Wake Reflection for Sister Darlene Denton, OSU
“. . . for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
2 Corinthians 5:7
From John Henry Cardinal Newman we hear: “God has created me to do Him some definite service; . . . I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for nothing. I shall do good. I shall do his work.”
These words were printed prominently on Sister Darlene’s invitation to her perpetual profession in 1995; this theme of service emerged whenever she reflected on her call and her vocation; and the link, the “bond of connection between persons” and the love of God permeated her ministry wherever she served.
Early, early on a Monday morning, May 17, 1948, just before 3:30 a.m. in the darkest reaches of the night, Judith Darlene Denton, brought to the loving family of Martin Edward and Elizabeth Helen Denton the gift of delight and laughter. She joined her older brother Tony in this young family. Within one week, Darlene began her faith journey on Sunday, May 23rd, in the waters of baptism at Saint Anthony Church in Louisville.
Her daddy’s girl and the baby of the family for five years, in 1953 Darlene got to welcome her new baby brother Michael into the arms of the family. The Denton family portrait was now complete. Family was always central for Darlene and claimed her fierce allegiance throughout her life. And, to her brother Michael and to his family – Becky and the girls, Laura and Tracey – and to all Darlene’s relatives, we, the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, extend our deepest sympathies, our prayers, and our love.
Darlene reported that by the time she was six and ready to begin school at Saint Paul Elementary School, the family had moved to the country in Pleasure Ridge Park. Their house on Lot 12 – in the middle of a cornfield then, with lots of space for a tomboy to play – now sits in a fully-developed area and is quite near the busy Dixie Highway. While in the second grade, Darlene moved quickly forward in her faith life, making her first communion on Sunday, May 6, 1956, and being confirmed just one week later on Monday, May 14th, at Saint Paul’s.
Within two more years, while still in elementary school, Darlene’s call to service and relationship received its first grounding. Her dad was seriously injured and for some time was unable to return to work; during his lengthy recuperation, her mother began working outside the family. Darlene stepped right in to mother and support her little brother, Michael. This loving and mutually-supporting relationship continued throughout their lives.
Darlene completed her schooling in Louisville, attending Angela Merici High School and getting to know the Ursulines of Louisville. At this point, the God who called Darlene throughout her life seemed to “up the ante,” so to speak. For, after high school, Darlene had been planning to attend the University of Kentucky, where her uncle was a member of the faculty. However, at the suggestion of both her uncle and a high school teacher, Darlene chose to seek a much smaller college, and decided to attend Brescia College, in Owensboro – sight unseen.
Of this time, Darlene wrote, “Talk about blind faith and being led by God. I guess it was [just] destined for me to meet the Mount Saint Joseph Ursulines.” So, in 1966, she fell in love – with the school, her fellow students, and the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Darlene graduated in 1970 with a degree in History, a minor in Psychology, and a secondary education teacher’s certificate.
Now began her twenty-four years of service as a teacher and a principal. For two years Darlene taught in the public schools in Greenville, Kentucky, then spent another year back at Brescia College to include an elementary grades Kentucky Teaching Certificate among her credentials. She would spend the next nine years in Whitesville, Kentucky, teaching in the Catholic schools, obtaining her masters, getting to know more Mount Saint Joseph Ursulines, and deepening her life of faith and commitment to community service.
Of the next phase of her life, in a rare understatement, Darlene would say, “I kept thinking that maybe God was trying to tell me something.” Perhaps her own words will best describe what next happened one day as she was out for a drive in the country: “It was like God was in the car; I [suddenly] decided, ‘I’m going to enter the convent.’ Then I thought, ‘Where the [heck] did that come from?’” Later Darlene would know that the clear call came from her family’s faith and her own grounding in a life of service; she would often say to others that her “. . . leading a religious life grew from a burning desire to live a life of service for others.”
Now thirty-three years old, Darlene received support from her family in her decision to join the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. She remembered that her mother burst into tears when she heard the news; her mother went on to say that she had “prayed and prayed that [Darlene] would find a good man somewhere.” She had faith that the prayers would be answered and a good man would come along, but she “. . . didn’t know that it was going to be God!”
