Sister Emma Cecilia Busam, OSU: “A great gift to us all”

The family lived at 316 E. Seventh St., not too far from where Sister Emma Cecilia now works in the northern part of Owensboro. The family attended St. Joseph Church, the German-American church that was down the street from St. Paul. (The two merged in 1948 as Sts. Joseph and Paul). Sister Emma Cecilia has one sister living, Mary Agnes Vance. “She’s my best friend as well as my sister,” Sister Emma Cecilia said.

Sister Emma Cecilia pages through a photo album highlighting significant moments in the history of the Owensboro Diocese.

“We had a close-knit family. I well remember a Model-T Ford, on Sundays we’d go driving to visit relatives and friends, or just for a drive through the countryside,” Sister Emma Cecilia said. Her father was a skilled wood carver, and did hand carving that is still in many churches in the United States and overseas. “Daddy made us a miniature golf set to play with in the big yard, we’d play all afternoon. He made us many toys.”

Sister Emma Cecilia attended St. Joseph School from first grade through high school, and all her teachers were Ursuline Sisters. “Sister Angelica (Sisk) had dolls we could play with if we met certain standards,” she said.

During her school years, she treasured daily Mass, home prayers, May crownings and other church-related events, being a member of Sts. Joseph and Paul orchestra, spelling bees, social events, and civic projects.

Becoming a sister was always in the back of her mind, Sister Emma Cecilia said. After graduating from high school, she worked three years in the parts department at Ken-Rad in Owensboro, the precursor to General Electric, which made radio tubes.

She played the trumpet with a group of 18 employees called the “Tubeadours,” who played for civic programs, dances, and on a WOMI radio program. “I still occasionally play the trumpet,” she said.

A spiritual life

“Although I enjoyed my life at Ken-Rad, I decided to join the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in 1942,” she said. She was urged to stay close to home by her pastor, because of her father’s poor health.

Sister Emma Cecilia gets help these days from Brett Mills, whose background is in museum work.

She entered at age 21, and became a novice in 1943, making this her 66th year of religious life. Other sisters remaining from her novice class are Sisters Naomi Aull, Marie Bosco Wathen, and Annalita Lancaster.

While most sisters in those days changed from their baptismal name to one of their choosing in the community, Sister Emma Cecilia was allowed to keep her baptismal name. “When Bishop Cotton said my name would be ‘Emma Cecilia,’ mother said tears ran down from Daddy’s eyes,” she said.

All the sisters in those days became teachers. “I didn’t enter to teach, I entered to lead a more spiritual life,” she said.

Sister Emma Cecilia’s first mission was in 1945, to teach the first four grades at St. Joseph School in Central City, Ky., about an hour from Owensboro.

“There were a lot of non-Catholic children in my classroom. One converted in the second grade,” she said.

Her next move was to St. William School in Knottsville, a rural community in the same county as Owensboro. She taught first and second grade her first year, but also picked up a dozen third-graders, making it 67 students. The next year she was given the second and third grades, the following year third and fourth, and her final year, fifth and sixth.

“Some St. William students call every once in awhile and invite me to dinner,” she said. “It makes me very happy.”

From 1951-56, she taught third and fourth grades at St. James School in Louisville, which the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph began in 1906. One of her adventures there was taking her students on a train to Cincinnati to see the city’s first film in Cinerama.