Wake Reflection: Sister Anita Flaugher, OSU
“You restore my strength…you spread a banquet before me…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows!” (Ps. 23)
Sister Anita had been waiting a long time to be called home. Her frail-looking body belied the strong heart and sturdy spirit that kept her on this earth for almost 99 years. One of the first things I did after my election six years ago was to hurry to Sister Anita’s bedside, before it was too late. And a few years ago she looked at one of the pastoral ministers and said, “it’s time.” A priest was called, she was anointed, and…she recovered and said thank you to everyone for being there! But finally, a little before 3:00 the afternoon of February 5 (the First Friday of the month) she received the engraved, personal invitation to the heavenly banquet for which she had watched for such a long time.
Anita Warren Flaugher was born on August 27, 1911 at home, thanks to midwife Mrs. Magruder. Her father Gwynn Marvin Flaugher and mother Eva Elizabeth Wathen Flaugher had eight children: Gwynn Marvin, Edwin Drury, Alice Carpenter, Charles, Wilfred Wathen, Evelyn Mae, Mary Freda, and our own Anita Warren. Her father, a barber, died of pneumonia when Anita was 12 years old. Her family was dear to her, and visits with them were noteworthy occasions for her. All the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph offer you, the family, our sympathy and prayers.
The family home was about a mile outside of Fairfield, Kentucky, and Anita attended Saint Michael School in Fairfield, where she was taught by the Ursuline sisters. She said she enjoyed taking the sisters vegetables from the family garden. Anita spoke very lovingly of S. Mary Carmel Browning who taught the first grade, and S. Sylvester Craycroft who taught the second. Her friendship with Sylvester was strong and mutual, and lasted a lifetime. She also liked the cheerful and friendly S. Mildred, who asked her if she would like to be a sister. She said she prayed from that day on, “Lord, if it be your will, grant that I may someday become a sister.”
Her wish was granted when she went to the Mount on July 19, 1929, apparently arriving before anyone else. Her official date of entrance was on September 8, 1929, with classmates Sisters Agnes Cecilia Speak, Mary Robert Buckler, Charles Marie Coyle, Charles Ann DeNardi, Robert Angela Fleischmann, Frances Therese Hagan, Thomas Catherine Hayden, Mary Bernice Hayden, Rose Jean Hochstein, Thomas James Peake, Mary Boniface Speaks, Francella Thompson, Margaret Louise Yates, Margaret Perpetua Warren, and Mary Antonia Wathen. She took the name Bernard Anita at their investment on March 19, 1930. With the whole community, I offer our sincere sympathy to you, S. Agnes Cecilia, her only living classmate.
Their novice director was first S. Leo, and then S. Christina, who, she said, was “very firm.” Anita worked in the dairy most of the time she was in the novitiate. One day she was not feeling well and dropped a jar of cream. Christina told her not to cry over spilled milk. “But,” wailed Anita, “it was spilled cream!” Christina sent her to bed.
Her first 18 years of religious life were spent keeping house for two, eight, ten, and sometimes 20 sisters who lived with her. These assignments took her to Fancy Farm, Bardwell, Raywick, Browns Valley, Louisville, Shively, Owensboro, and Knottsville in Kentucky and to Glennonville, Missouri. She said life at some of those places was very hard, with no electricity or modern conveniences. Sometimes they did not even have enough food. One month their grocery bill was $5, and with that she was supposed to feed three sisters and a priest!
Then Anita became ill and was under a doctor’s care for a year, following his advice to eat a special diet and take it easy. So she was sent to begin teaching for half a day for that year. The next year she taught full time, with four grades. She said it was hard—but she loved it. That was in 1951. She completed her high school diploma eight years later, and her bachelor’s degree from Brescia 20 years after that in 1979. She taught primary grades for more than 30 years, in Axtel, Rome, Knottsville, Calhoun, Earlington, and Jeffersontown, Kentucky. After many years she still hears from former students and their parents on special occasions.
The last ten years of her ministry were spent at Saint Edward School in Jeffersontown, substituting and tutoring children in the primary grades, crocheting many afghans, doing the laundry, housekeeping, shopping, and making booklets of Family Circus and Nancy cartoons from the newspaper. According to S. Rosalin, her favorite contribution to a “company” dinner then was a Jell-o mold with pineapple and grated carrots. And she spent many hours in the convent chapel interceding for the intentions of those who had requested her prayer. She said there was “never a time when I said I was bored!”
A talent that surfaced in those years was her gift for writing her community archives reports. She had a real gift for detailed narrative, describing events very thoroughly—naming all the people who were there, giving exact dates, and generally painting a vivid picture of life at J’town.
She loved those years at Jeffersontown. They apparently had a lot of fun attending religious events, concerts, Derby Day parties, selling picnic tickets, visiting friends in Saint Louis, visiting Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, and—best of all, the dream of a lifetime—she got to go to Florida with a friend. They hit every major city and every attraction, waded in the Gulf and the Atlantic, and collected shells. But, she said, they did NOT stop in Daytona Beach, because “there were too many young people with too few clothes on!”
She also remembered a trip to the Abbey of Gethsemane, where she loved the music so much that she taped the singing and replayed it often. S. Anita loved listening to music and going to concerts. Someone here noticed her love for music; in her last days and hours there often was a CD of lovely music playing close to her ear. I would like to thank the health care staff, the pastoral ministers, you her sisters, and especially S. Rosalin, her surrogate and “guardian angel,” for your loving care for S. Anita during these last few years of her life.
When she left Jeffersontown to come to the Mount, it was very hard, “it was like leaving home again,” she said. But she soon jumped into life here and began to go to the Curdsville Senior Citizen gatherings, where the men played cards while the women crocheted and quilted. With the money earned they would go out to eat several times a year. “Good old country folks,” she commented.
When she, along with the residents of our old infirmary in Lourdes moved to their new home in the Villa, she was a little confused at first, and began to ask questions. “Is this Mount Saint Joseph? Is this building paid for? Is S. Michele still our leader?” But through it all she remained resigned to her ministry of prayer and patient suffering. Patient. That was a word that many people used to describe her. And in the Celebrating Our Sisters article on S. Anita, it was said that “in and out of the classroom she maintained a rare combination of sincerity, firmness, and gentleness,” which I experienced on several occasions when she summoned me down to see her. Many who knew her also commented on her prayerfulness; in her office book there was an inch-thick stack of holy cards and prayers. She had a note that read: “N.B. I have prayed this prayer to Saint Joseph every day since 1936…and those prayers that are posted in the front of this book, for over 20 years.”
It was in her archives reports that I learned that Anita loved celebrations, which she would describe in great detail. About her Jeffersontown jubilee dinner in 1990, for example, we learn that the sisters “used the gold tablecloth, ten candles (eight blue and two pink) and a beautiful bowl of jonquils and daisies.” Eating out must have been one of her favorite things to do, because she mentioned those occasions with relish. And the staff of the Villa always knew that they could coax her to eat with ice cream softened in the microwave.
S. Anita, we will miss your quiet presence, but we can only imagine how you would describe the heavenly banquet that is now laid before you, and the love that surrounds you with your family, friends, and S. Sylvester. We love you, and thank you for your years of service and prayer as a good Ursuline woman, and ask you to keep us in your prayer as you enjoy the rewards of your labor.
Lord, we ask that you restore her strength…spread a rich banquet before her…and let her dwell in Your house forever.
Sister Michele Morek, OSU
February 5, 2010