2017-08-10 / Faith

Former school leader remembered

Nun was longtime head of La Reina HS
By Dawn Megli-Thuna

MISSED— Sister Mary La Reina Kelly, former president of La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks, died June 8. Far left, a shrine set up at her memorial service July 22. MISSED— Sister Mary La Reina Kelly, former president of La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks, died June 8. Far left, a shrine set up at her memorial service July 22. For 56 years, Sister Mary La Reina Kelly was a nun like no other.

An avid boxer, she also took home the crown in her convent’s hula-hoop competition and could often be found cheering wildly on the sidelines of high school sporting events.

Mourners gathered last month in Thousand Oaks to remember the former president of La Reina High School who helmed the Catholic girls’ academy from 2005 until Parkinson’s forced her to retire in 2013. (The similarity between her name and the school’s is a coincidence.)

She was the first to lead the school after its administration became independent from the church. After she stepped down, she lived with 28 other nuns at the Sisters of Notre Dame Center on Hendrix Avenue next to the school.

Kelly died June 8, and the Sisters of Notre Dame held funeral services for her July 22, one week before she would have turned 74.

Karen Starleaf, the director for advancement and communications at La Reina, said Kelly’s culture of kindness left a lasting legacy at the campus.

“She was in many ways the heart and soul of the school,” Starleaf said.

One of Kelly’s closest friends, Sister Mary Rebekah Kennedy, said the nun focused on creating positive interactions with the girls.

La Reina High School was the last of many schools the Los Angeles native had worked at since joining the religious order in 1964, including stops at Our Lady of Assumption in Ventura, St. Paschal Baylon in Thousand Oaks and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

At the services, Kennedy quoted poet Leah Becks to characterize Kelly’s relationship with students.

“You told them the world could not do without them,” she said, directing her words to her late friend. “You told them they could be the brightest, shiniest stars in the sky. And the world would be a better place because of them.”

Kelly’s brother, Edward, remembered his sister as a mischievous “talking box” named Collette who had a profound impact on his youth.

“She’s why I am the way I am,” he said.

His sister loved children and he always assumed she’d get married and start having kids. He figured he turned out to be only half wrong.

“When it came to kids, she’s probably had thousands of them,” he said.

Monsignor Joseph Hernandez told attendees that some funeral services are easier to officiate than others.

“It’s easy to pray for her in Mass because all the prayers are prayers of thanksgiving,” he said.

Kelly treated her Parkinson’s disease—a chronic movement disorder—in a therapeutic class at Title Boxing in Newbury Park, which Kennedy said improved her friend’s ability to sit, stand, walk and maintain eye contact.

A pair of Title boxing gloves sat under a portrait of Kelly during the service.

In her eulogy, Kennedy offered a note of gratitude to the Kelly family.

“Thank you to the Kelly clan for the gift of your sister, aunt and cousin to the Sisters of Notre Dame for 56 years,” she said. “We loved her and cherished her.”

Kennedy said that in the face of such a painful loss, no one can ever fully understand the hand of God.

“We will never understand,” she said. “But one thing we as Sisters of Notre Dame believe in is that the hand of God is always the touch of love. It was God’s touch of love that took La Reina home.”

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