Girls Pay their Respects to S. Betty March 19, 2024

Girls Pay Their Respects to Sister Betty Nickels, Their “Mom”

Over the years, Sister Betty Nickels offered housing to 450 homeless girls as part of a ministry called Independence House or later as part of a program called TOPS.

At 366 Cornelia Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn, the girls received room and board, attended school and even worked, contributing $40 a week to offset expenses. Recently, at S. Betty’s funeral, Susan Lerner, Lysette Ramos, Michelle Rivera, and Mary Rodgers (pictured above) paid their respects and said goodbye to the woman they called “Mom”. Stories from the “girls” can be found on our Facebook page.

Here is Lysette’s story.

When Lysette would visit Sister Betty in her retirement at Queen of the Rosary Motherhouse in Amityville, she would announce, “I’m here to see my mom!” She knew that would raise eyebrows, but it was true! “She was my mom. To my kids, she is grandma, and they would crawl on her lap while we were having dinner. At my wedding, she walked me down the aisle: She gave me away.”

S. Betty had helped Lysette when she was a homeless 13-year-old kid. “My mom was sick and died,” said Lysette. “I moved in with my brothers. They were drug dealers at the time. I’d pack their drugs. I was their ‘mule’ . No one would suspect a cute little girl would be carrying drugs.”

“One day, my brother got high, stabbed my sister-in-law, and hit me in the head with a hammer”, Lysette recalled. After a hospital stay, “I ran away and slept in Halsey Park, Brooklyn. Two teachers saw me. I was in middle school — but if I attended once a week, that would be a lot. They came up to me and explained it was getting cold and convinced me to walk four or five blocks to Sister Betty’s house.”

“Sister Betty took one look at me and took me in,” she said. She recalled that she had no possessions, just the clothes on her back. “I had a pair of jeans and a shirt,” Lysette said. “I had no underwear or socks because I had to use them to clean myself. My hair was shaved from my stay at the hospital and I had a foul mouth, literally a truck driver had better language than me.” She recalled with pride how S. Betty “told off” one of her teachers after a visit to her school! “My teacher told her that I would never amount to anything and that I would always be a welfare recipient….Sister Betty told her that she should lose her job and that a teacher’s job was to empower and uplift children.”

Although she was 13, Lysette had a third-grade reading level, so she remembers many days “doing Hooked on Phonics” in the house basement. Now, she lovingly thanks Sister Betty. “She is my savior,” she said. Lysette, a mom of five, now works as a parent coordinator at a public school. She graduated from high school and Long Island University. “I am here today because of her.”

Click this link to watch S. Betty share the story in her own words. The interview was recorded by her friend Sister Barbara Schwarz, OP.


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