Sister Marie Bosco Wathen had an older sister who was an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, and she had three Ursuline Sisters as teachers in grade school and five more in high school. Her thoughts about religious life, however, didn’t begin with wanting to become a sister.
“My first vocation was to become a priest,” she said. “The Resurrectionist Fathers from St. Mary College took care of the parish. The seminarians from St. Mary would come over sometimes to have a picnic. They seemed so happy, I thought they were very holy.”
As she got older, Sister Marie Bosco didn’t change her mind.
“Women were limited in what they could do then – you could get married, become a teacher or a nurse,” she said. “I didn’t want to get married or teach or be a nurse. I still wanted to be a priest. I prayed to God to change the Church, but instead, God changed me.”
She was born Margaret Cecilia Wathen in the little central Kentucky town of Finley, but she claimed St. Joseph as her hometown because that’s where she went to school and church. Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph taught at St. Joseph School, so to avoid confusion they started calling the Marion County town “Little St. Joe,” Sister Marie Bosco said.
She was the youngest of nine children, two boys and seven girls, and grew up on a 180-acre farm. The first Ursuline Sister she knew was her sister, but she was only 3 when Sister George Marie Wathen joined the Ursulines at age 18.
“She called me her baby sister until I was eligible to draw Social Security,” Sister Marie Bosco said. Sister George Marie died in 2003.
Sister Marie Bosco had to overcome a great deal of tragedy as a child. When she was 6 years old, her paternal grandmother died of a heart attack. A month later, her mother died of pneumonia at 46 years old. Three years later, one of her sisters died of tuberculosis.
All that loss left young Cecilia indifferent about her education. That changed when she began her sophomore year at St. Charles High School.
“That’s when Sister Jean Mark came into my life,” she said. Sister Jean Mark Buckler was a classmate of Sister George Marie Wathen, and knew of Cecilia’s struggles.
“Sister Jean Mark was so kind to me. She made me understand the importance of learning,” Sister Marie Bosco said. “When I got to the 10th grade, I realized how much I had lost in those years.”
She decided during her senior year of high school that she wanted to join the Ursuline Sisters. She was the only child left at home and decided to tell her father by writing him a note.
“The next day he said he thought it was great that I go to the convent,” she said. “Then he asked ‘What do you think about me getting married?’ He got remarried during my second semester of my senior year of high school.”
She entered the convent after graduating from Saint Charles High School. When her father took her to the train, all he asked her was, “Do they have some place you can go to cry when you get homesick?” Sister Marie Bosco replied, “I don’t know.” She explained, “I never got homesick, and I never wanted to leave.”
She was one of nine women who entered in 1943, and one of her classmates remain – Sister Naomi Aull. This is their 79th year as Ursuline Sisters.
When it came time to select a religious name, Cecilia Wathen wanted to honor Saint John Bosco, the Italian priest who dedicated his life to helping street children and other disadvantaged youths.
“I was so taken with his caring and understanding of boys who were in trouble,” Sister Marie Bosco said.
She spent 28 years as an elementary school teacher, and another 23 years as a professor of education at Brescia College (now University.) She worked in institutional research at Brescia from 1997-2005 and was co-director of Ursuline Associates from 1996-2002. Her name has produced its share of laughs over the years from students.
“When I was teaching at Brescia, I had a large class in educational psychology. I knew most of them hadn’t heard of John Bosco,” she said. “In the stores at the time was Bosco chocolate and Bosco dog food. I told the class, ‘The name Bosco doesn’t come from chocolate or dog food, it comes from a John.’ They all laughed and it dawned on me what I’d said.”
Sister Marie Bosco is now retired at the Motherhouse, but can usually be found pitching in to help prepare a donation of fruit or vegetables.
She said, “I am most grateful to God for the wonderful gift of living the Consecrated Life as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.”