Sister Cecelia Joseph Olinger had Ursuline Sisters as teachers from grade school until she became a sister herself.
Born Evelyn Marie Olinger, she grew up among the cotton fields of Glennonville, Mo., the 10th of 11 children born into a farming family. She attended Glennonville Public Elementary School, in which the teachers were Ursuline Sisters. When Missouri outlawed sisters in religious garb from teaching in public schools, the people of Glennonville chose to turn the school into a Catholic school named St. Teresa, rather than risk losing the sisters as teachers.
The two Ursuline Sisters who had the most impact on Evelyn were Sister Frances Miriam Spalding, who taught her in the first and second grade, and Sister Miriam Medley, who taught her in the seventh and eighth. Both those sisters are deceased.
“Sister Frances Miriam taught me phonics and that helped me with reading and spelling,” she said. “Sister Miriam was instrumental in getting me to (Mount Saint Joseph) Academy. She talked to my mother a lot, and sometimes I wonder if she told my mother that she thought I had a vocation.”
St. Teresa could not afford to have a Catholic high school as well, so some of those families who wanted to continue a Catholic education sent their daughters to Mount Saint Joseph Academy, 250 miles away in Maple Mount, Ky.
“If I hadn’t gone to the Academy, I don’t know if I would have entered the community,” Sister Cecelia Joseph said.
Her call to become an Ursuline Sister was gradual. “March was vocation month, they gave us a little talk,” she said. “Each year the calling got more persistent. I felt sure after my junior year, I had the feeling I was being called to do this.”
She took the religious name Sister Cecelia Joseph to honor her parents. Most of the Ursuline Sisters call her “C.J.”
Sister C.J. celebrates 56 years as an Ursuline Sister in 2015. She currently ministers in her home state of Missouri, serving as a pastoral associate at three parishes in Van Buren, Piedmont and Williamsville. She’s glad she made the decision to become an Ursuline Sister.
“It may be the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m getting richer and richer,” she said. “We come to the community for one reason, but we stay for a different reason. You can’t do the ministry without realizing you’re serving God.”