Meet the Real-Life Flying Nun

·Managing Editor

Sister Mary Matthew and Erie, Pa., pilot Scott Allen. (Photo: Gary Loncki)

Sister Mary Matthew Baltus grew up flying planes. Her older brother, then a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic, had a biplane, and when she was 15, he taught her everything he knew about being in the cockpit. Sister Mary Matthew, who is now a Sister of Mercy, took flying lessons on her own — rare for a girl back in the 1940s — but she never had enough money to get her pilot’s license.

“I would fly any opportunity I got,” she recalled. While attending Cornell University, she took flying lessons at the Ithaca, N.Y., airport until it was closed to the public in order to train U.S. Navy ensigns. Then she and a friend rode their bikes 26 miles on hilly roads to the Cortland, N.Y., airport to take half-hour flying lessons before biking the same distance back to the university.

This fall, at age 91, she finally strapped on a headset and made it back into the cockpit after 70 years.


Sister Mary Matthew about to take off. (Photo: Gary Loncki)

An anonymous donor at a recent gala for Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, Pa., bought the biplane ride for her.

When Sister Mary Matthew first saw that the plane ride was up for auction, she excitedly began to bid on it.

“I stopped at $150 because I couldn’t afford any more,” she said. “When I left the party, I knew other people would bid way higher.”

But one of the Mercyhurst board members heard about Sister Mary Matthew’s love of planes, and for an anonymous donation of $700, he purchased the flight for her.

Sister Mary Matthew was cool and collected as she climbed on board the shiny red, white, and blue plane last month.

“The last time I flew in one of those it was 1945,” she said.

She and co-pilot Scott Allen flew up and over the Erie peninsula, to Sister Mary Matthew’s great delight.

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“It was so wonderful. We flew over Mercyhurst University, and the first motherhouse where I lived, and then the house where I grew up,” she said with awe.

Would she do it again?

“Absolutely,” she said. “If I got to be the one at the controls.”

Yahoo Travel Managing Editor Jo Piazza is also the author of “If Nuns Ruled the World: Ten Sisters on a Mission,” the critically acclaimed book chronicling the lives of 10 incredible Catholic sisters.

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