She’s known as Sister Corda by the regulars at the REACH Day Resource Center. A five-year volunteer at the center, she buzzes visitors in, checks for their mail, directs them to the proper resources, answers phones, alphabetizes paperwork and offers a listening ear.
“I’m really good at alphabetizing,” said the retired English teacher with a laugh.
After a 60-year career as a Catholic school teacher, the nun shares some surprising insight.
“This has really helped me as a person be more compassionate and caring,” Sister Corda said of her volunteer efforts at REACH.
She admits that most of the children she taught were not financially needy, so working with a population in need has been an eye-opener.
Peggy Mullenix grew up in Hagerstown, one of three children of Ned and Helen Mullenix.
The children were raised Catholic, even though their father was Lutheran. They all attended St. Mary’s Catholic School and Peggy graduated from St. Mary’s in 1944 when it included high school students, before St. Maria Goretti was built.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore, followed by a master’s degree in English from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
Sister Corda said she decided to become a nun because she saw the kind of work they did and wanted to help people. She got mixed reactions, though, when she told her parents about her vocation.
“My father objected because he wasn’t Catholic, but he let me go. My mother was very pleased,” she recalled.
She served schools in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Florida, Massachusetts and Baltimore. She returned to Hagerstown in 1974, at her request.
Her parents were aging and she wanted to be near them, teaching at Goretti, then St. Mary’s from 1987 until her retirement in 2006.
“They were interesting places that I went to, all very different,” Sister Corda said.
She wore a habit as a teacher and still wears her veil when she helps at the school, but wears regular clothes at REACH, because she doesn’t want to intimidate visitors at the day resource center.
As she considers her volunteer efforts, Sister Corda said it’s ironic that she now spends time in the building that used to be the shoe factory where her father worked on the top floor as a shoe stitcher. Her mother worked at Pangborn once her children were in school.
Sister Corda is Peggy’s religious name, suggested by her because it was similar to the name of one of the Catholic sisters who taught her mother. In 1970 after Vatican II, sisters could return to their legal names, but Sister Corda chose not to do so.
Five years ago and living at St. Mary’s convent, Sister Corda, now 85, sought volunteer opportunities within walking distance, since she doesn’t drive. She began helping at the St. Mary’s school library two days a week and at REACH two days a week.
“I decided it was time to do this,” Sister Corda said.
She said the needs of the community have changed since her childhood, when “there was work for most people”.
Sister Corda said she might see up to 50 people at the day resource center on a given day and she hopes to be a bright spot for them.
“You just try to be as nice as you can,” she said.