Wake Reflection for Sister Frances Miriam Spalding, OSU
October 21, 1918 – May 9, 2013
“So we are always courageous. . . for we walk by faith, not by sight.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-7
In the reading for Morning Prayer on Friday, May 10, we heard those or similar words – perhaps we were “confident’ rather than “courageous.” But just the evening before, on Thursday, May 9, 2013 – as she did all her life – Sister Frances Miriam Spalding stepped in courageous confidence into the heart of her dear Jesus, taking the next step of her eternal life’s journey through God’s great love.
That journey began more than 94 years ago on Monday, October 21, 1918, when Elizabeth Teresa Spalding became the fifth child in the lively, faith-filled Bardstown family of John Collins and Elizabeth Esther Beaven Spalding. Dedicated almost immediately by her mother to the Sacred Heart, Teresa began her faith journey within the Church when she was baptized at St. Thomas Church in Bardstown, Kentucky, five days later on Saturday, October 26, 1918.
Over the next few years, Teresa would get a little sister, Jiggs, and a baby brother, Bill, and the family would become complete with three boys – JW, Jack, and Bill; and four girls (three of whom would become vowed religious) – Jane (who became Sister Jane Miriam, SCN), Mollie (who became Sister Marie, OSU of Mount Saint Joseph), Teresa (our Sister Frances Miriam), and Catherine (known as Jiggs). Her brothers and sisters have now surely welcomed Sister Frances Miriam home; and to her nieces and nephews and the great and great-great nieces and nephews, we Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph offer our love, prayers, and consolation.
Sister Frances Miriam said of her family, “my mother started me on my faith journey – a journey that is far from complete.” At six, she began her education journey at St. Thomas Elementary in Bardstown, where she was taught by the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, a pattern that persisted through her high school graduation from Bethlehem Academy in Bardstown, in 1938. These were good years, for she would later say, “parents, teachers, friends, and pastors aided me along this journey with their tender guidance and instilled into me a deep love for God.”
So, when Teresa was not yet ten, on a spring Monday, April 30, 1928, she strengthened her faith journey, receiving the sacrament of confirmation at Saint Thomas Church. Her mother continued to support Teresa and her brothers and sisters as they explored their faith, saying to Teresa, “. . .when some (of us) couldn’t go to Mass, ‘You go and bring back blessings to . . . all of us.’” Sister Frances Miriam would later recall, “I felt such joy in my heart being able to ‘bring back blessings.’”
The Spalding home was also filled with love and joy. Music was an integral part, for Teresa remembered “as [a group] of seven children, we always sang as our mother played the piano. So I grew up singing in a family choir. It was one of our biggest joys. We especially enjoyed singing at Christmas time.” The family was one that relished jokes and teasing as well, with lots of nick names. Sister Frances Miriam remembered: “I have always been small, and my Dad always teased me about it. When I was 13 years old and he teased me, I would say, ‘I’m little Dad, but I’m old.’ Now that I’m 77, I’m still little, but I don’t have to say that last part (that ‘I’m old).”
As “little” Teresa, she felt especially dedicated to the Little Flower. And, in February of her first year at Mount Saint Joseph Junior College for Women, in 1939, Teresa penned this note to Mother Ambrose:
I have a little secret to tell you. It’s strictly between you and me and God. I have been thinking about entering your order, Mother. Would you like to have a “Sr.” Teresa? Remember this is a secret.”
She would also say, “I wanted to live a life closer to God. I wanted God to be first in my life.” So, almost one year later, on Thursday, February 1, 1940, bringing, as she wrote, “just myself,” Elizabeth Teresa Spalding entered the Postulancy of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. In six months, on Wednesday, August 14, 1940, she was invested as a Novice – Sister Frances Miriam Spalding – with her classmates: Sisters Margaret Joseph Aull, Mildred Barr, Mary Jane Hicks, Robert Ann Wheatley, and Theresa Marie Wilkerson. And now that class is once again wholly united in heaven. And we, their sisters, remember each in prayer and thanksgiving.
Two years later, on Saturday, August 15, 1942, Sister Frances Miriam made her first profession of vows and entered the next phase of her faith journey, the first of her 68 years of very active ministry in Kentucky and Missouri. And she would later say, most appropriately, “No one goes on a journey without going somewhere!” And she certainly did.
