Sister George Mary Hagan: “This life is changing all the time”

Sisters in Ministry Update:

In 2009, Sister George Mary Hagan left her ministry at St. Alphonsus and currently serves as a driver for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph motherhouse.

Sister George Mary received a shipment of children’s books from a friend in Fort Knox for her classes at St. Alphonsus Parish.

Perhaps working in a distillery for a year and spending 20 years on an Army base at Fort Knox, Ky., isn’t on the typical resume of an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph.

Then again, there’s not much typical about Sister George Mary Hagan.

Born in an area of bourbon makers, train whistles, and scenic beauty, Sister George Mary joined the Ursuline Sisters more than 50 years ago. “Every year is a good year. Is your glass half empty or half full?” she said. “There’s a lot of contentment in doing what you like.”

These days, Sister George Mary works part time as the director of religious education at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, across the highway from the Mount Saint Joseph Motherhouse. She also offers transportation to the sisters who need to go into Owensboro for doctor appointments or other errands.

Along the way, she’s gained the reputation for knowing just about everyone. “I do know a lot of people,” she said with a smile.

She’s a Tudy

Sister George Mary was born Frances Lucille Hagan in New Haven, Ky., a small town near Bardstown in a highly Catholic area of central Kentucky. When she joined the Ursulines in 1955, it was customary for a sister to take a parent’s name as her own, and since her father was George and her mother Mary, that became her new name.

After Vatican II, sisters were allowed to return to their baptismal names if they chose, but Sister George Mary had a reason not to. “If they called me Frances or Lucille, I would have changed, but my family all calls me ‘Tudy,’” she said. The story goes that her namesake, Aunt Lucille, took one look at her and said, “Oh, she’s a Tudy,” Sister George Mary said.

Her father, George Hagan, was a telegraph operator for the L&N railroad for 50 years in New Haven. A thrill for his children was to get a pass to ride the train to Louisville, Sister George Mary said. Her mother raised her eight children, two of whom died when they were small.

Sister George Mary visits with Marilyn and Bob Beam of Louisville on July 19 during Associates and Sisters Day at Maple Mount.

After graduating from high school, Sister George Mary went to work as a secretary at the JW Dant distillery in neighboring Gethsemane. “I worked with a lot of different type people at the distillery,” she said.

When the distillery closed after a year, she started taking classes at Ursuline College in Louisville on weekends and began teaching at St. Joseph School in Bardstown. “I enjoyed teaching, so I wanted to do it for the Lord,” she said.

The New Haven area is in the backyard of the Sisters of Loretto, and one of Sister George Mary’s sisters is a member of that order. “I’d been thinking about (becoming a sister) all my life,” Sister George Mary said. But it was the influence of the Ursuline teachers she had for 12 years in New Haven that led her to choose the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.

“I knew a lot of people here,” she said. “There were seven from my hometown in the novitiate with me.”

Sister George Mary was almost 21 when she joined the novitiate, several years older than her classmates who were just out of high school. She was glad to have the extra years to mature and have more life experiences, which she believes gave her more confidence that she was making the right choice.

The mission begins

Her first teaching job as an Ursuline Sister was in 1958 at St. Peter of Alcantara in Stanley, Ky., not far from Maple Mount. She spent a year there, and over the next 11 years, she would teach at five other small schools in Kentucky, most of them within an hour of the Mount.

“I played the organ back then, so they were always moving me around,” she said.

In 1970, she taught at St. Anthony School in Axtel, Ky., where she lived with the principal, Sister Emma Cecilia Busam, forging a friendship that continues today.

St. Anthony is near Rough River, so in warmer weather the sisters enjoyed pontoon boat rides.

“Sisters from nearby would call and ask if they could have a boat ride,” Sister Emma Cecilia said. “We were in charge of getting the boat.”