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One of my favorite places on campus is tucked away on the second floor of the science building, known as Raymond or Albertus Magnus Hall. If you have classes there, chances are you have seen it. Halfway down the hall, in a simple glass enclosure, sit three rows of statues of Mary, the Mother of God, a collection of worldwide devotions: a Korean Madonna and Child, Our Lady of China, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Cape, Our Lady of Japan, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Michelangelo’s Pieta and several others. A medallion marking the 1,000th anniversary of Polish Christianity in 1966 is there too.  

For a long time I wanted to find out how this simple, yet beautiful display got there and learn its history. That took a little digging. Luckily, I was pointed to Sister Mary Amelia Cetera, who lives at St. Catherine’s Convent on Caldwell’s campus. Sister is a professor emerita of education; she served at Caldwell College from 1959 to 2000 in positions including Education Department chair, residence hall dean and continuing education department assistant. 

Sister Mary Amelia was happy to share with me the beginnings of this exhibition devoted to the Blessed Virgin. As she explained it, the project was started by two Sisters who were siblings—Sister Marie and Sister Carmel Leifer—who would bring statues back from their summer vacations after visiting shrines around the world. Sister Carmel was a professor of biology at the college from 1945 to 1969, so it makes sense that the display would be in the science building. Sister Marie was a principal at St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City and served in leadership for the Sisters of St. Dominic.  

Apparently, the idea inspired others to donate statues too. Sister Mary Amelia donated a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. “My niece went to France and brought it back to me. It was about 6 inches tall.” A statue of Mary, labeled “Mexican Wood Carving,” has Sister Mary Amelia’s name on the card in front of it.  

Professor of Natural Sciences Agnes Berki, Ph.D. 

Agnes Berki, Ph.D., professor of natural sciences, teaches classes in the science building and discovered the collection several years ago. “I have devotion to Mary and it was heartwarming and beautiful to find these statues.”  Not knowing the history of the exhibit, from time to time Berki would take it upon herself to open the case and dust the statues. Looking at the bottoms of the statues, she found information about the donors and made name cards to put in front of the statues. “I think it is beautiful that people all around the world have devotion to Mary as it is evidenced by the beautiful Mary statues from all around the world.”

Sister Mary Amelia recalled how for years the college had a Sodality group dedicated to Our Lady.  At one point the advisor for the Sodality was Sister Alma Loesch, a business professor, department chair and treasurer of the college, who served from 1940 to 1964. When she retired, Sister Mary Amelia took on the role. They held monthly meetings and an induction service and engaged in a service project. Student members would attend daily Mass and say the rosary every day. They were “very kind, other-oriented … they were practically living a religious life in terms of prayer life,” explained Sister Mary Amelia. “It was a beautiful way of life. The girls took it very seriously.”  The Sodality motto was “To Jesus through Mary.” 

Sister Mary Amelia Cetera, O.P. 

Sister Mary Amelia remembers working on a project started by Sister Alma. The college was in touch with a Jesuit priest who was serving in the missions where Holy Communion dresses were needed. The Sodality group decided to help. 

A student brought in “a boat of material” from her mother, who said she would cut the patterns if others would agree to take up the sewing, said Sister Mary Amelia. Sister remembers sewing the veils. “We just cut and hemmed it and put a little wreath on it.”

“Each year we sent first Communion dresses and veils down to this missionary … He wrote back that it was wonderful.”  It was particularly special, as Sister explained, because in that particular place the little girls could not make their First Holy Communions without a Communion dress.  

The Sodality also had many paperback books on Mary and the group would read them. “We discussed them like a book club,” said Sister Amelia. When Sister left to pursue further studies in the late 1970s, the Sodality had about 90 members. “For years it was very popular,” said Sister.  

She is pleased to know that the humble, timeless exhibit is still there today. “I think it shows that people still have devotion to Our Lady … I was very happy to hear people enjoyed it and have questions.”  

If you are an alumna of Caldwell and were a member of the Sodality, we’d like to hear from you about your memories. Email Director of Donor and Alumni Engagement Meghan Moran at  

– Colette Liddy