Sister Jacinta Powers: Finding her joy in serving the poor

After graduating from the Academy, she went to the University of Kentucky, but there was a “restlessness of unknowing that wouldn’t go away,” Sister Jacinta said. “I kept in touch with the young sisters. I decided I needed to give it a try.” She entered as a postulant in January 1973, and the novitiate that summer, making this her 37th year of religious life.

“The Vatican II changes were still going on. Father Bernard (Powers) was our teacher of theology,” she said. She was one of three members of her novice class, and the only one who remains. “It never felt wrong,” she said. “In the last 10-15 years, there’s a solidness. You know that taproot is so deep, you know nourishment is still coming up. It’s really God’s grace.”

Sister Jacinta listens to Orlean Murry, of Memphis, detail her symptoms at the Church Health Center.

Sister Jacinta received her degree in biology from Brescia College, with a secondary degree in education. Her first ministry was familiar ground – two years as a science teacher at the Academy, 1977-79. “It was an honor to be at the Academy,” she said. “I know they tried to get quality people.”

From there she went to St. Augustine School in Lebanon, Ky., where she taught science and history to seventh- and eighth-graders. The principal of the school was Sister Therese Martin Mattingly.

“I loved her. I think it was her love of people,” Sister Jacinta said. “She spoke to everybody, everybody knew her, and everybody loved her.” More than 20 years later, in 2001, Sister Jacinta was on duty as a nurse in the Mount infirmary when Sister Therese Martin died.

In 1980, Sister Jacinta was sent to Lourdes Central High School in Nebraska City, Neb., to teach science and math. While there she taught the younger siblings of Sister Betsy Moyer, who she would one day live with.

“It was my first out-of-state mission. We traveled by Greyhound bus for 13 hours to get home,” she said. She enjoyed her time teaching in the high school. “I liked to teach kids who chose a subject they wanted,” she said.

In 1982, Sister Jacinta followed her desire to serve the poor by moving to Chillan, Chile, to serve as a parish minister at Divino Maestro Parish. “Chillan was the only foreign mission we had. Since I’d entered, I’d wanted that experience,” she said. “They were the poorest of the poor that I could have contact with. It was a call to help the most vulnerable, the ones who don’t have a voice – who teach me to speak.”

She and Sister Rosemary were to learn from Sister Luisa Bickett (her former fifth-grade teacher) and Sister Mimi Ballard.

“When we arrived in Santiago, Sisters Luisa and Mimi were there to greet and help us,” Sister Rosemary said. “We stayed a few days with the Mercy Sisters from Rochester, N.Y. The sisters sent Jacinta and me out to buy bread and it was raining quite hard. All of a sudden, a bus came along and threw a huge wave of dirty water on us – we laughed and considered it our Chilean Baptism!”

This sign hangs over the admissions desk at the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn.

Much of the sister’s ministry in Chillan consisted of meetings with team leaders, catechists, and those who prepared the monthly themes for small community prayer meetings, Sister Rosemary said.

“One day Sister Jacinta asked me if I felt as if I fit in and I replied affirmatively,” Sister Rosemary said. “She, however, was very attracted to helping Elena, the parish nurse, with all the sick people.”

A nurse is born

After just two months in Chile, Sister Jacinta’s father suffered a heart attack. Joe Powers survived the attack, but Sister Jacinta came home to be with her family. She spent the first six months of 1983 teaching at Mary Carrico Elementary School in nearby Knottsville, Ky., but her experience in Chile had changed her.

“It cemented in my heart and soul that I really liked nursing,” she said. In the fall of 1983, she entered nursing school at the University of Louisville, graduating in 1986. She returned to the Mount to become co-director of health care at the Mount Saint Joseph Infirmary, along with Sister Claudia Hayden.

“We were on the floor at 4:20 in the morning. We had a good day if we could get home to watch the 5:30 p.m. news,” Sister Jacinta said.