If the distillery where she worked hadn’t closed, Ursuline Sister George Mary Hagan may not have heard the Lord calling her to religious life.
Sister George Mary was born Frances Lucille Hagan in New Haven, Ky., a small town near Bardstown in a highly Catholic area of central Kentucky. When she joined the Ursulines in 1955, it was customary for a sister to take a parent’s name as her own, and since her father was George and her mother Mary, that became her new name.
After Vatican II, sisters were allowed to return to their baptismal names if they chose, but Sister George Mary had a reason not to.
“If they called me Frances or Lucille, I would have changed, but my family all calls me ‘Tudy,’” she said. The story goes that her namesake, Aunt Lucille, took one look at her and said, “Oh, she’s a Tudy,” Sister George Mary said.
Her father, George Hagan, was a telegraph operator for the L&N railroad for 50 years in New Haven. A thrill for his children was to get a pass to ride the train to Louisville, Sister George Mary said. Her mother raised her eight children, two of whom died when they were small.
After graduating from high school, Sister George Mary went to work as a secretary at the JW Dant distillery in neighboring Gethsemane. “I worked with a lot of different types of people at the distillery,” she said.
When the distillery closed after a year, she started taking classes at Ursuline College in Louisville on weekends and began teaching at St. Joseph School in Bardstown. “I enjoyed teaching, so I wanted to do it for the Lord,” she said.
The New Haven area is in the backyard of the Sisters of Loretto, and one of Sister George Mary’s sisters is a member of that order.
“I’d been thinking about (becoming a sister) all my life,” Sister George Mary said. But it was the influence of the Ursuline teachers she had for 12 years in New Haven that led her to choose the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.
“I knew a lot of people here,” she said. “There were seven from my hometown in the novitiate with me.”
Sister George Mary was almost 21 when she joined the novitiate, several years older than her classmates who were just out of high school. She was glad to have the extra years to mature and have more life experiences, which she believes gave her more confidence that she was making the right choice.
Sister George Mary was a teacher for 26 years, and then served another 20 years for the Office of Chaplains at the Fort Knox military base, serving as director of religious education for families of the soldiers. She continues to volunteer at the Motherhouse helping her sisters.
“During my 66 years as an Ursuline, I am so grateful to God for the wonderful blessings he has given me,” Sister George Mary said. “I am in gratitude for the beautiful people he sent into my life for a reason and a season. It has been a great experience. Thanks Lord for the memories.”