Wake Reflection for Sister Agnes Catherine Williams, OSU
Sister Agnes Catherine Williams – 102 years young.
Sister Agnes Catherine had a banner in her room with a quote from Picasso:
It takes a long time to grow young.
And grow young she did – gracefully, beautifully, prayerfully.
To the family members, friends, and former students of Sister Agnes Catherine, we Ursuline Sisters extend our sympathy and our promise of prayer. Your pain is also our pain.
To the health care staff we extend our sincere thanks for the loving, gentle ways you cared for her and loved her. You helped make the last days of her journey as comfortable and easy as possible.
To the pastoral care team, Sisters Mary Irene and Clarita, we also say thank you. We all know what a prayerful woman Sister Agnes Catherine was. You were there to pray with and for her when she lamented that she could no longer see to read her favorite prayers.
In the biographical account that Sister Agnes Catherine left for us, she wrote that she was born in the midst of a blizzard, on Sunday morning, January 29, 1905, the seventh child of William Asa and Catherine Stengell Williams. A baby brother followed, making a family of eight children, five boys and three girls. All three of the girls became Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. The oldest of the three girls, Eva, was Sister Joseph Marie. The second girl, Jessie, was Sister Charles Asa.
Soon after her birth, the baby girl developed an infection that took the sight of her right eye and threatened her life. Her parents, devout Catholics, called Saint Paul Rectory and Father George Conner came to baptize her on February 2. Sister Agnes Catherine tells us that in his haste, Father Conner forgot to bring the holy water. Mrs. Williams had some Lourdes water in the home so Father baptized the baby with her mother’s Lourdes water. Mrs. Williams had chosen the name, Dorothy, for the new baby, but Father Conner insisted that she be baptized Mary Agnes. Sister Agnes Catherine goes on to tell us that her baptism was never entered in the Church records.
Formal education began for Mary Agnes at Saint Frances Academy in Owensboro, which she attended until 11th grade. At that time, she transferred to Mount Saint Joseph Academy. After high school graduation, she attended Mount Saint Joseph Junior College and was in the first graduating class.
After graduation from college, Mary Agnes became a primary classroom teacher at Mount Saint Joseph. She had 12 students in grades 1, 2, and 3 and taught in a room at the back of the stage. By Advent of that same year, Mary Agnes had decided to follow her two older sisters into the community. She entered on the feast of Saint Agnes, January 21, 1925. On August 15, 1925, she entered the novitiate and received the name, Sister Agnes Catherine.
Her 62 years as an Ursuline educator included Saint Alphonsus; Saint Columba, Louisville; Calvary; Raywick; Saints Joseph and Paul, Owensboro, and Seven Holy Founders in Affton, Missouri. While Sister Agnes Catherine was at Saints Joseph and Paul she also supervised the student teachers from Brescia and coordinated the speech clinic.
Sister Agnes Catherine was fiercely dedicated to her teaching and her students. She has the name of every student she ever taught recorded in a little book that she kept in her possession all these years. Her love for her students is evident in the way she stayed in contact with so many of them. She requested that her former students be participants in her funeral liturgy.
Those who shared community life with Sister Agnes Catherine will tell us she was a delightful person to live with. One sister who lived with her at Saints Joseph and Paul called her a one person entertainment center. “ We didn’t have television,” the sister said. “We didn’t need it. We had Sister Agnes Catherine who entertained us highly each night with stories about her students and all that had happened in the classroom that day.”
Sister Agnes Catherine and her older sister, Sister Charles Asa, retired to the Mount the same year. The two of them spent many happy hours together. When Sister Charles Asa could no longer care for herself, Sister Agnes Catherine became her personal caregiver. In many ways, she was Sister Charles Asa’s mouthpiece of prayer when Sister Charles Asa became voiceless.
Some of us would also call Sister Agnes Catherine a one person hospitality committee. How many times have we seen her in the dining room on occasions when we had lots of visitors, going from table to table saying to our guests, “As the oldest member of this community, I want to thank you for all you do for us.” Or “As the oldest member of this community, I want to welcome you to the Mount.” What a model of Ursuline hospitality.
Sister Agnes Catherine’s ministry continued in the infirmary where she so often blessed the other residents and the workers. Many times at night she went to the rooms of the other sisters before retiring and blessed them with this blessing: May you have the blessing of the Blessed Mother and may the power of the Holy Spirit come upon you.
She even blessed her confessor after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Sister Agnes Catherine had a strong love for liturgy and for scripture. When she died I looked at the readings of the day as well as at the feast. August 9 is the feast of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known to some of us as Saint Edith Stein. The entrance and the communion prayers of the liturgy seem so appropriate for Sister Agnes Catherine. Here is a wise and faithful virgin who went with lighted lamp to meet her Lord. And, The bridegroom is here; let us go out to meet Christ the Lord. The Liturgy of the hours calls Teresa Benedicta an angel of mercy and light and love in the midst of darkness. Sister Agnes Catherine, you were oftentimes an angel of mercy and to many you were light and love in the darkness.
Interestingly enough, the feast of Edith Stein is nestled between the feasts of two other great saints, Dominic the preacher and Lawrence the deacon and martyr.
Again, how appropriate. Like Dominic, Sister Agnes Catherine preached, not with words, but with her life. She preached for all of us lessons of prayer, of dedication, and of service.
Like Lawrence, she was a servant and a martyr. Not a martyr who shed blood, but a martyr who was a faithful witness and one who laid down her life often in the martyrdom of everyday living.
The gospel for the 18th Thursday of Ordinary Time is that of Jesus asking his disciples, Who do you say that I am?”
Sister Agnes Catherine, you now see Jesus face to face and I can imagine that you used the words of Angela to answer his question, You are the Lover of Us All.
I can imagine Jesus saying to you, Well done, Good and Faithful Servant. Come, My Love, My Beautiful One. Receive what I have prepared for you.”
Sister Agnes Catherine ended her biographical account with these words, I praise and thank God for all his graces and blessings, especially for calling me to this Ursuline Community of Mount Saint Joseph.
Sister Agnes Catherine, we, too, thank God for calling you to this community. We say to you now, Go. The bridegroom is here. Go with lighted lamp to meet him. Go. Be with God, your Lover, the Lover of Us All and enjoy the fruits of all those years of growing young. Enjoy the reward your lover has prepared for you forever.
Marietta Wethington, OSU
August 12, 2007