Sisters of Charity Federation Archives

Charlotte Gambol, SCN Oral History


Charlotte Gambol.jpg


Sister Charlotte Gambol
June, 2016
(Sister is referred to by both her baptismal name ‘Leona’ and her religious name
‘Charlotte’ in this story.)
Sister Charlotte Gambol feels close to Mother Catherine Spalding because
they share a very similar childhood. Like Mother Catherine, Charlotte lost her
mother at a young age and her father was not able to care for her. Charlotte was
only five years old. Shortly before her mother’s passing, the restaurant Charlotte's
father owned was robbed and he suffered a blow to the head which triggered early
Parkinson's disease. He was in his early thirties.
Baptized Leona Gambol, Sister was an only child. She was born in January,
1930 in Cleveland, Ohio to Andrew Gambol and Mary Vavrek. Due to her
mother’s death and her father’s poor health, Leona was raised by her extended
family and lived with her grandparents, aunts and uncles at different times. Leona
had many cousins on her father's side of the family with whom to grow up. On her
mother's side, she had only one cousin, Charlotte, and the two were close friends.
Even today they remain close and Cousin Charlotte is occasionally able to come
from Cleveland, Ohio to visit Sister.
In 1945, Leona first came into contact with the Vincentian Sisters of Charity
when she enrolled in their boarding school, Vincentian Sisters High School, as a
sophomore. Not particularly fond of school, Leona focused on completing her
education and moving on to new things. Early in her senior year of high school, in
1946, Leona's father passed away at the age of forty-two. She remembers that he
was a very good man. At this time, her Uncle Frank became her legal guardian.
Having no family obligations, she made the decision to enter the Vincentian
community soon after graduating. She joined the community September 14, 1947
and entered the novitiate on August fifteenth of the following year. She took the
name Charlotte in honor of her cousin.
While in the novitiate, Charlotte's guardian, Uncle Frank, kept in touch and
was good to her, sending her packages with candy and other treats. As a novice,
Charlotte attended classes at Duquesne University on Saturdays where she took
courses in Ethics, Philosophy, and Theology. She was also enrolled for summer art
classes at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. At the time,
Duquesne didn't have a fine arts program and Sisters were discouraged from
attending secular colleges. She went on to earn both undergraduate credits and a
Master of Fine Arts degree at Catholic University. Sister Jerome Nosal, novice
mistress, assigned a lot of hard work scrubbing floors, doing laundry, painting, and
other useful tasks. Charlotte recalls that her artistic ability occasionally got her out

of some of the work because she was asked to do some other task requiring at least
a little artistic ability.
After spending two years in the novitiate, Charlotte made her first vows on
August 13, 1950 and spent the first year of her vowed life as a nurse's aide at Villa
de Marillac Nursing Home. Nursing wasn't her forte so her teaching career was
initiated the following year. Over the next five years, Sister taught grades second
through sixth in three different schools in Pennsylvania. Her first teaching mission
was a combined fifth and sixth grade class at St. Mary School in Brownsville, PA.
Later, while teaching at St. Ursula School in Allison Park, PA, Sister had a
unique challenge. At that time, the playground hadn't been built at the school so
the children could not go outside to play. Despite the children not being able to go
outside after lunch, Sister didn't have any real problems with the class but recalled
that there were three lively boys, all named Billy, who she called her “billy goats”.
After lunch, before Sister Charlotte returned to her classroom, the three would run
about the classroom and jump over desks. One day, Sister wasn't feeling well and
decided to skip lunch. When her billy goats returned to the classroom after their
lunch to find Sister resting her head on her desk, the ringleader of the three took it
upon himself to take control of the classroom. He greeted every one of his
classmates at the door with the instructions, "Shh! Sister's sleeping." Charlotte, of
course, was not sleeping but Billy couldn't tell because her veil hid her face.
Amused and touched by his caring, she let him continue to manage the classroom
for a few more minutes. When she lifted her head, he had every student working
quietly at their desk. She saw a different side of him that day; he was her
troublemaker with heart.
From elementary grades she went on to teach high school English, Art, and
Religion. She did this before receiving her Bachelors in Education from Duquesne
University and her MFA from C.U. Her time as a high school teacher spanned
forty-three years and three different high schools. Charlotte enjoyed the whole
ministry of teaching, both the ups and downs, and having good school principals
with which to work made the missions go smoothly.
At age seventy, she retired from teaching but didn't abandon the classroom.
She went back to school; this time she was the student. Entering a field that she
knew nothing about but that she wisely perceived would be beneficial to the
community, Charlotte studied cosmetology. After eight months she graduated and
became a licensed cosmetologist. She remembers that it was quite an experience,
mingling with young adults whose ideas were so different from her own. They
were chiefly concerned with their social life and who was dating whom. Sister
Charlotte listened to all their talk on these matters and when a feast day came
along, she got her turn to share topics which interested her. Every feast day she

would give the young people in her class a lecture on the occasion and why the
feast day was celebrated.
Working through such a foreign field of study with individuals whose
interests were so different was worth it. Charlotte opened a small beauty parlor on
the basement floor of Marian Hall. The Sisters were very grateful for what she did
for them, especially the older Sisters who had difficulty getting around. She was
always sure to remind them that she just knew the basics of hair styling and they
should not expect miracles.
In addition to hair styling, Charlotte spent time shopping at the area thrift
stores. It was like a treasure hunt and sometimes like a mission, especially when
Sisters requested she look for a particular object or piece of clothing. She was
often able to find exactly what someone was looking for.
After thirteen years, Charlotte retired from cosmetology. Today she
continues to make Christmas carolers that she first crafted while teaching an art
class in 1975 at Quigley High School. Some students wanted to make a gift to take
home for Christmas so Charlotte designed the carolers out of bottles and foam balls
which are then painted and decorated to look like Christmas carolers. She also
decorates some as Pittsburgh Steelers fans cheering on their team. She gets many
orders for her carolers every year and stays busy working on them. Charlotte
enjoys working with many different mediums ranging from paint to silver to
crocheting. Sister also crochets mats for the homeless out of recycled plastic
grocery bags and cares for a beautiful young maple tree that she has raised from a
While Sister Charlotte enjoyed the habit while the Sisters had it, she wasn't
opposed to the gradual change from habit to a shorter, modified habit; to black
suits; and finally to secular clothes. In the end she believes, "it's not what you look
like, it's what you are". Charlotte feels blessed in many ways and owes Almighty
God a heart-felt thank you for having chosen her out of so many others who she
believes are holier and more qualified. Despite the changes in the lives of women
religious over the years and the decrease in vocations, Sister has hope for the
future. She feels that the work done by women religious in the past is gradually
being done on a broader basis by lay people. No matter what, "God does not
abandon us".
Interviewed by Kelly McDaniels, Archivist


Dublin Core


Charlotte Gambol, SCN Oral History


Gambol, Charlotte, SCN; Sisters of Charity of Nazareth


SCN Archival Center


SCN Archival Center




Permission for any type of publication of archival materials, including text, photographs, video, or audio must be secured from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Archival Center before publication. Contact archives staff for appropriate forms and contact information.






Oral History



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Kelly McDaniels, SCNA


Charlotte Gambol, SCN


Pittsburgh, PA, USA


SCN Archival Center , “Charlotte Gambol, SCN Oral History,” Sisters of Charity Federation Archives, accessed May 24, 2024,


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