Throughout the years of her teaching ministry, she would also complete her own education, earning a Baccalaureate degree at Fontbonne College in 1955 (attending four different colleges to do so), and a Master’s in Education at Saint Louis University in 1964. She held multiple certificates and would attend workshops and institutes throughout her life, becoming a well-rounded educator for all ages – first grade through adulthood.
Between 1942 and 1964, Sister Frances Miriam’s energetic teaching journey took her to:
- St. Francis of Assisi School in St. Francis, Kentucky;
- (Then she made her final vows and travelled to) St. Teresa School in Glennonville, Missouri; and
- Holy Trinity School, Fredericktown, Kentucky;
- Our Lady of Mercy School, Hodgenville, Kentucky;
- Seven Holy Founders School, Affton, Missouri; and
- Saints Joseph and Paul School, in Owensboro.
Then came sixteen years as principal – one of her teachers would say of Sister Frances Miriam, “She was the best principal. She was everywhere. Such energy!” As principal from 1964 to 1980, Sister Frances Miriam would serve in Kentucky at: Immaculate School, Owensboro; St. Thomas More School, Paducah; and St. Charles Elementary School, Lebanon. In 1980, she had one last teaching year with the 5th and 6th grade students at Saint Mary Magdalene in Sorgho.
For the next four years, Sister Frances Miriam ministered at the Motherhouse as Assistant Local Superior and Director of Transportation. Then in 1985 began eighteen years of service in the Western half of Kentucky at Saints William, Francis Borgia, and Ambrose in Marion, Sturgis, and Henshaw; at Saints William and Mark in Marion and Eddyville; and at Benton, Kentucky. In these years, Sister Frances Miriam truly diversified. She would say, “On my journey I am aware that God is always ahead of me, inviting me to new growth, through the very fabric of human experiences. So I continue my journey. . . .”
While in the parishes in Western Kentucky, she ministered in many of the expected ways – acting as DRE, helping with prayer services, visiting those who were sick or elderly or lonely. And – she baptized a baby and helped at least two inmates on death row become baptized. She saw sixty or more people through the RCIA process in her parishes, and taught adult literacy and witnessed God’s love to the inmates on death row.
Of her ministry on death row, she wrote, “I not only see their faith is strengthened, in spite of despair, but I feel that I have grown spiritually by being in their midst. One inmate said, ‘While the sisters are here, I feel that I have temporarily escaped from prison and am in a peaceful place for a while.’ We feel the same while there. . . .” Some years later, Sister Frances Miriam and Sister Rose Therese would even win spots as anti-death-penalty extras in the film The Last Dance. A movie star in our midst!
For seven years, Sister Frances Miriam sang with the Marion Baptist Church and community choir in the “Living Christmas Tree,” where she was perched at the top – the angel beneath the star. In 1996, she became an “Olympic Hero,” sponsored by News Channel 6; her nominator gave many examples and reasons, but said most simply, “she has made our community a better place to live.” And Sister Frances Miriam said of her own work, “we embrace the whole community, not just Catholics. . . .” The people among whom she worked wrote, “God sent us a tiny nun with the energy of a two-year-old [and] the heart of a giant. . . . She has buoyed our spirits, encouraged our efforts and set the example. And, always, she has been a beacon of our faith to the community.”
When Sister Frances Miriam was called home to begin her last ministry journey at Mount Saint Joseph, she said, “I still have a little energy. . . I won’t hide my light yet. I want to keep it shining wherever I am.”
And for the seven years between 2003 and 2010, Sister Frances Miriam kept shining – volunteering as a Eucharistic minister at Owensboro Medical Health System, serving as Activities Director at the Villa – and to each of you at the Villa and within Pastoral Care among whom Sister Frances Miriam worked and who ministered to Sister Frances Miriam in her last illness – we Ursulines also offer our love, our prayers, our thanks, and our condolences. Until she just could no longer manage, Sister Frances Miriam also embodied the Hospitality ministry in the Chapel. And, of course, she played cards with unbridled enthusiasm and converted all who were willing (and some who weren’t) to Saint Louis Cardinal baseball fans.
All her life, Sister Frances Miriam knew that her God was always ahead of her on her journey, and that her “future years [were] in the hands of the Holy Spirit who will lead me where he will.” And so, on what we used to regard as Ascension Thursday, the Holy Spirit called little Teresa – Sister Frances Miriam – home, and in confident courage and with great heart, she stepped forth into that journey. And so we say, go with our blessings and God speed.
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph