Sister Marietta Wethington’s mother never asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“My mother was a very spiritual woman and she encouraged spirituality in us,” Sister Marietta said. “She taught me to pray about my vocation. She said, ‘Ask what God wants you to be.’”
Since the days when she was barely a teenager, that answer has been clear to Sister Marietta, who is celebrating her 60th year as an Ursuline Sister.
“I think I started very young wanting to be a sister. I can’t remember wanting to be anything else,” she said. “I know I wanted to be close to God. That seemed to be a good way to do that. It’s been a great decision.”
Born Mary Etta Wethington, the oldest of eight children in the tiny Casey County, Ky., town of Clementsville, her exposure to the Ursuline Sisters came first on Saturdays.
“I went to a one-room public school. I received religious education on Saturdays at St. Bernard from the Ursuline Sisters,” she said. “Sister Ernestine Ritchie prepared me for my first communion. She was the first sister I knew.”
She was able to attend a Catholic school when she began at St. Bernard High School, where her main teachers were Ursuline Sisters Jane Francis Donahue and Carmelita Mattingly.
The Wethington family prayed the rosary together and prayed before meals with each other, Sister Marietta said.
“My mother helped me to learn my catechism at night,” she said. “I learned to pray literally at my mother’s knee.”
Prayer has remained an integral part of Sister Marietta’s life, and it was that prayer that led her to ask her parents if she could join the Ursuline Sisters – at age 14.
“They said ‘absolutely not,’ that’s too young,” Sister Marietta said. “I just prayed about it, I knew it was time. At 15 they let me come. They said, ‘You know you can always come home.’ I think they thought I couldn’t really make such a decision at 15,” she said. “Once I got here, I never gave going home any serious thought.”
Making such a decision at 15 wasn’t as uncommon in 1954, she said. Besides, Sister Marietta had a history of doing things at a young age.
“I learned to read at 5. In 1943, that was young,” she said. “I baked my first cake at 7.”
Sister Marietta’s first ministry was as an elementary school teacher at Immaculate Catholic School in Owensboro, Ky. Teaching young children to read became her favorite ministry, but it wasn’t something she was considering when she became a sister.
“I knew I wanted to be close to God. Teaching didn’t enter my mind,” she said. “I knew it would be a place to develop my interior journey.”
Teaching young children the love of reading and to love books holds a special memory for Sister Marietta.
“Whenever I would read to the children, I would say, ‘This is my favorite book,’” she said. “One day a little boy said, ‘Sister, every book is your favorite book.’ I also enjoyed preparing them for their first communion and first reconciliation.”
She considers herself blessed with good people who inspired her and holy people who encouraged her, she said.
“I’ve been serious about having spiritual direction in my life. I’ve always taken time for prayer,” she said. “When teaching at Immaculate, on Sunday afternoons I would spend so much time in the church, it was a place of intimacy for me. I’ve always been drawn to intimacy with God.”
Another special ministry for her was the seven years (1993-2000) she spent as pastoral associate at Holy Spirit Parish in Jamestown, Ky.
“It was a very ecumenical place. I came to share with other faiths,” she said. “There was a Hardee’s across the street. I met the Lutheran pastor and a Nazarene minister there for breakfast and Bible study. On Wednesday afternoons I met with Methodist women to share faith.”
Sister Marietta’s career in ministry includes multiple terms in elected community leadership, serving as director of postulants and co-director of Ursuline Partnerships, in which she offered formation to Ursuline Associates and alumnae of Mount Saint Joseph Academy. She is a certified spiritual director and a founding team member of the Spiritual Direction Training Program at the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center, which will graduate its fifth class in July.
If someone asked her today about joining the Ursuline Sisters, Sister Marietta would offer this advice: “Pray carefully and discern it carefully with a spiritual director, a trusted friend or a confessor” she said. “Above all, use the words of Angela, obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit heard in your heart. I would tell her it’s been a great life for me.”