Most plans made as a second-grader don’t come true. But Sister Melissa Tipmore decided in the second grade that she would become an Ursuline Sister, and this year marks her 51st year in religious life.
Sister Melissa grew up in Owensboro, Ky., born Barbara Joan Tipmore, the youngest of seven children to J.W. and Georgia Tipmore, whom everyone called “Shorty.” “Everyone in my family is short except me,” she said. She’s 5 feet 6 inches tall.
She loved books and movies as a child, and they remain an important part of her life. She recalls weekends of going to see a movie or going skating for a quarter each.
She attended Sts. Joseph and Paul School, where every teacher she had was an Ursuline. “I was educated by Ursulines all through school, I dearly loved them,” she said. “I liked to help them after school. In the second grade, we were flower girls for the first communicants. I knew I would be a sister then.”
“I always felt close to the sisters, they included us in their lives,” Sister Melissa said. “Your parents wanted you to get outside, but the sisters would let us help in the classroom.”
During the summer, a bus brought the sisters from Maple Mount to Brescia College so the sisters could work on their degrees, and the sisters lived in Sister Melissa’s school. “We played volleyball with them. They shared their lives with us,” she said. The two sisters who had the biggest impact on her were Sister Rosita Willett, who is deceased, and Sister Peter Claver Abell, who left the community in 1975 and is now Laura Smith.
In those days each parish where the Ursulines taught offered one scholarship to Mount Saint Joseph Academy, and Sister Melissa received the one from Sts. Joseph and Paul. She stayed at the Academy her freshman year as a boarding student. In the spring of the year, students needed to let the school know if they would return, and Sister Melissa was so homesick, she decided to attend Owensboro Catholic High School her sophomore and junior years.
She knew she planned to enter the Ursulines upon graduation and talked with Father Aloysius Powers about her vocation. He told her she would acclimate to the convent better if she spent her senior year at the Academy, so she returned for her final year, graduating in 1963.
Barbara Joan Tipmore entered the Ursuline Sisters as a postulant with 20 other young women on Sept. 8, 1963, and entered the novitiate in 1964. Six of her classmates remain – Sisters Diane Marie Payne, Joan Riedley, Karla Kaelin, Laurita Spalding, Lisa Marie Cecil and Mary Timothy Bland.
The strong pull to religious life never left Sister Melissa and still hasn’t. “I think the good Lord is still calling, but people aren’t listening,” she said. “Having sisters around all the time made a difference. They treated us like we were people too.”
After 29 years as a teacher, Sister Melissa serves as transportation coordinator for the Motherhouse. She began in 1999 and continues enjoying her ministry today.