When the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph became an independent community in October 1912, sisters from Maple Mount had already been teaching in the small Marion County, Ky., town of Raywick for a year.
In the ensuing 100 years, Ursuline Sisters have maintained a presence in the central Kentucky community, with today only one sister left – Sister Mary Lois Speaks, who serves in community outreach, fittingly in Raywick.
When Sister Mary Lois and her longtime friend, Associate Phyllis Troutman, mentioned to Marion County Judge-Executive John G. Mattingly in fall 2011 that the Ursuline Sisters were celebrating their centennial in 2012, Mattingly said the community that owes so much to the sisters should do something to celebrate. “Celebrate” may be too small a word.
The week of April 23-29 was proclaimed the “Week of Centennial Celebration of Ursuline Education and Ministry in Marion County, Acknowledging and Honoring the Lasting Contributions of the Sisters to Marion County.” April 27-29 was a three-day celebration that began with a Mass on Friday night, a reception for the sisters who taught in Marion County on Saturday, followed by a dinner and dance that night. On Sunday a Mass was celebrated by the archbishop of Louisville followed by the dedication of a memorial in front of the government office building.
There were no Catholic schools in Marion County, but the public schools were often staffed by Ursuline Sisters. “I had a third of my school day led by sisters in a public school,” Mattingly said, who attended St. Charles High School and then Marion County High School. “Sister Mary Carl (Sherron) was assistant principal at the high school, and Sister Anne Rita (Cash) was my primary teacher,” he said. “The sisters were always a part of our setting. They did a tremendous service for our community, they served a void when there weren’t enough lay teachers.”
Mattingly was raised Catholic and his family revered the sisters, seeing them at early Mass leading the singing. “Sister Charles Marie (Coyle) corresponded with my mother all their lives,” he said.
Mattingly was a teacher in Marion County before running for office, and said Sister Mary Lois has been a constant in the community. She taught at Marion County High School from 1997-2011, and now offers spiritual direction and outreach in the county.
“She is very close to me and my family,” Mattingly said. Six years ago, Mattingly’s 23-year-old son, John, was shot, and lay in intensive care for 49 days with little hope for survival. Doctors could not predict how long he would survive, Mattingly said, but when they had a feeling the time was drawing near, Sister Mary Lois and Troutman came to the hospital to pray with the family.
“Sister Mary Lois told John, ‘You know you can’t enter into heaven until you forgive those who did this to you.’ A peace came over John’s face, and 15 minutes later he was gone,” Mattingly said. “She has always been a comfort. Like all the sisters, she was where she was needed.”
With Mattingly’s help, a core planning group was put together with representatives of each parish where the Ursulines ministered – St. Francis Xavier, St. Augustine, St. Charles, Holy Cross, St. Francis of Assisi, Holy Name of Mary and St. Joseph. St. Augustine Church in Lebanon became the focal point for the activities, with the help of assistant pastor Father Bill Bowling. “Many hands make light work,” Mattingly said.