Most of us when we hear the words the “Flying Nun” immediately think of the 1960s comedy sitcom of the same name starring actor Sally Field as the Daughter of Charity, Sister Bertrille. Sister Batrille’s habit included a large, almost winged, head covering. Each time a wind came up it would cause Sister Bertrille to lift off the ground and fly. The comedy of course is that this happened at the most awkward of times.

But Sister Bertrille was not the original “Flying Nun.” Sister Mary Aquinas Kinskey, OSF (b.1894-d.1985), takes that title! Sister entered the convent in 1911 at age 17. She graduated from the Catholic University of America in 1926 and started teaching high school. According to the Notre Dame Archives and News, “She became a teacher and her interest in aviation stemmed from the enthusiasm for the subject from her students.” A former student fondly remembers Sister Mary Aquinas by her nickname, “Spike.” “Nobody every told me why, but we all understood. It reflected her personal strength, her dynamics, and her take-charge image.” (continued below photo)

Original Flying Nun, Sister Mary Aquinas Kinskey, OSF

In order to best teach her students, Sister Mary Aquinas earned her student pilot’s license in 1938 at the airport in Manitowoc, WI. In 1942, she earned a Master of Science in Physics from the University of Notre Dame. In 1943, Sister started teaching during the summer at Catholic University and was involved in training teachers and others through the Civil Aeronautics Authority. She often took her classes on inspection and demonstration tours through aircraft factories and airports. A great collection of photographs showing Sister and her students is digitally available via the Library of Congress. In 1957, Sister was given a special citation from the United States Air Force for her “outstanding contributions to the advancement of air power in the interest of national security and world peace.” Sister passed away in 1985 at the age of 91.

I think Sister Mary Aquinas continues to teach from her pilot’s seat above!

For more information about Sister Mary Aquinas: