As part of her thesis at St. Francis, she carved the Ursuline Coat of Arms that hangs in the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center lobby, and followed that with the multi-piece carving of the Coat of Arms that hangs in the Brescia University Administration Building.
“My dad did hand carving, I had his tools,” she said. “He helped me with it.”
Her father, who died in 1960, built a solid walnut sick call table that he had patented in 1951. The table was used to administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction, or Anointing of the Sick. “He gave it to mother as a Christmas gift,” Sister Emma Cecilia said, although his poor health over the years actually caused him to use it more often.
Her mother, who died in 1967, was more a collector than a creator. “My mother collected slippers. People would bring them back from overseas or other trips,” Sister Emma Cecilia said. Many of the slippers are in the museum at Maple Mount, with each carefully labeled and dated when they were donated.
Sister Emma Cecilia enjoyed her years teaching art and history at Catholic High and is still in touch with some students from those years. “Several students told me they still have their sketchbook, and many pursued professional training,” she said.
Louis Szemethy was an art student of Sister Emma Cecilia’s while attending Catholic High in the late 1970s. Although he’s lived in the suburbs of Boston since 1984, he makes time to take Sister Emma Cecilia out to eat whenever he makes his yearly pilgrimage to Kentucky.
“I spent a lot of time in her classes, so we’ve just kept in touch,” Szemethy said. “You’ve always got to keep in touch with your roots and the people who took care of you.”
When Sister Emma Cecilia took a sabbatical in Dover, Mass., in 1999, she visited Szemethy and was present for his daughter’s birth, he said. He doesn’t use his art training in his profession, but he dabbles in his spare time and encourages his three daughters to experiment with art.
“She’s been a good friend for a long time, and she always stays active,” Szemethy said. “Even when I was in the Navy, we kept in touch. She’s kind of like my mentor.”
In 1982, she decided to leave Catholic High and was approached by Bill Chandler with the Owensboro Public Schools Adult Education program. He wanted Sister Emma Cecilia to teach art classes to stay-at-home parents whose children were in school, or to professional people who needed to relax in the evening. She was also asked to teach art during the last year of Mount Saint Joseph Academy.
For a full year, she taught adult classes in the morning and at night, and taught at the Academy in the afternoon. Then she was approached to take the archives job.
Sister Emma Cecilia is the most senior sister still in active ministry, and she says there’s no secret to her longevity in the workforce. “The Holy Spirit and the grace of God keep me going,” she said.
How much longer she’ll continue working is unclear, but she’s begun cutting back her hours.
“The bishop asked me to stay as long as he was bishop,” she said. Sister Emma Cecilia called working with Bishop McRaith “a delight, because I can still teach volunteers the responsibility of becoming a diocesan archivist.”
One of her great passions is traveling. She has been to Europe four times, the first of which came in 1975 as a gift from her family. She’s been to Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Canada, and to the Holy Land. She’s traveled throughout the United States, first as a teacher, then as an archivist, often receiving fellowships and grants to pay for the trips because she used them in her teaching.
“I enjoyed this because I could stay a few days longer to enjoy the historical and educational places nearby, and meet interesting people,” she said.
She said there’s a difference between working in a school, where she could get close to everybody, and working in archives, where she can give individual attention to those seeking help. Regardless, she wouldn’t trade any of her experiences.
When listening to Sister Emma Cecilia, it’s apparent she has too many interesting stories to record them all. “All those God permitted me to come in contact with have made an impression on me,” she said, “and I have made an impression on them. May God bless us all.”
By: Dan Heckel