WEEK 13 – 2015: Sister Mary Bertrand Walton – so different from me

I am an art director/graphic designer. Besides art, my favorite classes in school were in English, literature and History. But I never had any love for Mathematics. I was convinced that if I had a career in art, that I would never need to use anything that I was learning in my Algebra class. So now when I find myself having to design a three-dimensional display for stores I am completely miserable and I whine about having to use Math until the project is done.

This week, 52 Ancestors challenge was to write about someone “different“. I have been thrilled to find so many artists of some shape and form in my family tree. However, this 2nd cousin 3 times removed, stuck out as being completely different from me, not because she was a nun, but she was also a highly respected mathematician. Her name was Sister Mary Bertrand Walton.

A side note: I was first “introduced” to Sister Mary Bertrand by another researcher/distant cousin about 2 years ago. He actually had letters from her that talked about various relatives and he was trying to find out who the people were that she had mentioned. We connected because my great grandmother and her sister, were among some of the people he was seeking. He had already known much about Sister Bertrand and shared this information with me. 

She was born as Alice M. Walton, on October 4, 1865 in Hawley, Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of Michael and Catherine (Caveney) Walton. She became a sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary around 1892-1895 and took the name Sister Mary Bertrand. Three of her sisters also entered the convent. Jane Walton became Sister Mary Jerome. Elizabeth became Sister Mary Gonzaga and Catherine also was known as Sister Mary Gonzaga.

Sister Bertrand could be found as a teacher in the 1910 census at St. Cecelia’s Academy, Scranton. In 1915, Marywood College in Scranton was founded and Sister Bertrand joined the faculty as a Professor of Mathematics. She was listed as a member of the American Mathematical Society in 1928.

There is also a story that Sister Bertrand was consulted time to time, by the members of the Manhattan Project, a secret group formed during World War II to build the atomic bomb. It was also said that if Sister Bertrand was a man, that she probably would have been a member of the group. However, I do not have any documentation that supports this. I do not know if I ever would find that out, since the project and the group members have been shrouded in secrecy for years.

Sister Bertrand died on November 11, 1950. She is buried in the Cathedral Cemetery, Scranton with many of her other family members.

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