My Vocation Story – Sister Michael Ann Monaghan

When Barbara Nell Monaghan was in high school, she took an aptitude test that told her she would make a good inspector. Following her graduation, she moved from her home in Central City, Ky., to Hammond, Ind., where two of her sisters lived. She got a job working at Inland Steel, inspecting large sheets of tin. She made friends and took advantage of what Chicago had to offer just a half hour away, such as museums, dancing and live shows. She saw Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on stage. Despite the adventure she had, she knew she wanted more.

“I had a desire to serve God’s people,” she said. “I thought I could do so better as a sister.” More than a thousand children who were taught by Ursuline Sister Michael Ann Monaghan during her 47 years as a teacher or principal would agree.

Barbara Nell was the seventh of 10 children, and the family lived on a 10-acre piece of land during the Depression. The family had a garden that the children worked in. “I think (my father) did that to keep us busy,” she said. Her father was a coal miner, in the days when Muhlenberg County was the top coal-producing county in the state. “He began working in the mines when he was 13,” she said. “His father died early and he had to help his mother. He was a veteran of World War I. He was a cook in the Army and arrived in France just as the armistice was signed.” He worked in the coal mines in Wyoming before meeting her mother in Terre Haute, Ind. They took a steamboat to Central City for a mining job. Times were lean during the Depression, so her mother made all the children’s clothes, was an excellent cook and a good manager of the family resources, Sister Michael Ann said. “Surely my vocation story is not entirely about me and God,” Sister Michael Ann said. “Yes, God! But I also give a great amount of credit to growing up in a loving, caring and compassionate family. It was a family who encouraged and supported one another in making specific life choices,” she said. “Family prayer was an important factor in our growing years and still is when the family gathers,” she said. “We always make time for prayer, remembering our early days. Just as prayer is important in our Ursuline family each day, prayer is what sustained us through the ups and downs in childhood, during the maturing adult lives, and yes, prayer will sustain us through the aging years. This I believe.”

Before she considered becoming a sister, Barbara Nell knew she wanted to be a teacher. That was because of the example of her Ursuline teachers in grade school. She recalls fondly on her first day of first grade at St. Joseph School in Central City, Ursuline Sister Mary Ophelia Raley gave her a long pointer and told her to take the three other first-graders to the reading charts and help them read. “I thought I was really special, I was already a teacher,” she said. In the fifth grade, she met Ursuline Sister Mary Edward Pope. “She never talked to me about a vocation, but she was the kind of teacher I wanted to be,” Sister Michael Ann said. “She always encouraged us to learn all we could. She made school fun for us. I can still see her teaching us about volleyball.”

The first Ursuline Sister who believed young Barbara Nell had a religious vocation was her seventh and eighth grade teacher, Sister Mary Denis Bumpus. “She tried to encourage my vocation by giving me jobs to do, to see what the sisters did,” Sister Michael Ann said. Throughout attending a public high school, the thought of entering the convent was often with Barbara Nell. “I used to take time on my way home to stop in church and visit the Blessed Sacrament,” she said. “That got me thinking about a religious vocation.” When her older sister, Patricia Jean, joined the Ursulines in 1948 and became Sister Mary Renee, Barbara Nell wished she had that sort of courage. (Sister Renee died in 2013). “I didn’t want to enter until I was sure God was calling me,” Sister Michael Ann said. “I took a year of discernment.” That was the year she spent in Hammond and she knew what God wanted her to do. She became a postulant in 1951 and a novice in 1952, making this her 63rd year as a sister.