So, on Tuesday, July 27, 1982, as she entered the postulancy, Darlene began the next phase of her journey with the Ursulines. In just over a week, as a postulant and a “Sister” in quotation marks – “Sister” Darlene joined the staff at Saint Romuald School in Hardinsburg, Kentucky. “Sister” Darlene also lived in community with the five other Ursulines there. Picture this: Sisters Elaine Byrne, Pat Rhoten, Carol Shively, Melissa Tipmore, Margaret Louise Yates, and Darlene Denton. My goodness! If those walls could talk! What a lively set of relationships and exchanges must have ensued.
After that year in Hardinsburg, Darlene returned to Mount Saint Joseph where, on Friday, July 29, 1983, she was invested into the novitiate – the first to do so without the veil. What an incredible year of study, experiences, and expectations; it was also during this year that Sister Darlene lost her mother. Her canonical year behind her, Sister Darlene moved on to Saint Brigid in Vine Grove, Kentucky; and after another year, on Sunday, July 21, 1985, in her best dusty rose outfit, Sister Darlene made her first profession as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.
But God was not finished with leading Darlene in new explorations of just what her “definite service” was to be. In 1987, following prayer, discernment, discussions, and consultation, Sister Darlene said she could “no longer avoid making the decision” to request dispensation from her temporary vows. For the next five years, although no longer a vowed Ursuline, Darlene continued to listen to and examine the call of God.
By 1992, while Darlene was principal at Saints Simon and Jude School in Louisville, she shared her further discernment and asked that the bonds linking her and the Mount Saint Joseph Ursulines be re-established. That June, she renewed vows with the Ursulines, committed to more years of discernment, and continued at Saints Simon and Jude. That determination to continue the search for the “definite service” that was to be hers would not cease, and in 1994, she returned to Maple Mount to serve as the third director of the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center and to initiate its renovation.
On Sunday, July 16, 1995, Sister Darlene formalized her commitment to the Ursulines in her final vows. She described parts of that journey to the final decision saying, “There is a charism [I could not ignore]” and “I don’t know how else to explain it. There are just some groups that you belong to that you know you are in the right place.” And in true Sister Darlene fashion, “The next time I leave, I will be buried down here in our cemetery.”
Sister Darlene had one more dogleg in her journey when, in 1997, she worked for a year at the Bergamo Retreat Center in Dayton, Ohio. By 1998, Father Tom had called her at last to work among the people within Saint Helen’s parish in Louisville. Here she was to remain for the rest of her active ministry. And perhaps she finally held almost the very last piece to her “what-is-my-definite-service” puzzle.
As she would say, “Part of the reason I’m a sister is, I can be there for people.” During her years at Saint Helen Parish (which would become Mary Queen of Peace), Darlene worked with the elderly, taught RCIA, worked with women’s groups, taught spirituality classes, developed leadership among the parishioners, and even held “movies and popcorn” nights. She served for years on the board of the Shively Area Ministries.
The people within the parish have spoken and written of Sister Darlene:
- Had it not been for Sister and her groups I would have never made it through both my parents’ illnesses and death.
- [Sister] Darlene was always there to bolster us; she’s the reason I’m a deacon now.
- Sister Darlene got every one involved . . .
- . . . she brought people together . . .
- [Because of her] my God went from a fearing God to an all-forgiving, loving God.
- And . . . Sister Darlene had a tremendous love of life and she wanted to make sure that all who would listen understood how her Vocation inspired her life and how her life inspired her Vocation. She always spoke of her love of community.
Surely Sister Darlene had found the way, in Newman’s words, to be the “link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”
When Sister Darlene’s health deteriorated so that she simply could no longer be physically present in the parish, she accepted the next call to come to the Villa and to attempt, once more, to understand that to which God was calling her. Thank you to all the wonderful staff at the Villa who extended such gentle care and encouragement for Sister Darlene and we offer you our prayers and sympathy as well.
So Sister Darlene accepted these last months of prayer and witness and sharing and, in her words, “being there for people.” Not long ago, she reminded me that I must write this talk, and she dared me – “Just do not write something stupid and soapy about me.” Well, Sister Darlene, your life has been anything but. We are glad you shared your rich, diverse, brash, tumultuous, faith-filled, thanks-filled, fiercely loyal, spiritual, giving life with us. And we know that as the sun left the western sky on Monday night, September 5, 2011, God called you home because you had indeed completed that “definite service” that had been your life-long charge, and you are at last safe and at home in God’s loving arms.
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph