Wake Reflection for Sister Jamesetta Knott, OSU
“You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence. . .”
At evening prayer on Saturday, October 22, 2011, we prayed from the 16th Psalm, “You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence. . .,” as we rejoiced that Sister Jamesetta Knott had just followed that path home to her loving God. Who would have imagined that even before her life began, there would have been paths to follow?
For, more than 86 years ago in 1925, the song – “Show Me the Way to Go Home” – was topping the charts when Mildred Louise came into the loving home of James Eugene and Virgie Lee Knott, on Monday, March 23rd. Born in Wilhelmina, Missouri, in a Catholic enclave in Dunklin County, Mildred Louise was the second in what would become a family of eleven children. Within one week, on Sunday, March 29th, this new Knott was baptized Mildred Louise in the Sacred Heart Church, where, a little more than seven years later, she would make her first Holy Communion on a beautiful May morning in 1932.
The Knott family home was situated in a richly Catholic settlement in southeast Missouri, and Mildred Louise and her siblings grew in a faith-filled home marked by shared times each day for morning and evening family prayer. After Sunday mass, while her mother prepared breakfast for the whole crew, her father would “read aloud to his family from some Catholic paper or magazine.” With her brothers and sisters, Mildred Louise was early grounded in the notion of putting first things first.
As we would see later in a collection of more than twenty years of Sister Jamesetta’s annual reports, family was always one of those “first things.” Family visits, reunions in Saint Louis, and trips to North Carolina topped her lists of “special or meaningful” events. And so to Sister Jamesetta’s brothers and sisters – Mary Frances Theresa, Mabel Eloise, Charles, James Patrick, Margaret Aurelia, and Sister Mary Mercedes – and to all the rest of her family – we Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph offer our deepest sympathy, our prayers, and our love.
Buoyed by the love of her family, Mildred Louise began her schooling and successfully completed her first eight years at Sacred Heart School – the Wilhelmina public school – staffed by teaching sisters from Mount Saint Joseph. In 1939, Mildred Louise earned her Missouri Public School Diploma and the right to continue her studies at Glennonville Public High School – where she encountered even more Ursuline teachers from Mount Saint Joseph and graduated in 1943.
Even though she was surrounded by the examples of her family, the faith of her Wilhelmina Catholic community, and the witness of her teachers, Sister Jamesetta would later reflect that nothing was ever said to her about her considering a religious vocation. “But,” she recalled, “for graduation I did receive a copy of the ‘Catholic Girl’s Guide,’ which contained articles through which I learned true values of life.”
After her high school graduation, Mildred Louise moved to the big city, to Saint Louis, and while there worked at Center Carburetor, Bell Telephone, J.C. Penny Warehouse Office, and the Civil Service Office. For those four years, she continued to explore, to learn and gain skills, and to encounter rich experiences. Unknown to her at the time, these explorations would become signposts for her paths and help prepare her for the wide variety of ministries she would encounter as an Ursuline Sister. Of her years in Saint Louis, Sister Jamesetta later wrote, “while friends, money, and fun were calling me, so was God.”
In response to this call, on Sunday, September 7, 1947, Mildred Louise joined her next family and entered the postulancy of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Just less than a year later, on Saturday, August 14, 1948, Mildred Louise Knott became Sister Mary Jamesetta Knott and a member of a class of twelve other novices. To the members of her class who are with us now – Sisters Clarita, Mary Eileen, Jane Irvin, Mary Louise, Mary Sheila, Luisa, Rose Theresa, and Renee – we embrace you with our sympathy, prayers and love as you bid farewell to your classmate, Sister Jamesetta.
Wasting no time, Sister Jamesetta resumed her education at Mount Saint Joseph Junior College, so that, shortly after taking her first vows on Tuesday, August 15, 1950, she was ready to begin teaching. Her first mission – teaching first and second grade students – was at Saint Romuald in Hardinsburg, Kentucky. Within three years, when she made her final vows on Saturday, August 15, 1953, Sister Jamesetta was teaching fifth to eighth graders at Hardinsburg.
For fifteen years, Sister Jamesetta combined her teaching and principal duties in western Kentucky and archdiocesan schools with being a student herself at Brescia College. By the time she graduated from Brescia College with a degree in History and education, Sister Jamesetta had taught and occasionally served as principal at five Kentucky schools – Saint Romuald in Hardinsburg, Saint Denis in Fancy Farm, Saint Joseph at Mayfield, Saint Ann in Howardstown, and Blessed Mother in Owensboro. Armed at last with Kentucky and Nebraska teaching certificates, Sister Jamesetta expanded her sphere of influence to include Saint John School in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. She was a cornhusker for a couple of years before returning to the Kentucky bluegrass. For four more years she taught at Saint Thomas More in Paducah, Saint Christopher at Radcliff, and Saint Francis in Loretto.
For most of these years, Sister Jamesetta was privileged to bring her deep faith, compassionate heart, caring listening, and can-do attitude to the service of children most in need. Those children in the notoriously most difficult years – the middle schoolers!
The time was now coming for Sister Jamesetta to shift her focus and say “yes” to the call to serve at Mount Saint Joseph. Characteristically, she took advantage of more educational opportunities and obtained a certificate in Dietary Administration from Fontbonne College in Saint Louis. This preparation would help her serve seven years as Director of Food Services at Mount Saint Joseph, where – rumor has it – every left-over was carefully and thoroughly recycled. Sister Jamesetta got one more year in the classroom at Saint Angela Merici in Florissant, Missouri – a “vacation” her missioning letter called it. After that year, she returned to the Mount to assist in health care for six more years.
At this point in her ministry, Sister Jamesetta had yet another chance to use almost all her practical skills while continuing her efforts to expand her own horizons with family, community, education, friends, and fun. For two years she served as Catholic witness and in parish ministry in Marion and Eddyville, Kentucky. Among other opportunities there, she learned to tutor adults through Laubach Literacy, evangelized inmates on Death Row, and sang as a member of the Marion community’s “Living Christmas Tree.”
Throughout the next twelve years, with Sister Jane Irvin, Sister Jamesetta’s path would lead her to Louisville and the Bishop David Apartments where she helped “create community and provide a comfortable home for the elderly priests of the Archdiocese.” Her official titles there varied from “Staff Associate” to “Director’s Assistant,” but – ever practical and down-to-earth – Sister Jamesetta would list her ministry as simply “Domestic Engineer.” When explaining her duties, again reflecting her practical, can-do streak, she would say she was responsible for “just about anything and everything you’re asked to do.”
By 2001, Sister Jamesetta’s pilgrimage brought her home once more to Mount Saint Joseph. She joined the Powerhouse of Prayer, volunteered in the Archives “sorting and trimming stamps,” and wrapped silverware each morning for the Villa sisters and in service of the community she so truly loved. And for the Villa employees and all health care staff who supported Sister Jamesetta, we also offer our sympathy and prayers.
In her 1947 application for the Postulancy, Sister Jamesetta (then Mildred Louise) considered the question “What is your motive in wishing to become a Religious?” Her answer was simple: “I feel the religious life is the best life for me.” We agree. Much later she would reflect that, “This [life, this] Kingdom is not a place or a time, but a growing relationship with a person, God himself.” Throughout her life of love, service, and relationship, Sister Jamesetta made this prayer: “I thank God that He has not withdrawn his invitation to me.”
Most assuredly, Sister Jamesetta, that invitation did remain open. While that 1925 popular hit, “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” might have welcomed you, Mildred Louise, to this world, the words of the Psalmist, “You will show me the path of life,” have shepherded you, Sister Jamesetta, on your final journey to your new life. God speed.
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph