Wake Reflection of Sister Clara (Joseph Clara) Johnson
February 22, 1948 – June 12, 2014
In the name of the Ursuline Community, I wish to offer our prayer, our sympathy on the loss or your sister, sister-in-law, aunt, co-worker, friend. The loss of Sister Clara affects many of us deeply. Yet, our faith tells us that she is free from pain and she rests with her God in heavenly splendor.
In Scripture, we have the story of the wedding feast of Cana and Mary tells the stewards in charge of the water: “Do whatever he tells you.” And it is my belief that Sister Clara lived out this passage. It wasn’t always easy but she knew it was in hard times that she was transformed.
It was on February 22, 1948, at Daviess County Hospital that Clara Alice was born to Ruth Agnes Higdon Johnson and Justin Aloysius Johnson. She was born into the family of Mary Ann, Greg and Cecilia and later there would be Yvonne, Leon, Dolores, Therese, Eileen, David and Joseph. Clara Alice was surrounded by the faith and love of this big family and she fit so well into each of the lives of her brothers and sisters.
Her parents took her to St. Columba, Lewisport one week after her birth to have her baptized and become a member of the Catholic faith. Father Anthony Higdon administered the sacrament. Clara always said she knew she was born in leap year since her baptism was February 29th.
Clara Alice continued her education already begun by her loving family, by attending St. Lawrence School for her formal education. By October, 1956 Clara had received her first holy communion, made her first confession and received Confirmation. All of this furthered helping with her faith life. Clara continued school at St. William and then her secondary education was at Mary Carrico High School. Her education was through the teaching of the Ursuline Sisters mainly. She did have three laymen who taught in high school. Sister Clarence Marie is the only living Ursuline teacher of Sister Clara.
Clara, feeling the call from God that she needed to be a woman religious, followed, “Do whatever he tells you”, entered the postulancy of the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph on September 3, 1966 with Brenda Walker, Karen Miller, Mary Elizabeth Ballard, Jean Cambron, Irene Chino, Sandra Pierce, Kathleen Hanner, Anna Mattingly, Judy Morell, Linda Mullican, Maureen O’Neill, Laura Padilla, Rebecca Payne, Patsy Haynes, Linda Carol Payne, Judy Riney, Sue Scott, Gayle Sims, Suzanne Sims, Cecilia Robinette, Martha Foushee and Wanda Clark. To her remaining classmates: Sister Mimi Ballard, Judy Riney, Reen O’Neill and Suzanne Sims we offer our sympathy and prayers. May you find the healing power of God.
She entered the Novitiate on August 14, 1967 and was known as Sister Joseph Clara. “Do whatever he tells you”, led Sister Joseph Clara to attend Brescia College and receive her first degree in Elementary Education and later she pursued her Masters from Spalding College in Louisville in Library Science.
“Do whatever he tells you”, found her ministering in the classrooms of St. Bartholomew, Louisville, St. Francis, Loretto, St. Romuald, Hardinsburg and St. Charles, Albuquerque, New Mexico. After obtaining her certificate in Library Science she began her working in libraries. She worked here in the Academy until it closed in 1983, a total of five years. She ministered at St. Mary, Paducah, St. Ann, Morganfield. At Morganfield, Sister Joseph Clara held several ministries and especially loved her ministry to the sick and homebound, helping several persons return to their God.
In 1993, Sister Clara, as most now called her, along with Sister Margaret Marie friend and co-worker and housemate for many years, took a big leap in faith. They moved from the country and small places to the big city of Louisville. They began their work at Sisters Visitors. She became the secretary to the Director, Sister Rebecca Miles and was also the finance person and the computer guru. It is here from the archives’ report that I picked up Sister Clara’s social life had gone from 1 to 10. She wrote a two page report of all the events she attended, many of them “fun” things. Yes, Clara, was a quiet person, was an out door person who loved nature. She loved the beaches of Florida; she loved fishing; she loved playing tennis. She had great skills in working with and on computers. She built two computers out and out. Her house sometimes looked like a repair shop of computers. Clara did marvelous work.
By the end of 1994, Sister Clara had found the first lump…breast cancer was the diagnosis….surgery…chemo….sickness…hair loss…rest. Sometime in 1995 she was declared cancer free and lived 10 years of great happiness, pain free, drugs free. She prayed, played, lived and worked….then cancer went to the bone…chemo, rest, sickness, rest….but continued to work. It was during this time that Clara was voted The Working Woman of the Week, receiving many awards from the radio station honoring outstanding employees. Clara worked at Sister Visitors for 18 years.
Clara listened and the Lord said to her, “Come to me, all that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Clara took on the yoke of Christ…a yoke fashioned with love. Wearing the yoke set her free. Love caused her to improvise….hope, courage, love was a means for Clara to face life. Clara knew that the point is that everything will happen to us, whether we will it or not. Storms will come in our lives, interrupting our certainties and destroying our plans. We will confront crises in our lives. Unexpected storms will erase the path we’ve chosen. On the way to love, Clara discovered a capacity to begin anew, to be born afresh when facing the hard in her life. Clara knew when it was time that she needed to come home to the Mount, to the motherhouse, to the villa. She came March 18th 2011. She learned to love, to trust all of us…the caretakers of the villa. To all the nurses, aides, housekeepers, we say thanks for your marvelous care of Sister Clara. To the hospice nurses we give you our thanks. You were so great.
Peace and reconciliation were very important to Sister Clara. She could not hold a grudge. She knew that reconciliation and forgiveness are at the heart of all relationships. If she felt that she had wronged someone she would ask for forgiveness. She might have to mull over it for awhile, but then could say, “I’m sorry.” Clara knew that even though on the outside it often looked like things were falling apart, on the inside, where God was making new life, not a day went by without God’s unfolding grace. And I believe that is why when asked: how are you? Her pat answer was “fine.” How was your day? “Good.” However, at the last bonded meeting, she said to me, “Today, I just want to listen.” So we prayed, we discussed the readings of the Sunday and she listened intently.
If one stays close to her God and follows one step at a time, together with Jesus, one can pass any test of faith. And Clara, you followed Jesus one step at a time and passed the test of faith. Thank you, Clara, for fighting the good fight, for running the race, but NOW you have received the crown of glory. Thank you, Clara for being Ursuline, thank you for being friend.
Sister Mary Matthias Ward, OSU
Director of Local Community Life
June 16, 2014