Sister John Norton: Born Dec. 18, 1924, entered the Adrian Dominican congregation June 24, 1948, died Feb. 7, 2023.
Sister John Norton, an Adrian Dominican who spent 50 years as teacher, assistant principal, principal, and coordinator of special events at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, died Feb. 7, 2023, at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, Michigan. She was 98 and in the 74th year of her religious profession.
She retired to her congregation’s motherhouse after leaving St. Thomas in 2016. Her funeral Mass was celebrated in the motherhouse’s St. Catherine Chapel Feb. 15, followed by burial in the Congregation Cemetery.
St. Thomas Aquinas High School will celebrate her life with a Mass on Saturday, April 1, at 10:30 a.m. in the school gymnasium, 2801 S.W. 12 St., Fort Lauderdale. The public is welcome.
News of Sister John’s death, posted in St. Thomas’ Facebook page, generated hundreds of comments, including this one from Anthony Coppola: “An absolutely brilliant human being! Made a huge difference in this world! A St. Thomas legend!”
Msgr. Vincent Kelly, longtime supervising principal at St. Thomas, posted this statement along with the news: “I had the privilege of working with her ... in building up the expanding program at St. Thomas as she challenged our students, affirmed our faculty and nurtured the relationship with parents. Sister John was a woman of faith, intelligence, energy, discipline, prayerfulness and witness to our patron, St. Thomas Aquinas.”
Principal Denise Aloma posted this statement: “Her faith fueled her service to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in undefinable and indescribable ways. Her strength, her determination, her loyalty, integrity and vision have opened the doors of opportunity for thousands of young people.”
Sister John’s baptismal name was Catherine Elizabeth Barrett. She was born Dec. 18, 1924 in Detroit, Michigan, the only girl in a family with six brothers. She graduated from St. Catherine High School in Detroit, received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Siena Heights College (University) in Adrian, and earned a master’s degree in education from Barry College (University) in Miami.
Although she was never educated by or worked with the Adrian Dominican Sisters, the Holy Spirit guided her to their motherhouse in Adrian, where she entered on June 24, 1948.
“My father said they wouldn’t keep me for two weeks and my mother said I wouldn’t take it for two weeks,” she recalled in an interview for “A Sister’s Story,” a series of videos recorded by the Adrian Dominicans.
In the video she explains that she chose John Norton for her religious name because that was the name of her oldest brother, John Norton — Norton was their mother’s maiden name. John had entered the Marianists in Dayton, Ohio, at a young age but never made final vows due to illness. He returned home at the age of 23 and died at 25.
Following her first profession, Sister John was assigned to St. Mary’s Elementary School in downtown Adrian. After two and a half years, she was missioned to Mount Carmel Elementary School in Chicago where she taught third grade to mostly Italian students. From there, she worked in the primarily Irish parish of St. Killian’s for four years. She then took a train ride to Jacksonville and served as principal of St. Matthew School. When her six-year term as superior was up, she found her way to St. Patrick Parish, Miami Beach, where she happily worked with many of the young Cubans new to the United States.
From there, she went to St. Thomas, where she taught generations of students. Under Sister John’s leadership, the high school received myriad honors and recognitions, including its first two U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Awards.
She herself received the J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award for outstanding service to the Broward community, the 1993 National Conference of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Award, and the 1994 Premium Regnum Dei Medal for outstanding contributions to the Archdiocese of Miami. Sister John was preceded in death by her parents and her brothers and is survived by many nieces and nephews and her Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Memorial gifts in Sister John’s name may be made to Adrian Dominican Sisters, 1257 East Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan, 49221.
Get the most trusted Catholic news, along with stories that build a culture of life, and commentary based on the teaching of the Magisterium delivered directly to your inbox from Florida Catholic Media.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.