For people of a certain age, or a taste for vintage television, the term ‘Flying Nun’ evokes memories of youthful actress Sally Field bedecked in an elaborate nun’s habit flying through the skies like a super heroine in a zany television series of same name during 1967-1970. The original Flying Nun, a 1926 graduate of Catholic University who became a licensed airplane pilot and World War II aeronautics instructor, bore little resemblance to the former Gidget star. Mary Ann Kinsky (1894-1985) of Zanesville, Ohio, daughter of George Kinsky and Scholastica Kiel, became a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity, based in Mantowoc, Wisconsin, and achieved national fame as ‘The Flying Nun’ in the late 1930s. She was also known privately as ‘Spike.’
Sister Aquinas, Kinsky’s religious name, graduated from St. Nicholas High School, Zanesville, making her first vows in 1914 and perpetual vows in 1923. She earned a bachelors’ degree at the Catholic Sisters College of The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., in 1926, with a major in Physics and a minor in Mathematics. In 1943, she obtained a masters’ degree in the same fields from Notre Dame University. Teaching was her vocation as she spent over three decades in the classroom, including over twenty years at St. Ambrose High School, later Ironwood Catholic, in Michigan, which closed in 1985.
In addition to teaching, she served as a science expert writing junior high textbooks for the Commission on American Citizenship at Catholic University, 1945-1950, while also writing elementary school text books for the Green Bay Diocese, where she also served as Supervisor, 1948-1969. In the 1960s she authored a series of science textbooks for grades 1-8, known as the Christian Social Living Series-Science with Health and Safety. She served briefly as Science Education Consultant for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, 1969-1971, and then returned to teaching in Zanesville at St. Nicholas Elementary School, suffering a stroke in 1977. She retired to Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, where she remained active until her death in 1985.
Most notably in a long and full life of ninety one years, Sister Aquinas received her pilot’s license in 1938 from the airport manager at Manitowoc, the first nun in history to do so. Inevitably, newspapers dubbed her ‘The Flying Nun,’ a moniker she kept ever after. In 1942, at Ironwood, a state school inspector reviewing courses decided she would be an asset in the national war effort and asked her to go to Washington to instruct recruits in pre-flight training. Over the next two years, including the summer of 1943 at her Alma mater, Catholic University, Spike taught aerodynamics, navigation, radio operation, meteorology, maintenance, and physics to hundreds of trainees.
Thereafter, military officials praised her with awards and citations, in particular was the U. S. Air Force Citation noting her outstanding contributions to national security and world peace presented to her in 1957 during a ceremony in Washington, DC. That same year she became the first nun to ride in an Air Force operational jet in a North American Air Defense Command T-33 trainer, along with co-piloting other Air Force planes. Finally, CBS Television profiled her in a play, ‘The Pilot’, which aired November 12, 1957. So, the next time you hear a U.S. Air Force plane screaming through the sky imagine the spirit of Sister Aquinas aka Mary Ann Kinsky aka ‘Spike’ aka ‘The Flying Nun’ soaring alongside.