Sister Celine Leeker, 89, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, died March 25, 2019, at Mount Saint Joseph, in her 70th year of religious life. She was a native of Olathe, Kan.
Sister Celine was an Ursuline Sister of Paola prior to its merger with Mount Saint Joseph in 2008. She had an ever-present radiant smile and loved to welcome people and make them feel at home.
She was an educator for 41 years. She taught in Kansas at Saint John School, Greeley (1951-54, 1963-65), Sacred Heart School, Bonner Springs (1957-61), Queen of the Holy Rosary School, Overland Park (1965-75), Holy Trinity School, Paola (1979-87) Saint Agnes School, Shawnee Mission (1987-92) and Holy Angels School, Garnett (1992-96). She also taught at Saint John School in Bartlesville, Okla., from 1954-57 and 1961-62. From 1975-79, Sister Celine was formation director for the Ursuline Sisters of Paola. She moved to Maple Mount in 2009.
Survivors include the members of her religious community; four sisters, Margaret (Jim) Hutchinson and Agnes (Don) Phelps, both of Overland Park, Catherine Leeker of Shawnee, and Rose Leeker of Gardner; a brother, John Leeker, of Wichita; nieces and nephews.
The funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Mount Saint Joseph, where visitation will begin Wednesday at 4 p.m., with a wake service following at 6:30 p.m.
Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, Owensboro, is handling arrangements.
Donations in memory of Sister Celine may be made to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.
Remembrance of Sister Celine Leeker, OSU
March 27, 2019
Sister Amelia Stenger, OSU
Sister Celine spent the last few months of her life waiting for God’s final call. All during her life she listened to God’s call. She was a great witness of listening. In many of her discernment papers that she turned in each year, she would way, “I will do whatever you ask me to do.” She listened to the call of the community. On the early morning of March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, she heard her call from God. She is probably sitting at the gate of heaven right now greeting each person as they enter into glory.
Mary Louise Leeker was born on June 23, 1929 in Lenexa, Kansas. Her parents were John Leeker and Mary Elizabeth McGrath Leeker. She was baptized at St. Paul Church in Olathe, KS, on July 18, 1929. She was confirmed on April 24, 1938 at Holy Trinity Church in Lenexa, KS.
She was the oldest of eight. She had two brothers and five sisters. Her brothers were John and William and her sisters were Rose, Catherine, Margaret, Agnes and Patricia. We offer our sympathy and prayers to John, Rose, Catherine, Margaret and Agnes as they say their goodbyes to their sister.
Her early days were spent on a farm. The family worked together, played together and disagreed many times. She said the highlight of those days were the times they would stop their work and get ready for Mass, Forty Hours, Lenten Devotions or Christmas celebrations.
Mary Louise attended elementary school in rural Johnson County public schools in Olathe. She attended Gardner High School for three years and completed her high school senior year at Ursuline Academy. She worked as a nurse’s aide in Gardner Hospital during her first three years of high school and saved up enough money to go to Ursuline. Her mother graduated from Ursuline in 1919. Sister Celine said later, “I held the position of example to my five younger sisters, and I thought they all might go to Ursuline if I paved the way.” Her example worked. A Leeker girl was enrolled at Ursuline Academy for each of the next 13 years.
She said, “My senior year of high school I attended Ursuline Academy. It was there that my desire to help people began to take shape as I prayed to know my vocation. One day Sister Charles McGrath asked me, ‘Have you ever thought of being a Sister?’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘You better think about it.’ I started praying for a sign from God and decided that if I got a job for the summer close to home, I would enter the convent in the Fall. The next day the manager of the drug store at home asked me if I wanted a summer job. My parents gave their permission to my becoming an Ursuline Sister as long as it was my ideas.’ So that summer she dreamed of the life ahead while dishing up hot fudge sundaes, chocolate shakes and root beer floats.
So, on September 8, 1948, Mary Louise entered the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kansas. She began the six- month postulancy or probationary period of finding answers to questions like: Does God want me here? Do I want to be and stay here? Can I serve God best here? Does the community want me here? She completed the probationary time and instead of receiving the once hope for nurse’s cap, she received the white veil of the novitiate. It was at this time on March 25, 1949 that she received the name she had for seventy years, Sister Celine. She wanted the name of St. Therese, but there were already two in the community, so she took the name of Therese’s sister, Celine.
