Wake Reflection for Sister Charlesine Bowling, OSU
“There is an appointed time for every thing, and a time for every event under the heavens — a time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted…a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
That quotation, chosen by Sister George Mary for this reflection, is so appropriate in describing our experience here the morning of April 3, 2008, in this season of planting and new life. Some of us left Mass early to come pray with Sister Charlesine, and I think we all really experienced what it means to say, “there is a time to die” as we watched Sister slowly and peacefully give over her life to her God, surrounded by members of her community and the health care staff with their voices raised in prayer. It truly felt like “the right time.”
Mary Isabelle Bowling, affectionately nicknamed “Tink,” found her “time to be born” on June 8, 1911, in Athertonville, Larue County Kentucky. She was the last of eight children born to Joseph Walker Bowling and Mary Alexine McGee Bowling. Father William Paul Hogarty baptized her on June 10, 1911 at Saint Catherine Church in New Haven, Kentucky. Sister reported in her autobiography that when her father returned home that day, he swore that if they had another child he was not taking it to be baptized, because Mary Isabelle had cried the whole time.
The Bowlings were pioneers from the original Maryland settlers who came in 1785 to Nelson County, in the Holy Land of Kentucky. As far as we know, baby “Tink” was not spoiled, but she surely loved her older brothers and sisters. Father Charles Patrick Bowling was the oldest child, then Martina, Bill, Nancy, Rose, Mary, Jack, and Mary Isabelle. Martina, Bill and Jack married. Nancy, Rose and Mary all became Sisters of Loretto.
Their home was a happy place, full of music…Mrs. Bowling had a lovely voice and played the organ, Charlie Pat played the violin, and one of her sisters the piano. Sister Charlesine said “My parents were people of staunch character and high moral principles. As the saying goes, ‘They came from good stock.’ Their lives were characterized by a deep Catholic faith that could move mountains and an unlimited trust in Divine Providence. Praying together morning and evening was a source of great joy and strength.”
Besides prayers and singing, there must have been other fun. A nephew, Brother Kirby, tells us he has a vivid and joyful memory of when Mary Isabelle took him and his brother Louis for a horse and buggy ride when he was five years old. He even remembered that the horse’s name was “Old Dave”.
Sister Charlesine remained close to her family all her life. Family reunions, and visits from nephews and nieces were always important events to be noted in yearly annals reports. So the entire Ursuline Community extends our love and sympathy to the nieces and nephews of Sister Charlesine…she cherished each one of you.
Mary Isabelle was enrolled at Saint Catherine School, New Haven, Ky. Her first grade teacher was a Sister of Loretto, but after that she was taught by the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph. She said she was most influenced by Sisters Theodore, Raphael, and Helene who helped her to decide to become an Ursuline sister. Imagine the family’s surprise when she told them! After all, her three sisters were there at Loretto, and it was not too far from New Haven. She didn’t really have a good answer to the question “Why not a Sister of Loretto?” It was a painful decision for her, and her heart felt divided.
And her vocation was just beginning to be tested. On February 7, 1931 she and a life-long friend boarded the train to go enter the novitiate at the Mount, a place she had never seen. As soon as they arrived, the friend decided to turn around and go back home, and Mary Isabelle was ready to go back with her—but she didn’t. She received the habit on August 15, 1931, with one other person, Mary Thelma Payne, who left before the two made final vows. (Can’t you just see the determined set of Sister Charlesine’s chin each of those times, as she remained undaunted in her own resolve?)
However, the following sisters, who entered in other months, are listed in her investment class of 1931: Sisters Jean Claire, Mary Anselm, Mary Concepta, Isadore, Elizabeth Henry, Mary Beatrice, Charles Irene, Angela Marie, Mary Ann, Hilda, Jamesina, Mary DeSales, Margaret Ann Wathen, Dorothy Ann — and Blanche Rita, the only surviving member of that class. We offer special sympathy to Sister Blanche Rita.
On the day of her first vows, August 16, 1933, Sister Charlesine received her first teaching assignment: to teach third grade at Saint Columba School in Louisville. The years she worked in Louisville she earned a bachelors degree in English from Ursuline College; while she taught in Nebraska, she got a masters in Education from Creighton University in Omaha, and along the way she picked up some grants to do further study in English and history. The years of her active ministry went quickly, as she served as principal and teacher in grades 3-12 in the Catholic elementary schools of Kentucky and in the Catholic and public high schools of Kentucky and Nebraska. At this point in her autobiography she wrote: “It is not necessary (underlined!) to name the schools in which I taught.” So we won’t—but English was her favorite subject.
She was a good writer; there were in her files several entertaining and colorful archival reports that she wrote, such as a history of Saint Catherine’s Parish, and an account of the closing of the Saint Boniface convent. And she must have been a good teacher; the Saint Romuald High School 1981 yearbook was dedicated to her with love and affection, on the occasion of her fiftieth jubilee.
After 55 years in the classroom, she said she was “burnt out” and knew it was time to go on to the next chapter in her life. For 14 more years she did volunteer ministry in Louisville, living first at Saint Boniface and later at Saint Angela. She taught reading to adults in the “projects,” worked at a senior citizen’s center with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, visited the sick at three nursing homes, at Vencor Hospital, and with the Caring Touch Program at Saint Anthony’s Hospital. Probably her favorite place to work was at the American Red Cross, where she served as receptionist and did whatever other chores she could find. She was especially grateful in those years for the chance to care for her brother, Father Charles, who lived with the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Somewhere in her writing, Sister Charlesine said that her greatest satisfaction was to be able to spread joy and peace. Our community is grateful to all the sisters who visited her in her last months, to the health care staff who tended so lovingly to her needs, and to Sisters Clarita and Mary Irene for giving Sister Charlesine the same kind pastoral care that she loved to give others. You returned that joy and peace to her. (I also thank Sister George Mary Hagan for helping with this reflection, from her personal knowledge of sister’s family).
Sister Charlesine retired to Mount Saint Joseph in 2002, a little reluctantly but graciously, and said that she was content to “pray and suffer for blessings on the community.” If I were an artist who wanted to capture the essence of what it means to wait, I would use the image of Sister Charlesine, sitting peacefully and patiently in her chair over in the corner of her room, a rosary in her hand. Watching. Waiting. She was ready. At 9:45 the morning of April 3, in her fullness of time, Sister Charlesine experienced the “time to be born” once more.
Sister Charlesine, thank you for all those years of being Ursuline, for whatever reasons God had in mind when giving you the courage to come and the courage to stay! We’re glad you did. And we think today is a “time to laugh,” with you, and a “time to dance” as you join that musical family of yours in a chorus of praise and thanksgiving for a life well lived.
April 7, 2008
Sister George Mary Hagan, OSU
Sister Michele Morek, OSU