THE LIFE OF SISTER CECILIA JOSEPH WIGHT
By Paul Wight
Sister Cecilia Joseph Wight arrived in this world December 26, 1919 in Flagstaff, Arizona. She was baptized Lillian Olive Wight. Her siblings were Daniel Thomas Wight and Cecilia Virginia Wight. The names of his siblings were a little awkward for Dan so he decided that he was Dan, his next sister was Sister and there was Baby. These names were later shortened to Sis and Babe. Later on in life, Sis preferred to be called Virginia. When Babe entered the convent, she was very close to her sister and her father and she liked the name Cecilia. So she chose the name Sister Cecilia Joseph.
The immediate family never dropped the name Babe. To some of the extended family and her school mates, she was Lillian. Cecilia is an uncommon name. In later years in the convent, people had a hard time remembering her name so she shortened it to Sister C.J.
She started school in Flagstaff and soon after, the family moved to Los Angeles, where she attended St. Dominic’s school. From there, she went to Catholic Girls High School in Los Angeles where she became acquainted with the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
Babe was one of several of Jack Phelan’s Catholic Sister cousins. Their friendship started very early in life. Jack and his parents were visiting in Flagstaff and the family was seated at the table for dinner. Jack was just starting to talk and he said, “Pass the gave vee (gravy) Babe” over the years they corresponded.
While teaching, Babe came across and group of boys using language they should not have been using. They were expecting harsh discipline. Instead Babe approached them and said, “You boys have a very limited vocabulary. You should do something about that.”
She saw some notes being passed in class. She said, “When I was your age, we passed notes also; however, we used a little ingenuity. We wrote the notes on a very small piece of paper and concealed them in a pencil. Don’t let me see any of you kids borrowing pencils in class.”
Babe’s mother followed her teaching missions from San Diego to San Francisco, from Prescott to Tucson. In the early 50’s, Babe was missioned to a new school in Fresno, California. The Sisters had to stay in a convent in a neighboring parish and parishioners shuttled them back and forth from the convent to the school. Among her duties was to remove all the nickels from the milk vending machines. Handful after handful of nickels disappeared under the skirt of her long black habit.
Riding home, the lady driving crashed the car and because seat belts and interlocking door latches were not as yet required, the doors flew open and Babe rolled out of the car, down the street and came to rest in a sea of nickels. A police officer inquired about the origin of the nickels. Babe was in no mood to give a deposition as to the source of her wealth. She raised her hands looked around, and said, “It looks like I hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.”
The question of allowing the sisters to drive automobiles had been under discussion for many years. Her superiors in the Order reviewed the details of the accident and I’m sure that after their review, they decided they could not have their Sisters lying in the middle of the street telling funny stories to policemen and therefore allowed their sisters to drive. Babe was among the first of the sisters to drive. After all, she was an experienced driver. When she was sixteen she did drive her father’s model T up and down the drive way and around the back yard until her father was informed.
The following year, Babe was missioned to Fresno as Principal of the school and in charge of furnishing the new convent. Her mother made numerous trips to Fresno to aid in her endeavor.
As she approached normal retirement age for teachers, her energy level waned and she could not keep up with the normal rigor of her teaching career. She went to St. Mary’s hospital in Tucson and began pastoral care. There she pursued her hobby of photographing the beauties of the state of her birth, Arizona.
As her interest in photography broadened, she became friends with the hospital photographer. She spoke of taking pictures with here PHD camera. If you were brave enough to ask her what a PHD camera was, she would answer “It’s a camera with only one button and the simple instruction Push Here Dummy”. She soon acquired a camera commiserate with her new skills and became an asset to the Hospital Media Section. This put her in contact with many hospital employees. If there was any problem an employee had, they found a champion in Sister S.J. She would speak to responsible people and resolve the problem. If their response to a problem was not reasonable she was quick to let her objection be known and on an occasion she responded, “I’ll save my breath to cool my soup!”
A few years ago, I was called to Tucson because Babe had a heart episode. I arrived in Tucson and I had been informed that she would be in the Rehab Unit. I approached the information desk and asked for directions to the Rehab Unit. The lady behind the desk was quick to give me instructions as she had repeated it many times. I did not comprehend the instructions. I stood there thinking, I must be a little slow and said, “Pardon me, I just flew in from Los Angeles and I’m looking for Sister Cecilia Joseph. I am her brother.” The lady’s expression immediately changed from serious to delight. She stood and said, “Sister C.J. She’s my favorite Sister!” and immediately escorted me almost to the Rehab door.
Sister Cecilia Joseph passed away on January 11, 2010 admired and loved by many.