The next two years were spent in formation. She studied the history of the community, the rule of the order and many courses of theology. On April 16, 1951, she made her temporary profession. On that date she received the black veil, graduated from Ursuline Junior college and left for her first home visit, a great two weeks with her family, a privilege then granted every five years.
She continued her studies at Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS, receiving a Bachelor of arts degree in education with minors in religion, history and psychology. From then on, she was a student and a teacher, teaching during the week and taking courses on the weekend and during the summers.
She made perpetual profession on April 19, 1954. It doesn’t say if she got to go home for two weeks to visit her family. It was at this time that she was asked to write her philosophy. Her description is quite interesting. She said,” I see the purpose of Catholic education is to build for our youth a setting where the ideas and goals witness our faith, even if our texts are those taught nationwide. Our task is to help the child to work through situations that come up each day, so that their faith and education are growth experiences for them…It is my desire to help children to grow daily, to be fulfilled in their faith experiences and to appreciate God. We hope they will go out to do the same for others by their life of witnessing.”
Her motto was, ‘Education never ends.’ She studied guidance and counseling at Creighton University in Omaha. She took reading courses at Webster College in St. Louis. She attended summer math courses and studied at Rockhurst college in the summer of 1971 on a math grant.
She worked with the National Mathematics Teacher’s Association and designed a course in individualized math instruction. This led to her being named an Outstanding Elementary Teacher of America. She continued teaching in Greeley, KS, Bartlesville, OK, Bonner Springs, KS and Overland Park, KS until she was asked to be Formation Director for the community. She served in that position for five years and went back to teaching. She still stayed in the area of formation by being the Vocation and Postulant Director from 1974 to 1982. After that she taught at St. Agnes in Shawnee Mission, KS and Garnett, KS until she returned to the motherhouse in 1996 where she did many various duties for the community. She would sit by the elevator working on embroidery, crocheting or reading. She greeted people and shared great hospitality with everyone who visited. She retired at Mount Saint Joseph in 2009.
Sr. Celine was an avid reader of professional magazines, and she read a wide variety of inspirational and spiritual books. Another favorite thing was hiking. She said it was an opportunity to commune with nature and to enjoy the beauty of the earth. It was a time to have quiet to think. She said, “This quiet time refreshes and is a time of meditation and prayer that helps me with each day of the many tomorrows.”
In December of 1957, a graphologist named Dorothy Sara, did a study of a handwriting sample from Sr. Celine. It is a remarkable description of Sister Celine. It says, “A sense of humor is a definite part of your make-up. This enables you to maintain your optimism, and to adapt to others. Your tastes are never pretentious, and there is innate refinement in all you think and say. You are not comfortable in the company of people who brag or pretend. You have the ability to do things of varied sort; if you suddenly need to work something out, it is amazing how you can find a way of doing it. Logical thinking is seen in your handwriting; you prefer to proceed with care and not leave much to purely intuitive reactions. You are a reasonable person and don’t rush ahead on impulse. Optimism is one of the good traits shown in your script. You refuse to remain discouraged if a disappointment occurs; you try to gain an interest in something new to raise your optimism.”
When the Sisters from Paola were getting ready to move to Kentucky, each one wrote something to put in the quarterly newsletter, “Signs of the Times.” Sister Celine said this,” Each day the road widens. At 14, at the urging of my mother, I set out on foot from our farm in Gardner and found myself a job. The proceeds from that work allowed me to enter Ursuline Academy as a student. Ursuline was a new world for me—school, routine, even prayer—what a dream. I knew this was the answer to my prayer. Life has been interesting, and the road continues to widen to Kentucky now. You never know—just keep up your Spirit and pray for all concerned…God is still doing great things in my life! Listen to what God is saying to you each day. May you be as happy in your choice as I am!”
This last bit of advice of Sister Celine is a beautiful message to all of us. We must listen to God each day and see what God is saying to us. Sister Celine gave so much to those she taught over the years. To us, she gave a wonderful example of a committed religious woman. May she forever be happy in the choices she made to serve God and God’s people.