Proclaiming Jesus through education and Christian formation.

Sisters in Ministry September 2011
Sister Mary Timothy Bland: A life in teaching God’s little ones

Always wanted to be a sister

Sister Mary Timothy was born Wanda Joyce Bland to William Edgar and Mary Lelia Bland, in the little town of Greenbrier, Ky., outside Lebanon. It’s an area so Catholic the locals call it “the Kentucky Holy Land.”

“We had a church, a store, and that’s about it,” she said.

In 2004, Sister Mary Timothy and the remaining members of her novice class of 1964 celebrated their 40th jubilee as Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. In the first row, from left, are Sisters Karla Kaelin, Joan Riedley and Lisa Marie Cecil; in the second row are Sisters Diane Marie Payne, Laurita Spalding, Mary Timothy and Melissa Tipmore.

“Egg” Bland, as he was known, was a tenant farmer before Sister Mary Timothy was born, and ran the grocery called the Calvary Store while the children were growing up. “We had rooms in the back where we lived,” she said. Later, he got a job at General Electric in Louisville, where he worked until he became ill.

Lelia or “Lil” Bland gave birth to 14 children, six of whom died as infants. She raised the remaining eight, and “did a great job,” Sister Mary Timothy said. Wanda was the seventh child born, but is third oldest among those who reached adulthood. From oldest to the youngest, the Bland siblings stretch a little more than 20 years.

“We had a good life. We were poor, but everyone else around us was too, so we didn’t know it,” Sister Mary Timothy said. “You never locked your door, you didn’t need to.”

Marion County is a hilly area, so on Saturday afternoons she would go hiking with the neighborhood children. “We lived in the center of town, so the neighbor kids would come over to play kick the can,” Sister Mary Timothy said. “We had nightly rosary, so sometimes the neighbor kids joined in until we were finished.”

Sister Mary Timothy went to Calvary Elementary School, and then St. Charles High School in St. Mary, Ky. They were public schools, but all the teachers were Ursuline Sisters.

“I always wanted to be a sister, as long as I could remember,” she said. “We’d go to confession on Saturdays, and the sisters would come in to pray. I was so impressed, they sat so still, and of course we were wiggling. I never wanted to be anything else,” Sister Mary Timothy said. “This is what I always wanted to do.”


Sister Mary Timothy, center, is joined by Sister Mary Agnes VonderHaar, left, and Sister Rita Scott during the community election in December 2009. Sister Rita was the principal at Blessed Mother School in Owensboro when Sister Mary Timothy was a teacher there.

The first Ursuline she met was Sister Mary Beatrice Donahue, who taught her first and second grade. “We lived in the store down the street from the school,” Sister Mary Timothy said. “I thought I was helping her, I’d come straighten up the pencils or other little jobs.” (Sister Mary Beatrice died in 2006.)

Other teachers she had were Sister Mary Francis Brumlow for third and fourth grade, Sister Jean Madeline Peake for fifth and part of sixth, Sister Joseph Ann Cissell for the rest of sixth, and Sister Miriam Medley for seventh and eighth. (Sister Jean Madeline and Sister Miriam are retired and live at the Motherhouse.) She had five Ursulines in high school, with Sister Jean Teresa Taylor the one who helped her the most. “When I was a senior, she found out I was going to enter the convent, and she helped me get all my things together.”

Hearing the call

During her senior year of high school, Sister Mary Timothy’s class came to Maple Mount for a retreat. “Father Barry Rankin was the retreat leader. He said, ‘If you think you have a vocation, go. If it turns out you don’t, people will admire you for trying.’ I came home and told my parents I was entering,” Sister Mary Timothy said. “They were very happy. My first cousin was an Ursuline, she is three years older than me. She later decided to join the Poor Clare Sisters in Roswell, N.M. She is now Sister Mary Amata Thomas in Alexandria, Va.”

The Ursuline Sisters were the only order Sister Mary Timothy considered. “They were the sisters I knew. I wanted to teach, and they are teachers.”

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