Wake Reflection: Sister Agnes Irene Bickett
Pope John XXIII said that “Any day is a good day to be born, and any day is a good day to die.” S. Agnes Irene certainly knew how to choose an especially good day to die. It was just a few minutes after 9:00 the morning of November 25 — the anniversary of the founding of the Ursuline community by St. Angela Merici in 1535—that she slipped away quickly and quietly to meet St. Angela and other Ursuline sisters from all the centuries before us. In honor of the beginning of the year of celebration of the 475th anniversary, Ursulines all over the world were already beginning to participate in a world-wide circle of prayer all around the globe. Surely as Ag prepared for her journey, she heard echoes of Angela’s voice saying, “See, a great reward will be prepared for you…do not doubt, we want to see you in our midst in heaven, for the Lover of us all wants this too. And who is there who could resist Him whose light and joyful splendor of truth will surround you at the moment of death?”
Ninety-three years ago, on October 16, 1916, Agnes Lucille Bickett was born in Union County KY, the youngest child of James Henry Bickett of Marion County, and Mary Alma Stewart of Union County. She joined seven other girls and four boys: sisters Emma Ruth, Mary Jo, Mary Ellen (our S. James Alma), Alice Cecilia, Margaret Catherine, Mary Blanche (our S. Blanche Rita), Alma Elizabeth; and brothers James Lewis, Robert Paul, Lucian Nathan, and Benjamin Franklin. S. Blanche Rita is the only surviving member of that generation of her family…and S. Blanche Rita, on behalf of the entire community I offer our special sympathy and prayers for you. S. Agnes Irene always loved keeping up with her family, old students, and friends. Her archives folder contains numerous and multiple copies of family names and pictures and celebrations and songs her nieces wrote; we know she loved you, all of her family, and we offer our sympathy to you also.
Agnes was baptized at St. Agnes Church in Uniontown, and later confirmed at Sacred Heart Church in St. Vincent KY. She began school at the one-room Union County Public School in Hitesville. By the time she reached the eighth grade, she was the only child left at home. Her mother did not want her walking two miles to school by herself, so Agnes boarded for the year with a brother and his wife in Morganfield, while attending St. Ann School taught by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. It was only natural that she would come to the Mount for high school, since her two older sisters, Sisters James Alma and Blanche Rita, were already in the community.
After just two years of high school, she asked to be admitted into the community. She entered on September 8, 1934, along with classmates Sisters Justina Heimann, Theresa Margaret Hite, Joseph Carmel Redmon, and the former S. Rosella Newton. In the novitiate she had to keep working on her high school diploma, so she took a health class. S. Ursula Marie made them learn all the nerves and how to spell them. “I about studied my head off,” she said, “but when the test came I was the only one to score 100. I was very proud of myself so I saved it. Here it is!” (In her archives file). By the way, she got a pretty good grade in geometry, too. But she was not to finish her high school diploma until about 15 years later, in 1950…
As soon as she had finished her Canonical year, Mother Teresita sent her to St. Lawrence in Philpot, KY, to substitute for two weeks. “I was scared to death,” she said! But the very next year she began her full-time ministry as a housekeeper in Fancy Farm, KY—quite a long way from Union County—and then Waterflow NM and Paul NE—even farther away from Union County! That still did not scare her off, and she and all of her classmates except S. Rosella made their final vows in August 1940. Back to Nebraska she went, this time to Plattsmouth, again as a housekeeper. It must have been a real sacrifice for her mother to know she was so far away. In 1942 she wrote to Mother Teresita to ask if S. Agnes Irene could come to Kentucky for the summer, because she was afraid “on account of this war I may not get to see her next year.” Mother Teresita gently reminded her that Ag had been home the summer before, and that our sisters in far-away places could not come home every year.
After a few more years’ ministry as housekeeper in Fancy Farm and Lebanon, KY, she went back to school in 1950, completing high school, later earning a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Brescia College, and eventually a master’s degree in Education from Murray State University. From 1950 until 1989 she taught in the lower grades in elementary schools in Mayfield, Cloverport, Waverly, Loretto, Knottsville, Hardinsburg, Vine Grove, and Owensboro (Blessed Mother School) KY and Affton MO. She loved teaching, loved the children she taught and spoiled through the years, and she loved every place she ever taught. But she especially loved St. Brigid’s at Vine Grove where she spent 18 years. She said that when she first went to St. Brigid’s, everyone felt sorry for her because she had the largest class—33 in the 4th grade. She said “I came from a school where I had 56, so 33 seemed a small group!” She liked all of her principals there, and especially liked a pastor, Father “D,” notably for his great stories at the Children’s Mass on Fridays.
S. Martha Keller lived and ministered with her at St. Romuald’s in Hardinsburg, but said Ag was always teased about carrying a folder with St. Brigid School held close to her heart. During that time, they inherited a little dog that they fondly named Ti Amo. He was supposed to be an outside dog, but spent many evenings on Ag’s lap, nibbling on the leftovers of her fine meals. It can now be made known that one of her favorite meals was pepperoni pizza and beer.
S. Agnes Irene also taught summer Bible School for many years, and in 1989 was named a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Louisville. She ended her 47 years as classroom teacher with a few years of outreach to the sick and elderly in Hardinsburg (which she said she loved to do), and working a couple of days a week as school librarian (which, she said, “paid our rent on the convent”).
S. Agnes Irene came home to Mount Saint Joseph in 1996 to “help out and do whatever the Good Lord wants.” That meant becoming Guest House Director. Here’s how she described her ministry: “…cleaning, keeping the guest house in top order for our guests, and keeping people happy.” In 2001 she retired to praying in the Powerhouse of Prayer ministry; to taking care of her big sister Blanche (doing her laundry and making sure she went to meals and holy hours); and just jumping in “where work is to be done anywhere we are asked to help.” She was an avid computer user, keeping Roger busy as she learned how to use it to keep up with current events. In 2006 she moved to the Villa, but continued to sneak up to the big dining room for meals, and would sit at the head of the table where she could see everyone come in the door, and keep track of current events that way.
For her 25th jubilee celebration, S. Marie Therese made up a song about Ag, to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey.” One verse expressed pretty well how I will always remember her… it said that
Sister’s noted for all these:
A fast walk and talk,
Being spry and a big tease;
She’s young at heart.
S. Agnes Irene was a fun-loving person with a great sense of humor, but she was a very prayerful sister as well. Her meditation and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament were always an inspiration to those who knew her well. She loved the festivities around jubilee celebrations, and I found many copies of worship guides and articles about the big days well documented in her personal files.
You can often tell what our sisters value by what you find in their personal files. S. Agnes Irene treasured songs that people had written for her, and poems. There were a couple of poems on faded paper, which had been folded and refolded so often that they were almost in pieces. One of them was “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson. I thought part of that poem must have been written for her on this day. It read,
“…all of which I took from thee I did but take not for thy harm,
but just that thou might seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
fancies lost, I have stored for thee at home.
Rise, clasp My hand, and come…”
Ag, we will miss the twinkle in your eye, but when the bridegroom calls, who are we to ask you to stay? After all, one of the words you used to describe yourself was “prompt.” Thank you for being a good and loyal Ursuline woman, thank you for your hard work and your love of family and community. Continue to hold us in your prayers.
Sister Michele Morek, OSU
November 27, 2009