Wake Reflection for Sister Eileen Mullen, OSU
It was almost noon on a lovely sunny Wednesday morning, March 12, 2008—just when the daffodils were beginning to bloom. Even though it was the week before Palm Sunday, you could just hear the first whispers of Easter alleluias over the hillsides green with winter wheat. What a fitting setting for a daughter of the prairies to set out on her final journey. She took us all by surprise, but as one of her sisters commented, Sister Eileen “did everything according to her own time, so she took matters into her own hands and died in her own time, too.” She slipped away quickly, surrounded by the health care staff that had taken such good care of her…we offer them our thanks for their loving service to Sister Eileen and all our sisters.
Eileen Veronica Rose Mullen was born on May 24, 1912, on the family farm near the Canadian border, between Colgan and Fortuna, North Dakota. The town in which Eileen was born, Colgan (in a rural section called Gooseneck Township) was named after her maternal grandfather, Mac Colgan. She was the second child of homesteading pioneers Michael Joseph Mullen and Edith Eileen Colgan. The family would later increase to seven children: older brother Joseph, Eileen, Monica, Rita, Elvin, Raphael, and Ruth. Ruth Gunsolley, the youngest, is the only surviving member of the family. I know all of you join me in offering Ruth our love and sympathy.
Eileen was baptized two days later in St. Agnes Church in Colgan, and confirmed at age nine in Fortuna. Her mother was a teacher and began the children’s education at home, but Eileen also attended the Gooseneck country elementary school. She began high school at the Fortuna public school, but transferred to the Ursuline school, Saint Agnes Academy at Kenmare, North Dakota. While she was there, she decided to join the Ursuline community. In her files we found a letter from her mother addressed to “The Reverend Mother Superior” at Kenmare, giving her parents’ permission for their daughter to enter. But her mother said, “If it is possible we would like for her to visit her home once more before she enters.” We hope she did! Because less than two months later, on May 22, 1929, Eileen became a postulant in the Ursuline community at Kenmare. One of her classmates was Sister Emily Zent, and our whole Ursuline community here extends special sympathy and prayers for you, Sister Emily.
On June 4, 1930 she received the habit of an Ursuline sister and the name Sister Mary Scholastica, which somehow fits her very well. Sister Eileen was a very intelligent woman, curious and always wanting to know the “why” and “how” of things. She received a teaching diploma from the State Normal School (Teachers’ College) in Minot, North Dakota. The sturdy pioneer character of that school is evident when you look at her grade reports from the college, each one stamped on the lower corner in red, urging you to “Buy Dakota Maid Flour.” Don’t you imagine that Sister Eileen grinned every time she got her grades?
True to her name “Scholastica,” she studied all her life, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1954 from St. Louis University, and going on for further study at Le Clerc College in Belleville IL, Marillac and Webster Colleges in Saint Louis, and Dayton University. She took a Gregorian Chant Institute in Toledo, and in 1964 completed a 90 hour course in CCD and Modern Catechetics at—where else?—Mount Saint Scholastica College in Atchison KS.
Eileen made good use of all this education, ministering over 50 years in diocesan schools in Fairmont City IL, East Saint Louis IL, Bonnots Mill MO, Mounds City IL, Mascoutah IL, Belleville IL, and Millstadt IL. Her list of assignments reads something like this: teacher, teacher-organist, teacher-principal, teacher-organist-principal…so the Belleville community made good use of all her talents! She taught on the junior high level, and especially liked teaching math. Her students were devoted to her, some coming to see her since she has been retired here in Kentucky. Eileen also served on her community leadership team, taking on the duties of local motherhouse leader.
Eileen had a passion for travel. Her sister, Rita, had entered the Benedictine sisters of Duluth, and the two of them loved to take long car trips to Montana, the Dakotas, Arizona, and Wyoming to visit friends and family. She also got to go to Alaska, to Mount Calvary in Germany (the original Motherhouse of the Belleville community), to Rome for the beatification of Blessed Blandine Merten (a Mount Calvary Ursuline Sister) and to Focolaré meetings in Italy.
Her eager mind was complemented by an eager spirit. Sisters who knew her speak of her deep hunger for God, and her attraction to the Forsaken Jesus, especially the Jesus suffering in other people. She was a strong “one” on the Enneagram, with a powerful sense of justice and longing for “the right thing to do.” She studied scripture and the writings of Angela, and was a great believer in changing with the times. A very forward-looking woman, perhaps Eileen can be one of our Patronesses for the Future.
Her spiritual life was especially enriched by her activities in the Focolaré movement, a movement of spiritual and social renewal that focuses on the transformation of society by Gospel living, and by doing God’s will in the present moment. While she was able to travel, Eileen went to Italy to study the spirituality of the movement, and attended Focolaré conventions when she could. Sister Eileen really looked forward to the visits of her “Focolaré Friends,” and enjoyed staying updated about the movement via FAX messages and through The Living City Magazine. Yesterday we all received a FAX of sympathy from the Midwest Focolaré, telling us that the founder of the movement, Chiara Lubich, is herself seriously ill, and that they expect a joyful reunion between Chiara and Eileen very soon now.
Sisters here at the Mount who have been privileged to know Sister Eileen at the end of her life can attest that she was one of the youngest 95 year-olds on campus. Her mind was sharp, and she continued to be interested in people, ideas, and current events. She stayed as active as she could—she recently joined a small prayer group here at the motherhouse, the Daughters of Saint Angela. Because of her failing eyesight, she could not read the prayers but listened attentively to all that was said, contributing her ideas to any discussion. She enjoyed hearing the Liturgy of the Word, and the rosary was a special part in her life. Do you think it was a coincidence that she died peacefully while the rosary was being prayed in the chapel and over the closed-circuit TV in her room?
As she lost her eyesight, she had to give up her crocheting and reading (though she would put important documents like letters under her “reading machine” to work her way through them) but she still enjoyed music and visiting friends. When her sister Rita visited us here a few years ago, wearing her signature red hat, we had a wonderful time celebrating Rita’s 89th and Eileen’s 92nd birthday. Many of her loyal friends and former students have visited her here, and she always made the most of those visits—she surely leaves behind many who loved her. What better epitaph could any of us have?
When she wrote her final vows many, many years ago, the young Sister Scholastica begged for the grace to persevere, echoing the words of our founder Saint Angela, to “Persevere faithfully and joyfully in the work you have begun.” Eileen, we are your witnesses: you made it! Thank you for being a wonderful Ursuline woman, a dedicated teacher, a true sister, and a loyal friend.
I have here the diploma from the State Normal School of Minot, North Dakota, and I quote from it: “Be it known that Sister Scholastica, having completed the prescribed course of studies, is hereby declared worthy to receive the accustomed rewards of honor and qualified to teach in the public schools of this state.”
Sister Eileen, all of us who know and love you declare you “worthy to receive the accustomed rewards of honor,” and ready to take your longest journey, into the arms of God…and just in time to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the rewards of your labors, enter into the joy of your God!
March 14, 2008
S. Michele Morek, OSU
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph