Sister Rosemary Keough wanted to be a missionary, like the sisters she read about in a Maryknoll magazine. While her ministry as an Ursuline Sister has taken her across the United States and South America, her calling these days is serving those who left their country to come to Kentucky.
Her father, Tom Keough, worked for International Harvester, and the company asked him to move to Louisville, Ky., about the time Sister Rosemary was to enter the seventh grade and her sister Sally was 3. The family moved into the St. Denis Parish in Louisville, where all the teachers were Ursulines.
“Sister Mary Damian Abel was my teacher and principal. She arranged for us to see (Mount Saint Joseph) Academy, and I fell in love with it,” Sister Rosemary said. She was one of the few students who didn’t have to work to pay part of her tuition. The following year, her father’s company was having trouble, and his doctor told him if he didn’t get away from the stress, he would be dead in six months. When her parents told her she might not be able to continue at the Academy, Sister Rosemary volunteered to get a job to help pay her tuition. She dusted and mopped the floors in the music department.
“I wouldn’t take anything for those days,” she said.
One piece of the Mount she carries with her is a flute. “I started the flute when I was a freshman at the Mount,” Sister Rosemary said. “Sister Mary Ivo (Thompson) wrote all the instruments on the board needed for the orchestra. I‘m not sure I knew what a flute was, but it’s a very Irish thing,” she said.
She played all four years of high school. Twenty years later, Sister Mary Durr returned from ministering in Nebraska and gave her the flute back. “I got to take it to South America, to Brescia, to the Mount, to Albuquerque and then Centro Latino,” Sister Rosemary said.
Her first call to religious life was at age 5, when she saw that Maryknoll magazine and decided she wanted to be a missionary. When she was a sophomore at the Academy, a sister asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated. “I told her I was going to be a Maryknoll missionary,” Sister Rosemary said. “She said, ‘Ursulines are missionaries, we’re in New Mexico.’ I thought, ‘So what?’”
When she was a month away from graduating high school, the Academy principal, Sister Joseph Therese Thompson, told her, “You’re in line for a scholarship at Brescia (College in Owensboro). Do you want that, or an appointment with Mother Ambrose (Martin),” the mother superior who would talk to her about becoming an Ursuline Sister. “I said, ‘Better get that appointment with Mother Ambrose,’” Sister Rosemary said. “My tombstone someday will say, ‘The Great Procrastinator.’
“My parents sat me down and said they’d like to help me with college, but they couldn’t afford it,” Sister Rosemary said. “I said, ‘That’s OK, I’m going to join the Ursulines.’ That was my announcement.”
Sister Rosemary entered in 1956 and became a novice in 1957, making this her 58th year as an Ursuline Sister. She’s been a teacher to children and adults in Kentucky, Nebraska and New Mexico, and spent a few years as a pastoral worker in Chillan, Chile. For the past 15 years she has served with Sister Fran Wilhelm at Centro Latino, a ministry to Hispanics in Owensboro and surrounding counties. She helps get immigrants to doctor’s appointments and eases their way in navigating the challenges of adapting to American life.
Sister Rosemary is very grateful to belong to the Ursuline Sisters who support her and Sister Fran in their work with the Hispanics. They do not receive a salary, but depend on the Ursuline community and other donations.
“It’s definitely related to our Ursuline motto: Those who instruct others unto justice will shine like stars for all eternity,” Sister Rosemary said.