The biggest challenge, obviously, is financial. Where does the money come from? “Saint Paul’s pays tuition for their children,” says Sister Anne Michelle, “and children from the other parishes, their parish will pay a certain amount of the tuition and the parents have to pay the rest. The non-Catholics have to pay full tuition.”
The school takes care of all operational expenses for the school and the convent with numerous fundraisers and what Sister Anne Michelle calls some “generous donations,” including donations from her own family.
When it comes to fundraisers, Sister Anne Michelle says it’s just not her leading the way. “Joan (Butterworth) takes on the responsibilities of putting on a lot of fundraisers,” she says. “The teachers jump in and help. We can have two or three fundraisers overlapping at the same time, a free breakfast once a month, a Little Debbie cookie sale. The cookie sale raises money for Christmas gifts for needy folks at Hardin Memorial Hospital.”
Sister Anne Michelle does have her own special contributions – she has kissed a pig and has had meringue pies thrown at her just to raise money for the school during the Spring Fling fundraiser.
How important is it to keep providing a Catholic education to such a small group of children?
“We’re the only Catholic school here,” Sister Anne Michelle quickly responds. “I think if you can get to a small group of children like we have here, give them a Catholic education, teach them right from wrong, they are able to attend Mass three days a week, God is bound to bless the school and keep it open. We just go year to year. In fact, I guess it’s really done on faith.”
What about the future of Saint Paul’s?
“I would say it’s going to close,” admits Sister Anne Michelle. “But only God knows when. We were told 10 years ago ‘it’s going to close next year!’ and the same thing the next year and most years after that. But nothing was said last year and we’re still here this year. It’s still a year-to-year project.”
What about Sister Anne Michelle’s plans when the school does close?
“When the school does close down, I don’t ever intend to go back into the classroom again,” she says. “I’ve been teaching since 1954. I wouldn’t mind doing some tutoring, visiting the sick, just being present to the people in the county.” She added that she’d also like to be involved in community projects such as quilting.
She concludes, “My brother just renovated the convent, and I’d want to stay there and enjoy it some, but I’m sure that would be left up to the leadership team. I hope they would see it my way.”
“THE ELVIS CONNECTION”
In years past, Sister Anne Michelle has been featured in numerous publications, including The Star, a national tabloid newspaper, telling of her collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia.
During her teenage years at Saint Paul High School in the 1950s, she and millions of other teenagers “discovered” the young singer from Tupelo, Miss. She recalls, “I had been reading about Elvis in the newspapers, and then I saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show and I was hooked. And I’ve been a fan ever since. She started collecting Elvis memorabilia immediately and her collection – after going into hiatus for a few years – has grown steadily into one of huge proportions.
“I had only one tube of lipstick in my life,” Sister Anne Michelle recalls, “and that was when I was a senior in high school, and it was called Love Me Tender Pink! That was left at home when I went to the convent. In fact, when I went to the convent, Elvis was left at home.”
Elvis wasn’t part of Sister Anne Michelle’s life again until 22 years ago when she was given the green light to revive her collection of Elvis memorabilia. Her Love Me Tender lipstick couldn’t be found, but there were enough records, photos and the like to revive the collection. Since then, family members, friends, students, fellow teachers and sisters have given her everything from Elvis photos to Elvis charm bracelets, and her collection has grown into an Elvis museum in the Saint Paul Convent where she lives. With Christmas just around the corner, she is preparing to decorate two trees (one for the convent and one for her classroom) adorned by the more than 100 different Elvis Christmas ornaments in her collection.
When the phone rings in the convent, the “Elvis phone” begins singing “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog!” A number of photos, posters, throws, wine glasses, shot glasses, kitchen items, etc., cover almost every square inch of surface space in the convent. Her collection includes every record Elvis ever recorded, cassettes of many of the recordings (no DVDs, she’s not into computers or any of the other “new fangled” electronics). Most of the 33-1/3 recordings are still in their original packaging, unopened. She also has VHS copies of every movie Elvis every made. The rooms are filled with umbrellas, watches, clocks, books, just about everything ever made with Elvis’ image on it. When you reach to turn a light on or off in the convent or in her classroom, the switch plate is, of course, an Elvis decoration.
Her students (kindergarten through second grade) know all about “The King.” They see his photos in their classroom and they celebrate his birthday and his death each year. “And they have become Elvis fans,” says Sister Anne Michelle. “And their Christmas gifts will be Elvis Christmas gifts,” she adds with a smile, “and my birthday gifts too. I have received Elvis umbrellas, tote bags, sunglass holders, cell phone holders, clocks and books.”
Getting a bit nostalgic, Sister Anne Michelle recalls, “My first term paper my senior year in high school was on Elvis. I got an A-plus on it, but it was the first one my sister had ever gotten on Elvis Presley, and I never got it back.”
To many, Sister Anne Michelle, who still wears the Ursuline Sisters habit, comes across very subdued, very quiet. As a result, her “Elvis connection” surprises many. She admits, “It just blows the minds of some of our sisters. They just can’t believe that I’m an Elvis Presley fan.”
From pursuing her childhood dream of being a sister, to becoming a loving and dedicated teacher, to her passionate drive to keep the doors of Saint Paul School open, Sister Anne Michelle Mudd has never backed away from the many challenges she’s faced along the way. And she’s still managed to keep alive a childhood admiration for that young singer from Tupelo.