Wake Reflection for Sister Elizabeth Ann Ray
About 6:15 a. m. on Sunday, November 16, 2008, Sr. Elizabeth Ann Ray heard the words the rest of us would hear proclaimed later as the Sunday gospel: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come; share your master’s joy.” Because she recognized the voice of her lifelong Companion, we can only imagine the joyous love with which she followed Jesus home into the joy of eternal life.
On behalf of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, I offer my sympathy and prayers to the family and friends of Sr. Elizabeth Ann, especially to her sister Irene and her daughter; her nephew, Fr. Bob Ray; and her other nephews, nieces, and cousins, especially Sr. Rosaria Ray. Also, from all the Ursuline community I extend deep gratitude to Randy Shelby and the entire healthcare staff of St. Joseph Villa. Your faithful care for Sister made her final years a time of contentment and peace.
Long ago, on August 7, 1910, in Rhodelia, Kentucky, God entrusted the treasure of Edith Elizabeth Ray to her parents, Mary Elizabeth Mills and Joseph Lawrence Ray. On September 11, 1910, her parents began investing their treasure by baptizing her and enrolling her as a member of the Catholic Church of St. Theresa’s Parish. Sister loved being part of her large family that included four sisters and eight brothers. Of her early family life, she wrote: “My parents were poor and uneducated, but they had qualities that were priceless: a firm faith and trust in God, respect for all people, and a willingness to work hard.” Those who later came to know Edith Elizabeth—nicknamed Tad—acknowledge that her parents successfully transmitted all these values to their daughter, as well as a deep love of family. Sister’s file is filled with genealogy charts and notes, family reunion and anniversary announcements, wedding and graduation invitations, and newspaper clippings that testify to her desire to keep up with her relatives even into the third and fourth generation. She loved all of you and was so proud of all your accomplishments!
As Edith Elizabeth grew, she too began investing in the treasure that her life was; she worked hard in school, helped by the Sisters of Charity. As she approached adulthood, perhaps in her prayer she heard through the voice of her parish priest, Fr. Donovan, words similar to these from Jesus her Beloved: “Well done, Edith Elizabeth. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, I invite you to become an Ursuline of Mount Saint Joseph.” Responding to that call, on August 15, 1929, Edith Elizabeth became Sr. Elizabeth Ann, joining classmates Sisters Jean Teresa Taylor, Mary Charlene Logsdon, James Rita Sims, and Georgetta Higdon. On August 4, 1934, Sr. Elizabeth Ann returned all the talents of her life to God by entrusting them to the Ursuline community through final vows.
Perhaps again in prayer to Jesus her Teacher during these early years, she heard words like these: “Well done, Elizabeth Ann. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, I invite you to teach my little ones.” Beginning in 1931 with only an eighth grade diploma, over the next five and a half decades Sr. Elizabeth Ann’s talents were well invested and grew in value as she taught primarily sixth, seventh, and eighth graders all over Kentucky and in Glennonville, Missouri. However, most of her teaching career reads like a map of Ursuline missions in New Mexico: she worked 32 years in Waterflow, Farmington, San Fidel, Albuquerque, and Grants. For most of that time she also served as head teacher and/or principal as well as local superior. New Mexico brought her the gift of the Franciscan Fathers, especially her good friends, Frs. Knute Kinross and Meldon Hickey.
Among all her students, she always had a special fondness for two who became Ursulines. She was instrumental in helping Sister Dianna Ortiz enter the community, and she was glad to be able to attend one of Dianna’s anti-torture vigils in front of the White House in Washington. Her other “special” student, Sr. Michele Morek, says of her, “She was one of my favorite teachers! I never heard her say an unkind or impatient word, and our seventh and eighth grade class was a very rowdy bunch! My favorite memory of her was that she read books to us aloud; we loved it!” Sr. Michele asked me to extend her personal condolences and promise of prayers both to you, her family, and to us as a community.
Sometime in early 1985, Sr. Elizabeth Ann’s prayer brought to her heart another word from Jesus, who had become her Wisdom and Faithful Friend: “Well done, Elizabeth Ann. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, I invite you home to the Mount for a ministry of prayer and presence that will sustain other Ursuline missions.” Elizabeth Ann again responded willingly and welcomed the duties of retirement, serving 12 years in the Archives before fully retiring in 1997. At the Mount, she continued to visit family, friends, other Ursulines, and former mission sites; she also taught religious education at Sebree, Providence, and St. Alphonsus. Always a faithful member of the Powerhouse of Prayer, she never lost her sense of humor. She had placed several funny stories in her archive file, including this one: “The preacher came to call the other day. He said at my age I should be thinking about the hereafter. I told him, ‘Oh, I do all the time. No matter where I am, the parlor, upstairs, in the kitchen, or down in the basement, I ask myself, What am I here after?’” Perhaps it was her humor, along with her deep faith and trust in God, that enabled her to justify marking the top score on very item in a 1989 “Happiness Inventory” with the following extraordinary comment: “All this may sound unreal, but this is the way I feel—I am perfectly happy with life as it is.” This life-stance of happiness continued almost to the end: On her 2005-2006 annals report, she stated: “I am very happy in the Villa and tremendously grateful for my blessings.” On her last form for 2006-2007, she said simply, “I’m waiting for the best that is to come.”
Yesterday, I realized that if the Old Testament had known the charism of religious life, there would be a parallel text to the liturgical proclamation of “a worthy wife.” Describing people like Elizabeth Ann, I think it would read something like this:
When one finds a worthy religious, her value is beyond pearls.
Her community, entrusting its charism to her, has an unfailing prize.
She brings her sisters and students good and not evil all the days of her life.
She obtains chalk and construction paper and makes bulletin boards with skillful hands.
She rises while it is still night, and prepares lessons for her students.
She enjoys the success of her students; at night her lamp is undimmed as she grades papers.
She puts her hand to crossword puzzles, and her mind is full of humor and fun.
She reaches out her hands to her sisters in community and extends her arms to all in need.
Her schools and local communities are filled with generosity and respect for all people.
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come.
She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel.
Her students and teachers rise up and praise her; her community, too, extols her:
“Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all.”
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who reverences God is to be praised.
Give her a reward of her labors, and let her works praise her in the chapel sanctuary!
Sister Elizabeth Ann, you spent your life responding to the voice of Jesus. We rejoice with you in this final affirmation from Jesus, the Lover of us all: “Well done, Elizabeth Ann, good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities, this time in heaven. Come, I invite you to share my joy.” Our prayer, Sister Elizabeth Ann, is that now you are rejoicing with him whose voice you’ve known all your life, and that now you know him by sight rather than by faith as your Resurrection and as Life itself in all abundance. Enter into that life, and we say with Jesus: “Well done, Elizabeth Ann, WELL done!”
November 18, 2008
Given by Sister Cheryl Clemons, OSU