinic provided counseling to children at a nearby school. Many students there had parents who worked in Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, or the Twin Towers themselves.

“The school was located so that many children on that day could look out the windows and see the towers fall,” Ms. Petty said.

Her clinic made sure there were social workers on hand to spend the night with the students if their parents didn’t come and pick them up. But it was pointless. All the students were taken in, if not by their parents then by their relatives, neighbors or friends of the family.

“After going through everything we’ve been through all day, as I walked home that evening, I remember walking up the avenue looking at a lot of people in awe,” Ms. Petty said. “The thing that struck me the most was that there was an F-16 right above it. The air force then kept watch over the city. To look up, you would see one go one way and the other go the other. It was surreal.

Later, Catholic charities worked with the federal government to distribute FEMA funds after the terrorist attack.

“People from all over the region have asked us for financial assistance,” she said.

She finally left the Sisters of Charity.

“My mom was getting older and I knew I would eventually have to go back to Bermuda and take care of her,” Ms. Petty said. “She always said she never wanted to be in a nursing home.”

She retired from social work and returned to Bermuda in 2006. Her father had passed away in 1991 and her mother had retired from her longtime job in the marriage office at AS Coopers in Hamilton.

“At that time, my mother was still active, but her health was starting to decline,” Ms. Petty said.

They took advantage of their time together to go for walks or to have lunch.

“My mom has always been fun with her,” Ms. Petty said.

Dorothy Petty died in 2015.

Now Mrs. Petty is a member of St Patrick’s Church in Smith’s and begins every day with the 8am Mass.

“It helps structure my time,” she said.

For many years, she and other members of her church worked in the Salvation Army’s soup truck to bring food to the homeless in the Pembroke area.

She also volunteered at PALS. She led two grieving groups at the PALS office on Point Finger Road in Paget, and also regularly drove PALS patients to and from doctor’s appointments.

When the pandemic started last year, she stopped doing it to protect her own health.

Now she enjoys working on projects inside and outside of her home.

“I’ve always been a little handy,” she said. “My father was a real Mr. Fix It, and my two brothers, Richard and Stephen, were.”

Her family teased her a bit when she came home one day with a small drill.

“My brother said it looked like a toy,” she said.

But she uses it to make improvements around her Gateshead Lane, Smith’s property. Recently, she installed a new screen door.

“It took hours, but I did it,” she says proudly.


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