Everyone loves Sister Angela Bayo. But don’t ask her about it. She’s far too modest. She’ll say she’s nothing without the rest of the teachers, that she’s just part of a team, and she’ll subtly steer the conversation toward the merits of some other educator instead.
If you want to know how much everyone adores Angela Bayo, RSCJ, just read any of the many cards, letters and journals that mention her name.
“The first time I met her and saw her eyes,” writes a third grade student, “at that moment I felt that I was welcomed in this school.”
“Our daughters in their red-and-white checked pinafores are often clustered around you in a collective hug,” writes a parent, “the ultimate testimony of their love, acceptance, and devotion.”
“I remember going through all of Lower School feeling there was a special presence behind me and cheering me on,” a ninth grader writes. “I will always remember you like a guardian angel or a saint.”
“I like when I curtsy to Sister Bayo,” writes a kindergartener. “She gives me a big smile and I know she loves me.”
“You always have that beautiful twinkle in your eye that makes us feel so special,” write two fourth graders. “You shine out like the stars!”
Sr. Bayo is clearly beloved throughout the 91st Street community. Serving first as Head of the Lower School and then as the Lower School’s religious education consultant, she has touched the lives of thousands of children and adults, and is revered as an extraordinary educator and leader. Sr. Bayo is, in the words of many current students, “part of what makes Sacred Heart, Sacred Heart.”
It is nearly impossible to imagine the halls of the school without her. But this September, after 45 years of dedicated service, Sr. Bayo decided to retire—and relocate. Many people knew about her recent major surgeries, but the news of her move was unexpected, and when she made the announcement at the opening Mass for faculty and staff, there were a few gasps and some tears. You’d never know it to look at her, but the luminous Sr. Bayo is 86 years old. Still, the idea that she was moving to Abba House, the residential care facility in Albany run by the Society of the Sacred Heart, seemed inconceivable.
With characteristic eloquence and grace, however, Sr. Bayo turned the news into an opportunity to show her love for the school. Speaking extemporaneously, she promised to devote at least one full day of prayer to each member of the 91st Street community. The moment encapsulated many of the characteristics and gifts that make Sr. Bayo such a cherished figure: her ability to speak publicly, from the heart, without a script or notes; her skill at making each person feel heard, recognized, and important; her openness to change; her instinctive leadership in difficult situations. Most of all, though, the moment embodied her faith in God and in love.
Sr. Bayo’s belief in the power of love was cemented at a young age. Born in 1926 in New York City, Angela Lucy Bayo grew up hearing the story of how her parents fell in love at first sight. Her father, who was traveling in South America on business, saw her mother and instantly fell in love. When he had to return to the United States, they wrote letters to one another, eventually deciding to marry by proxy so that she could reunite with him in New York as his lawfully wedded wife.
Sister Bayo grew up in a close-knit family with her younger sister, Mary, and brother, Louis, in Manhattan. “We were very conscious of our parents’ love for us and lived our lives in an atmosphere of caring for one another.”
Sr. Bayo counts it as one of her greatest privileges to have been educated at Maplehurst, the Sacred Heart school in the Bronx that would later become the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich. She loved the school. For her there was no one favorite teacher; it was the whole community that made it such a special place.
“The entire faculty was made up of women, mostly RSCJ, who were dedicated to helping you find your own values,” she said. “They all worked together to achieve this.”
By the time she was a teenager, she began to sense that she had a religious vocation. At the end of her senior year in college, the call was so strong that she felt compelled to follow it.
After graduating from Manhattanville College, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart at Kenwood, Albany, making her first vows in 1951, and her final profession in 1956.
As a young nun, Sr. Bayo served at 91st Street only briefly before leaving for positions at other Sacred Heart schools. She made a big impression, however, on Mary Ranney, RSCJ, the Head of the Lower School at the time. In 1967, when Mother Ranney was called to become the Superior of the Sacred Heart community at 91st Street, she immediately thought of Sr. Bayo as her replacement.
