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

People meeting Sister George Mary for the first time will learn she’s a very outgoing person and easily makes friends, Sister Emma Cecilia said.

After leaving St. Anthony, Sister George Mary found a home teaching at Blessed Mother School in Owensboro, where she served from 1970 to 1984.

“Sister Mary Damien Abell was a mentor and model for me, she was the principal at Blessed Mother,” Sister George Mary said. “I learned things from her that I didn’t know I was learning, about teaching, organization, and people skills.” Sister Mary Damien died in 2001.

Sister George Mary and Sister Emma Cecilia Busam visit in July. The two have been friends for more than 35 years.

During her time at Blessed Mother, Sister George Mary’s father died. Three months later, Ursuline Sister Marietta Wethington, who was teaching at nearby Saint Pius X School, lost her mother, and she credits Sister George Mary with helping her during that time.

“I’m grateful to Sister George Mary for sharing a special part of my journey with me,” Sister Marietta said. “She and I experienced the death of a parent about the same time. It was a first for both of us. It was always comforting to know that I had someone I could talk with who understood my feelings.

“One weekend I called her and told her I needed to go home,” Sister Marietta said. “She packed her bag and rode with me.”

The Army life

By 1984, Sister George Mary knew she needed a change from teaching. That’s when she began her 20-year odyssey with the U.S. Army at Fort Knox, Ky.

“I was the director of religious education for both Protestants and Catholics,” Sister George Mary said. “They were the happiest years of my life. I cried all the way from Owensboro when I first went to Fort Knox, and when I left 20 years later, I cried all the way back to Owensboro.”

The Army life can be very difficult, but Sister George Mary said she gleaned so much from her experience. The insistence on planning, attention to detail, and doing things correctly still resonate with her today.

She replaced her cousin, Sister Jeanette Bowling, who’d been at Fort Knox for 16 years. The commander at the time was happy with Sister Jeanette’s work, so he wanted to bring in another Ursuline, Sister George Mary said.

Sister George Mary stands in front of the altar at St. Alphonsus Church in St. Joseph, where she’s been the director of religious education since 2005.

“I conducted teacher training classes, adult education, all the functions of religious education,” she said. She also ministered to soldiers in the confinement facility, and helped Hispanics to get jobs at the post.

“I found the soldiers were very cooperative,” Sister George Mary said. “They were on time, and they made sure their children were on time for religious education. They were wonderful to me.” Many of those connections she made are still intact today.

She had many experiences that are rare for an Ursuline Sister. “I’d take the officer’s wives on a tour of Nelson County, to Bardstown, (the Trappist monastery in) Gethsemane, and to the Maker’s Mark distillery,” Sister George Mary said. “I was invited to many upscale functions, to the colonel’s and general’s quarters,” she said. Friends invited her to visit them in Paris, Germany, and Puerto Rico.

“It was just an enriching experience to mingle with so many beautiful people from all over the world,” she said. “I didn’t even feel like I was in Kentucky, it was like another country.”

By 2003, Sister George Mary’s financial adviser told her she was paying the government to work at Fort Knox. Despite the difficulty in leaving, she knew it was the right time to come back to the Mount.

“It was a big adjustment to come back, I had changed so much,” she said. “But I knew it was time to move on. This life is changing all the time.”

She picked up different jobs her first few years at the Mount, but in August 2005 she began working at St. Alphonsus.

She’s responsible for the sacramental programs at the church, making sure the catechists are certified and well trained to teach the classes. There are 176 families at St. Alphonsus, and she works with 53 children there.

Shortly after she joined the novitiate, she came to Mass at St. Alphonsus. It was nearly 50 years later when she came through the doors again as director of religious education. “I thought, ‘My whole life has passed by since I’ve walked through these doors.’”

Life may continue to change, but Sister George Mary continues to see her glass as half full.

By Dan Heckel