As a child, Sister Julia Head loved to learn and yearned for a larger family of sisters. The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph offered her both.
Sister Julia grew up on a farm in the Stanley-Newman-Birk City area of western Daviess County, Ky., not too far from Maple Mount. Her father, Bernard, was a sharecropper when she was born.
“The pride of his life was buying his own farm, when I was 4,” she said. Her mother, Frances, worked along with him on the farm as long as she was able. The family eventually had to leave the farm and move to a home behind the auditorium at Maple Mount, where her father worked in maintenance for 15 years.
She has a brother, Herman, who lives in Stanley, and “two brothers in the cemetery,” she said, one who lived just a day and another who was a miscarriage.
“There are probably several other little ones, Mom couldn’t remember all her pregnancies,” Sister Julia said. “I can’t wait to get to heaven and see how much family I really have.”
Sister Julia attended St. Peter of Alcantara School in Stanley, where her teachers were all Ursulines. The late Sister Rosaria Ray taught her in the first and second grades.
“I so appreciate the gift of reading, she got me started,” Sister Julia said. “I read any book that came along.” Her favorite book growing up was “Lives of the Saints,” which belonged to her great grandfather, Bernard Bickwermert.
“It was falling apart,” she said. “I was supposed to be dusting, and I’d stop and read it.” Years later she had the book rebound.
“My grandfather Murphy had one “National Geographic” — I read it every time I went to visit,” she said. She read the “Farm Journal” and the “Progressive Farmer” that came to her home. “I learned a lot about soybeans,” she said.
Sister Julia attended Mount Saint Joseph Academy, the all-girl high school run by the Ursulines. She was a day student her first two years at the Academy, but when the public junior high school at West Louisville closed, there was no bus service, so she became a boarding student.
“I had no sisters, so going to the Academy was like gaining a huge family,” she said. Some of her classmates who became sisters were Sister Rose Marita O’Bryan, Sister Kathleen Kaelin and Sister Helena Fischer.
After graduating from the Academy in 1960, Sister Julia attended Brescia College for four or five weeks.
“I was trying to be independent,” she said. When Sister Joseph Therese Thompson, then principal of Mount Saint Joseph Academy, saw her that October, Sister Julia told her, “I think I’m in the wrong place.” She entered as a postulant that same month.
Like all sisters in those years, Sister Julia attended Brescia for her undergraduate degree, a bachelor’s in English, and to prepare for a teaching career. She began teaching in August 1965 at St. James School in Louisville, with an extraordinary principal, Sister Rose Ann Boone.
“Teaching let me learn. I was captivated by learning,” Sister Julia said. “That’s why I so appreciate the ministry of teaching, it allows me to keep learning.”
As a result of her love for words, she was encouraged to earn a master’s degree in English: linguistics at Morehead (Ky.) State University, graduating in 1977. “What a gift for the language arts/wordsmith in me,” she said.
Sister Julia spent 13 years as a classroom teacher, and then was appointed by the superior, Sister Annalita Lancaster, as coordinator of the apostolate. In 1979 she became one of the first people in the Diocese of Owensboro hired by a parish to be responsible for the religious education of children attending public school. It only took a short time for her to realize that she needed an upgraded foundation in catechetical ministry. For six summers, she worked toward a master’s degree in pastoral studies at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn. The studies in theology, scripture and catechetics provided much needed groundwork for parish ministry, as well as the ministry she loved most — leading adult religious education for the Diocese of Owensboro from 1992-1999.
In August 1999 she returned to parish ministry as the pastoral associate at Parish of the Immaculate in Owensboro, a role she filled until being elected assistant congregational leader of the Ursuline Sisters in 2010. When her term ended in 2016, she returned to Immaculate and adult faith formation, where she continues today.
“Growth in skills and knowledge is not only applied in ministry settings, but has provided tools for my inner life as a consecrated woman, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph,” Sister Julia said. “Reading that leads to lectio divina is an important step in a life of prayer; also needed is a spirit of silence and listening. These tools for the spiritual life have been nurtured within me by sisters with whom I have lived and ministered in a variety of education/formation situations. Without community life and the sharing of wisdom by my sisters, my heart and mind could have been as dry as the Sahara,” she said.
“Instead, my life has been blessed by the presence of fruit trees like those that line the river of water flowing from the Temple in Jerusalem. These fruit trees are my sisters, the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph. I have been and am richly blessed.”