Sr. Bayo had multiple responsibilities as the Head of the Lower School, including overseeing the curriculum, managing teachers and their training, and organizing events. The best part of her job, though, was the time she got to spend directly with 91st Street’s youngest students, those in Pre-K through fourth grade. She relished their openness and joy in life. “If you treat little children with love and respect, and help them understand that you’re there for them rain or shine, they’re happy,” said Sr. Bayo.
Her special connection with young children is apparent to everyone.
“She’s a unique individual,” said Kathleen Lydic, a former 91st Street parent and the current Director of Student Activities in the Lower School. “I have never met any woman who looks at a child—any child—and sees all that is good in her and is able to generate her love to that child on a one-to-one basis” the way Sr. Bayo can, she said. “It’s remarkable.”
Pat Hult recalled congratulating a second grader who had just performed at a Lower School assembly. The student responded that she thought it might have been good because Sr. Bayo had liked it. “How do you know?” asked Mrs. Hult. “Because when Sr. Bayo likes some- thing,” the girl answered, “she always gets water in her eyes.”
She enjoyed the children’s forthrightness, even when it resulted in occasional awkward situations. Sr. Bayo recounted the time Nancy Salisbury, RSCJ, the formidable Head of the entire school at the time, stood with her to greet the Lower Schoolers as they entered the Front Hall. When Sr. Salisbury asked one five-year-old her name, the child said, “I told you yesterday! Why can’t you remember?” Sr. Salisbury didn’t miss a beat. She just smiled and promised to try harder the following day.
Because faculty play such a key role in education, Sr. Bayo believed in fostering each teacher’s individual gifts. Recognizing, appreciating and nurturing their unique talents would help them become the best at whatever they were teaching. As a manager, Sr. Bayo stressed inclusion and harmony. “She always believed happy teachers made happy students,” said Regina Holohan, a former kindergarten teacher.
After 29 years as Head of the Lower School, Sr. Bayo may have decided it was time for her to learn something new as well. In 1996, she retired to pursue other interests. After only a year, however, she was asked to return to 91st Street to serve as a consultant for religious education in the Lower School and to prepare second graders for their First Holy Communion. To the delight of everyone, she said yes.
Everyone who knows Sr. Bayo agrees that she approaches the ceremony of First Communion with joy and reverence.
“No one knows how to prepare the girls as well,” said Regina Holohan. “She has such a soft manner, she presents things so kindly,” that everyone wants to do as she asks.
“The sacrament of the Eucharist is an integral part of our lives and our relationship with God,” said Sr. Bayo. She still remembers her own first communion very well. “I was so moved by the ceremony,” she said. “It’s hard to put into words, but somehow God was present to me, and I to Him, in a way I’d never experienced before.” She paused. “It was truly a moment that changed my life.”
“When we’re in the Chapel, you see that the students are capable of internalizing the meaning of the Eucharist,” Kathleen Lydic said of the girls during the ceremony. She credits Sr. Bayo. They might not understand all of the theological implications, she said, “but the girls understand Sr. Bayo, and her love for them and for God. And that’s impressive.”
“There is a sense of reverence and holiness about her,” said Adele Gallo, a Lower School religion teacher who currently teaches the second graders about the sacrament of communion. “She is so authentic and so focused ... children trust her instinctively.”
Perhaps that is because Sr. Bayo, who is well-read and regularly peppers her conversation with references to theologians as well as the Bible, believe in her heart that God is not about rules. God is about love. And love is at the core of Sr. Bayo’s being.
“If you give her a minute to talk,” said Adele Gallo, “she cannot resist talking about love. That’s just who she is.”
Sr. Bayo’s love is a powerful force. As Pat Hult said, “One of the greatest joys of my time at this school is that I have been loved by Sr. Bayo.” Thousands of us in the 91st Street community could say the same.
Saint Madeleine Sophie said that she would have founded the Society of the Sacred Heart for the sake of one child. When a child first walks through our doors, Sr. Salisbury once wrote, “this vision of St. Madeleine Sophie becomes a reality as Sister Bayo looks into her eyes on her first day of school ... she knows that in Sister Bayo’s heart she will always be that one special child. What greater gift could be given!”
Thank you, Sr. Bayo. We love you.