When Jane Frances Browning was a senior at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, Ursuline Sister Mary Constance Vize came home to Maple Mount due to health problems. Sister Mary Constance knew Jane from her days of teaching in Calvary, Ky.
“Every Sunday, she would ask if she could visit with me,” said the former Jane Frances, now known as Ursuline Sister Clarita Browning. “We would sit on the porch at the Academy, she would crochet and we would talk and laugh. She finally asked if I had considered becoming a sister.”
It was during a retreat led by Father Patrick Payton her senior year that she seriously began thinking about becoming an Ursuline Sister. Three of her classmates also entered religious communities – Sister Luisa Bickett became an Ursuline, one joined the Ursulines but later left and another joined the Carmelites in Baltimore.
Being a boarding student at the Academy helped her to make the decision to enter the Ursulines, she said. “I think I never would have been a (Sister) if I hadn’t come to the Academy. I wouldn’t have left home if I hadn’t done it at an earlier age.”
There were seven children in the Browning family growing up in Calvary, a small town in Marion County in an area so Catholic it is known as the “Kentucky Holy Land.” Two older boys became Passionist priests. Of the five girls, Jane Frances was in the middle. Only her sisters Josephine Browning and Ursuline Sister Marie Goretti Browning are living.
“Calvary was a little town; if you bat your eyes as you go through, you miss it,” Sister Clarita said. “It was a town where everybody knew everybody. I went to Calvary School, a public school taught by Ursuline Sisters. It wasn’t uncommon at that time.”
Ursuline Sister Victoria Brohm, who taught her in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, was the sister who had the biggest impact on her. “She is the one most responsible for me becoming a religious,” Sister Clarita said. “She challenged everything about you. ‘You can do better,’ or ‘you can do this,’ even if you thought you couldn’t. So you said, ‘Yes, I will.’ She was an excellent teacher.”
Toward the end of Sister Clarita’s eighth-grade year, Sister Victoria urged Sister Clarita’s mother to send her to Mount Saint Joseph Academy. “My mother told her we couldn’t afford it; we were farmers. Sister Victoria said my grades were good enough; I could get a scholarship,” Sister Clarita said. “I got one, and I kept it all four years.”
When she received the habit in 1948, her first choice for a name was to honor her parents by becoming Joseph Agnes. She was told several sisters already had the name Joseph and Agnes. She doesn’t recall her second choice, but her third was Clarita, a name she’d read somewhere and thought was beautiful.
“It means little Clare, so I had to figure out who Saint Clare was,” she said. Clare of Assisi was a great admirer of Saint Francis of Assisi, who showed her the way to live the simple life in service to God. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, later changed to the Order of Saint Clare, but better known today as the Poor Clares.
During her 67 years as an Ursuline Sister, Sister Clarita has taught young children and taught students at Brescia College how to become teachers. She has taught adults and children about religion in three parishes and served the pastoral needs of the elderly sisters at the Ursuline Motherhouse. She retired in 2009 when she turned 80, and these days she continues to help at the Motherhouse as a receptionist and whenever she sees something that needs to be done.
“All my years have been good,” she said. She is glad she chose the life of an Ursuline Sister. “Even when I felt inadequate or unprepared, it was always successful. That just told me that God was always there,” she said. “That really does something to your faith to know it was all a gift.”