Sister Mary Agnes VonderHaar’s ancestors came from the valley of Haar in Bavaria, Germany. Her great grandfather came to America with his family to Quincy, Ill., then to Davenport, Iowa.
“Dad worked for the Army at Rock Island Arsenal as a machinist,” Sister Mary Agnes said. He transferred to Fort Knox, Ky., and during World War II, he was superintendent of the ordnance shops.
Sister Mary Agnes was born in Vine Grove, Ky., the week before Christmas in 1933. She was taught by the Ursuline Sisters at St. Brigid Elementary School, and then went to high school at Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Maple Mount.
She knew she wanted to become an Ursuline Sister by her junior year at the Academy.
“It’s like a girl who falls in love with some man, there’s that attraction,” she said. “I don’t know how you explain it, it’s just a movement in your heart. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
She kept her desires a secret while at the Academy. “If the (sisters) knew, they’d expect you to be good,” she said with a smile.
A girl among four brothers, mischievousness and a hearty laugh were in Sister Mary Agnes’ nature and would follow her through many assignments. She said when she got homesick while in the novitiate, “I’d wish I would fall down the stairs and break my leg so they’d send me home.”
She entered the novitiate right out of the Academy in 1952.
“I hadn’t thought of being a teacher, I thought about being a nurse,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “I just wanted to be a nun. Teaching happened to be part of it.”
Her ministry career has included teaching students in middle and high school, as well as being a principal. She was elected to community leadership for eight years beginning in 1988. Since her term ended in 1996, she has worked in parish ministry, and from 2004-16, she served two parishes in Breckinridge County, Ky., visiting the sick who are homebound or in nursing homes or hospitals. From 2017-21, she served as the daily annalist for the community at Maple Mount.
“My life as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph has me amazed at what God can do with an ordinary girl who fell in love with Him — who didn’t know what she was getting into,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “God has shown me the way to serve so many youths and adults as a teacher, listener and companion on the journey. All I can be is amazed and thankful.”