(Sister Marie Michael went to heaven on June 13, 2018.)
As a child growing up on a farm in the middle of a big family, Frances Helene Hayden never imagined her future in a religious community. “I was going to grow up and get married and have a houseful of children,” Sister Marie Michael says with her characteristic bright smile. “I had NO INKLING of being a nun!”
Her own family offered a strong model for her desire. Her parents, Mayola Mullican Hayden and Henry Walter Hayden Jr., had 16 children. “I was number eight,” she said. “We were poor. But we didn’t know it. We were happy.”
Her parents were farmers, but when the older boys were strong enough to work the farm, her father got a job at an Owensboro distillery. “He was a storekeeper-gauger,” Sister Marie Michael explained. “He figured the taxes on liquor.” She laughs about this too. “He never drank a drop in his whole life.”
Her mother, educated by Ursuline Sisters in Stanley, Ky., had a literary bent. “She read a lot, and she wrote a lot. She and a group of ladies started a Catholic magazine.” One of these women lived in France, and, through letters, she and Mayola became close friends. “Her name was Helene,” Sister Marie Michael explains. “Mama named me after her.” She was called “Helen.”
Helen often came with her family to Mount Saint Joseph to visit her two Ursuline aunts, Sisters Gabriel and Raphael, and two cousins, Sisters Uriel and Marie Paschal. One of her uncles was a priest, and two of her brothers were also ordained. She enjoyed being with all of them. God was providing many opportunities for her to be touched by the spirit of consecrated life.
Helen’s first 10 years of school were in Owensboro with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. For her last two years of high school she joined her two cousins in boarding school at Bethlehem Academy in Elizabethtown, Ky., with the Sisters of Loretto. She liked her schools and her teachers, but the vision of a religious vocation had not yet come over her horizon.
After graduation, Helen worked for an insurance adjustment company and, on weekends, at Sears. She attended Mass every morning before work. She also enrolled in night classes at Brescia College, majoring in history and taking piano from Sister Marguerite Younker.
“After one lesson,” Sister Marie Michael recalls, “Sister Marguerite looked straight at me and said: ‘Helen, what are you ever going to do in your life?’” This startling question was followed by a suggestion that she consider becoming an Ursuline Sister.
Through Sister Marguerite, God’s voice spoke clearly to Helen Hayden, and she was ready to say “yes.” In September 1954 she entered the Ursuline novitiate. “I’ve never regretted my decision for one moment,” she said.
In 1957, Sister Marie Michael began her ministry teaching first grade at St. Columba School in Louisville and attending Nazareth College. From there she moved to St. Catherine School in New Haven, Ky., also in first grade. At this point she seemed to be on track for a long ministry as a classroom teacher. But God had more surprises in store for her.
Recognized for her gifts as a teacher of religion, Sister Marie Michael, at the request of her community leadership, accepted a position open in the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb. Beginning in 1964, she served 15 years as assistant director of religious education, director of catechist training and of the adult religious education program. Her life in Nebraska was an adventure: “I had to work out of a suitcase as I traveled across the state, from Iowa to Colorado. There were 134 parishes with over 10,000 in adult education!”
During this time she also enhanced her credentials for her future ministry, attending The Catholic University of America for four summers to complete a master’s degree in religious education and theology.
After Nebraska, Sister Marie Michael spent 35 more years serving God and God’s people in the ministry of religious education. For eight years she was director of religious education for the Diocese of Owensboro. From there she served in pastoral ministry and religious education in Lebanon, Mo.; Russellville, Ky.; and Fordsville, Ky. In 2005, in recognition of her outstanding work, she received the Bishop John J. McRaith Catechetical Award from the Diocese of Owensboro.
Besides for her unrelenting energy, Sister Marie Michael is noted for her hospitality, adaptability and generosity. During her ministry at St. John the Baptist Parish in Fordsville, for example, she was known by practically everyone in and around the town, visiting her neighbors, the poor and the sick, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, working at the senior citizens’ center and pitching in on local projects. “This is how we spread the Gospel to others in the community,” she believes.
Throughout her life, Sister Marie Michael’s adventurous spirit has taken her on family trips in the United States, as well as travel abroad in Italy, including Rome, the Holy Land, Germany and Austria. She’s noted as “a delightful traveling companion.”
Now living at Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Marie Michael still reflects a zest for life and a desire to learn new things. Her latest project is working in the craft room, learning to quilt.
“I’m amazed that I’m actually doing pretty well,” she says with her bright smile. “I have been blessed to be an Ursuline Sister,” she says with conviction. “I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to serve God and God’s people.”