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Devoted teacher found spirituality in nature

Sister Martine became a nun at age 20 and spent her entire life teaching and pursuing environmental causes.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 28, 2003

Sister Martine Ewing

* * *

BAYSHORE GARDENS -- Several generations of Tampa's children got their first taste of art, music and the humanities from Sister Martine Ewing.

Sister Martine, who died Saturday at age 76, spent virtually her entire adult life as a teacher. She joined the Sisters of the Holy Names in 1946 when she was just 20 years old and devoted the next 56 years to her students.

"She loved her students, and they loved her, very much," said Dr. Carmen Caltagirone, the principal of Academy of the Holy Names elementary school. "She was very gregarious and a very positive person."

Sister Martine -- whose birth name was Barbara Jean Ewing -- was a native of Tampa, but taught in schools all over the state. Most of her work was in West Central Florida, including St. Joseph School in Bradenton. From there, she moved on to St. Peter Claver and St. Lawrence schools in Tampa. She taught at the Academy of the Holy Names on Bayshore Boulevard since 1986.

Even though she chose to become a sister and a teacher at a very young age, Sister Martine never wavered in her enthusiasm for her life's work.

"We're talking major commitment," Caltagirone said. "There's no other kind of commitment like that today."

At the Academy of the Holy Names, Sister Martine taught preschool. She also taught humanities, art and music to elementary school students. Some of her students say her early influence helped lead them years later to decide to pursue art careers.

"She laid a good groundwork," said Amber Chiozza, who will graduate from the Academy of the Holy Names later this year and attend the School of Visual Arts in New York City. "She was always very giving."

Sister Martine continued to teach until just a few months before her death. She was officially a member of the faculty for the current academic year. But an infection caused her to resign early in the school year, and she never recovered.

Besides her students, her religion and the arts, Sister Martine's great passion was for nature and animals.

"One of the things you knew about her immediately was that she was a lover of nature," Caltagirone said. "In this day and age, sisters are very much into environmental issues. There's a sort of spirituality associated with nature."

But Sister Martine was even more active in environmental pursuits than many of her colleagues. She was a member of the Audubon Society and every year would volunteer to coordinate the school's Earth Day activities. And much of her spare time was devoted to caring for her pet beagle.

"She was a very warm person, a very holy person," Caltagirone said. "She loved to be around people, and she will be missed."

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