When Ursuline Sister Clara Reid was 8 or 9 years old, she was walking along the sidewalk at her school where she would soon cross paths with her teachers, who were all Ursuline Sisters.
“I remember saying to my friend Margaret Mary, ‘When I get older, I’m going to be a sister. Do you want to go with me?’” Sister Clara said. “She said ‘no.’ When I entered at 20, I called and asked her again. She said ‘no’ again.”
Fortunately for the Ursuline Sisters and the hundreds of students she taught over the years, Sister Clara did become a sister. She’s now in her 56th year as an Ursuline, with 47 of those years spent as a teacher or principal, mostly in New Mexico.
It was not the life most girls growing up in tiny Holy Cross, Ky., ever achieve. New Mexico broadened her experiences with the people from different cultures she met. “It’s a different world,” she said.
Sister Clara taught in the Catholic schools, but she never attended one. Holy Cross School was a public school, but all its teachers were Ursulines. The same was true when she moved on to St. Francis High School in Loretto, Ky.
“Sister Rosita (Willett) was my second grade teacher. She was so kind and good,” Sister Clara said. “I think she taught most all of my family.”
Sister Clara grew up the third oldest among nine children in Holy Cross, an area in the central part of the bluegrass state that is so heavily Catholic it’s referred to as the “Kentucky Holy Land.” The church was formed in 1785 with a league of 60 families that migrated to Kentucky from Maryland. It was the first Catholic Church west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Her father, Joseph, farmed and worked at Seagram’s distillery. Her mother, Josephine, (better known as “Bert”) raised the children.
“Our lives were settled around the church,” Sister Clara said. “I admired the sisters, they were always in church.”
During her senior year of high school, Sister Clara was involved in a car accident in which two of her friends were killed. She was out of school from October until January, which gave her a lot of time to think about what she should do with her life.
Since her junior year, she had worked at Cowden Sewing Co., sewing the pockets on blue jeans. After high school, she became the “floor lady,” teaching others how to sew.
Although the Ursulines were her teachers, she grew up very close to the motherhouses for the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
“I went to the Lorettines first, I had their application,” she said. “I went home and put it in the drawer and never did anything with it.”
Then one day the assistant pastor at her church, Father Robert Bowling, came to her house to take her to meet Sister Mary Wilfrid Hayden, the mother superior for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
“Sister Mary Wilfrid was insistent, she wouldn’t let up,” Sister Clara said. “She was a great lady. At Christmas they brought me to the Mount to visit. I came home with a sack full of material to make my habit.”
She worked at Cowden until the day before she entered, which was Feb. 1, 1959, shortly after her 20th birthday. She entered the novitiate on Aug, 14, 1959.
“My daddy said, ‘You’re giving up a good job and you’ll be back in a week.’” But she knew religious life was for her.
“When you feel like you have a calling to do something, you do it,” she said. “It’s been very rewarding, especially the close friendships and support I’ve had from the other sisters.”
She taught in Owensboro and Mayfield, Ky., from 1961-71, then began her adventure in New Mexico at St. Charles Borromeo School in Albuquerque. She came back to run a day care center in Owensboro from 1980-85, then returned to New Mexico to be principal in Grants from 1985-89. She then spent the next 22 years teaching again at St. Charles. She retired from there in 2011, and did substitute teaching for a year before beginning two years of serving as a clerk in a St. Vincent DePaul store in Albuquerque.
“I enjoyed working at St. Vincent DePaul helping the needy,” she said. “It was very rewarding to see people come in with their vouchers and help them out.”
Poor health caused her to return to Maple Mount in December 2014, but she said when she’s feeling better, she may volunteer at the Owensboro St. Vincent DePaul store. She finds it impossible to pick out one moment or ministry in her years as a sister that stand out above the rest.
“I’ve enjoyed it all,” she said.