On October 1, 1920, Mother Aloysius Willett, first Mother Superior of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph and an extraordinary educator, died of a heart attack in California. To note the passing of this beloved woman, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s newspaper The Record wrote the following article.
Solemn Obsequies of Mother Aloysius Willett
At Mt. St. Joseph
Mt. St. Joseph’s Ursuline Convent has sent out the saddest message in her history – “Mother Aloysius is dead;” this valiant champion of Catholic Education is no more. The appalling announcement of her sudden passing on October 1st, was wired from Los Angeles where she arrived a few days before, not from choice or desire, but in compliance with the persistent entreaties of community, clergy and physicians, who, alarmed by her failing health hoped that rest and change of climate would prolong a career so useful to humanity.
The name of Mother Aloysius is synonymous with Mt. St. Joseph’s; by a remarkable, and no doubt, Divinely planned coincidence, she was born on September 8, 1862, the month and year of the first opening in Daviess County, of the institution now known throughout the country as Mt. St. Joseph’s Ursuline Academy and Convent. After a few years of fruitful work by our Kentucky Lorettines, the first St. Joseph’s Academy was destroyed by fire in 1869; in 1874, the late Rev. P.J. Volk erected upon the same site, the initial building of the present Mt. St. Joseph’s; here, just three years later, began the career of Mother Aloysius Willett, whose influential leadership as student for four years, and as teacher for thirty-eight years, in the various positions as directress of the Academy, Mistress of Novices and Superioress of the Community, gradually, but constantly, developed the embryo school into the renowned Mt. St. Joseph’s Academy and Motherhouse of today.
The second alumna of the institution to receive the honors of graduation, the brilliant Leona Willett soon joined the ranks of her Ursuline teachers by entering the Novitiate of the Order in Louisville on July 11, 1882; her first and only appointment in the Community was her Alma Mater – Mt. St. Joseph’s.
Class after class, from 1883 to 1920, have annually gone forth from Maple Mount, bearing through life the impress of her ennobling influence. To the Alumnae, as to her community, Mother Aloysius has always been the leading spirit, the soul of Mt. St. Joseph’s – never was a Religious Superior more revered. She was a born teacher, a constant reader and student, a progressive educator. Not only was her superior ability felt by her Community and pupils, but Clergy, professional and business men of the world, and all who came in contact with her, recognized and admired her strong personality, her uncommon graph of intellect, her magnanimous zeal and charity.
Though a strong advocate of the higher education of woman, and “Onward and Upward” was a motto for her teachers, the work which most appealed to her zeal and which seems by Divine predilection the inheritance of her Sisterhood in Kentucky, was that of the rural schools in the poorest parishes in the Diocese; to help priests struggling amid difficulties to give their flock the blessing of a Sister’s School was one of her greatest joys and consolations, and among the most appreciative friend’ of this great and good Religious Education, are hundreds of clergy, not only in Kentucky, but wherever her work has spread, even beyond the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, where, during the past year she established an academy and opened schools in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
Her death though sudden, was a privileged one; a reward, no doubt, from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for her generous life-long devotion to His interest. She was stricken with heart failure at the altar-rail of the Church of Loretto in Los Angeles, on the First Friday of October, just after receiving Holy Communion. Reviving sufficiently to be removed to her room, she realized the end had come, received the Last Sacraments, and within an hour breathed forth her noble soul with perfect resignation to the Will of God, two priests, Mt. St. Joseph’s infirmarian, Mother Mercedes, and others being present.
Great in intellect, great in character, great in soul, great in the work she accomplished, “take her all for all, we shall not see her like again.”