Sister Alicia Coomes, OSU: “Mount Saint Joseph was a place of welcome for me!”

In July 2010, Sister Alicia Coomes left her position as director of vocation ministry and served as director of liturgy at St. Francis Borgia, St. Ambrose and St. William Parishes in Union County. In October 2018 she returned to the Motherhouse to serve as director of community life, and later director of pastoral care for Saint Joseph Villa at the Motherhouse. In November 2022 she returned to parish ministry at nearby Kentucky parishes, St. Peter of Alcantara in Stanley, and St. Augustine in Reed.

When Sister Alicia Gayle Coomes took her final vows and became an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph she thought for sure she would be spending her religious life as a teacher. “I had a desire to eventually look into special education, but I knew my future called for me to be in the classroom working with children,” she recalls.

Being a nurse, youth minister, or a vocation director were the furthest things from her mind as she began her religious life, but God had other plans for this young woman from a large family in Henderson, Ky.

She is the second youngest of 10 children (five girls and five boys) born to Dorval and Jeanelle Coomes, both factory workers who worked hard to raise their large family. Sister Alicia was a frail little girl, hospitalized with pneumonia eight times before she started school at Henderson Holy Name, taught by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. She transferred to the Henderson public schools for grades two, three and four, before returning to Holy Name for her final four years of grade school. She was taught by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in the fifth and sixth grades and by lay teachers in the seventh and eighth grades, with the exception of a priest teaching religion in the eighth grade.

Sister Alicia met Sister Suzanne Sims after she gave a vocation talk at Henderson City High School her junior year and they have remained good friends through the years.

High school consisted of three years at the old Henderson City High and one year at the new, consolidated Henderson County Senior High.

After graduating from high school in May 1977, she entered the Mount Saint Joseph community in August. Sister Alicia had been talking about becoming a nun as far back as anyone could remember, so her entering religious life came as no surprise to family members or those who knew her.

She says when she was just a little girl she played being a sister a lot with her siblings – “I was always the nun!” – and then got more serious around the fifth grade when she started asking questions of her parish priest and the two sisters teaching her grade. “And by the time I was in the eighth grade I was really serious,” Sister Alicia says.

How did she decide on the Ursulines? “Sister Suzanne Sims was doing a vocation talk at our school during my junior year,” she explains, “and after the talk our associate pastor – Father John Vaughan – introduced me to her. We immediately struck up what has proved to be a lifelong friendship.”

Sisters Mary McDermott, Rebecca White, Larraine Lauter and Alicia Coomes (l. to r.) make up the Mount Saint Joseph 25th jubilee class of 2004.

Sister Alicia came to the Mount for an open house and she says her first thoughts were “Wow! These nuns can sing!” She also says she found them “so alive and I wanted to be a part of that.” She was sold on the Mount, sold on the Ursuline Sisters. “Mount Saint Joseph was a place of welcome for me. And I felt at home,” she says,

How did her parents react? “They knew that I was very interested and they were supportive,” says Sister Alicia. “I can remember my mother saying, ‘You know we don’t have much, but you know you’ll always have our love and support.’”

There were five members of that class of 1977, including Sister Dianna Ortiz and Sister Carol Shively. The other three, including Sister Alicia, departed along the way. Torn between family and what she really wanted to do, Sister Alicia left the Mount in April the following year. “It was a very difficult decision,” she says. “I returned home, helped my mother care for some younger family members, and went to work as a nursing assistant at a nursing home for nine months. I was still very torn about what I knew God was calling me to do and finally figured out my parents could do quite well without me. One of my older brothers said to me, ‘Why don’t you go back to convent where you belong?’ And I did!”