She thought about taking her parents’ names, but those names were taken. “My father always talked about our guardian angel and how important that was in our life,” she said. “I had an uncle Mike I was fond of, and my oldest sister was Ann, so that’s how I chose Michael Ann.” Sister Michael Ann got her first chance at being a teacher in 1954 at Immaculate School in Owensboro, Ky. She was a first-grade teacher for 25 years and relished the opportunity to help children learn to read. “I thought if they liked school the first year, they would probably like it the rest of their lives,” she said. After nine years at Immaculate and a year in Louisville, Sister Michael Ann was excited to be asked about moving to San Fidel, N.M., to teach at St. Joseph School. She would return to Owensboro from 1966-72, but over the next 30 years, she would serve six stints teaching in New Mexico, finishing with St. Francis of Assisi School in Gallup in 2001. During some of those years she served as both principal and teacher. She has served in family ministry — helping take care of siblings who were in poor health — but she returned to the Mount in 2012 and since then has volunteered in the Finance office in the afternoons.

“I love the two families who have cared for me during my life,” Sister Michael Ann said. “As I age, I’m filled with gratitude and hope that my prayer is Jesus’ prayer that He prayed for the world to be united. ‘That the world may believe that You have sent me.’” A special poem in Sister Michael Ann’s life is “Sisters of Three,” written by her late sister, Kathleen LaBuda, in honor of her three sisters who chose consecrated life, Sister Renee, Sister June (a Sister of Charity of Nazareth) and Sister Michael Ann. “It conveys to us the sentiments of gratitude our families have for calling us to serve God’s people,” Sister Michael Ann said. “Certainly my call has been a wonderful and beautiful life as an Ursuline Sister.”  

“Sisters of Three”

By Kathleen LaBuda

 

Three of my sisters

So young and fair,

Gave up the world

Without a care.

 

They adorned a habit

Of black and white,

To serve our Lord

Both day and night.

 

Two of them chose

To be Ursuline nuns,

To guide and teach

The little ones.

 

A sister of Charity

The third one became,

To care for the orphan

The sick and the lame.

 

I pray each day

Their work well done,

The time and patience

Of three little nuns.

 

I’m so grateful

For their prayers for me,

And proud to be

A sister of three.

 

I go to visit them

Now and then,

A heavenly grace

I feel within.

 

For the joy they have

Of serving the Lord,

To them it’s just

A small reward.

 

For the pain you suffered

For them and for me,

I’m proud to be

A sister of three.

Comments

  1. Paulette Clouse Davis

    You were my 1st grade teacher at Immaculate Catholic Church in Owensboro….you were the best teacher. I am 59 and a grandmother now but I still have such fond memories of these that you were my teacher

  2. Elizabeth Skaggs Clemons

    that was such a beautiful story told by Sister Michael Ann. I loved the poem too.

  3. Patty Mills Reynolds

    I am probably a little biased because Sister Michael Ann is my aunt, but I don’t think you’ll find a more loving, fun and giving person. I love her so much.

  4. Jenny Heidorn

    Sister Michael Ann (Aunt Babs) is my great aunt. I love that she chose part of her name from my grandma (Ann). I too, liked hearing stories of my great grandparents. It’s part of my heritage I was unaware of. Thanks for sharing Aunt Babs. Love you!

  5. Chris Sims

    Hi from New Mexico Sister Michael Ann! So blessed to read your story and to know that you are doing well.We miss you and your quiet but loving smile.St. Joseph’s is still alive and we are often reminded of the many blessings you brought with your teaching and administration of the school when you were here.The children are doing well and all grown up with children of their own.I’m a grandma of three now, the oldest just graduating from Our Lady of Fatima in Albuq., and two first graders.If you use email drop me a line and I will fill you in on NM and Acoma Pueblo news! Love n prayers to you and Sr. Marie Brenda. Chris Sims

  6. Jan (Mills) Gish

    I am sitting here next to Sister Michael Ann, who is visiting me in Lexington, KY. I’m her niece. She doesn’t have email but she certainly appreciates all the comments that were posted here. Chris, Sister would like you to send her your mailing address. Her address is at the bottom of the page. Sister said: “All comments made were greatly appreciated and enjoyed. I hold all the memories in my heart and pray for all those whose lives I have touched.”

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