Wake Reflection for Sister Jean Gertrude Mudd,
August 21, 1921 – October 13, 2013
These are some thoughts to share from praise and worship on Sunday, October 13. .
“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices.”
Hymn for Morning Praise, Martin Rinkart
“Blessed are you by all your works. We praise and exalt you above all forever.”
“This is the day our God has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Responsory, Psalm 118:24
More than seventy years ago, Vivian Mudd – soon to become Sister Jean Gertrude – wrote, “I have given a great deal of thought to becoming an Ursuline of Mount Saint Joseph” and “[I have] felt the Lord calling me.” For some time now, Sister Jean Gertrude has been giving that “great deal of thought” to once again following a new call of the Lord to come even closer, and on Sunday afternoon, October 13, 2013, she went right on home.
In a morning hymn, our psalm praise, and our responsory of that Sunday, we offered the works of our hands, we exulted in the works of God, and we rejoiced in the day God had made. All the while Sister Jean Gertrude was tidying up her last set of stitches and biting off the last thread of the quilt of her life, a life which shared with so many others her love and praise of God.
It was on another Sunday, a summer Sunday, August 21, 1921 – while Warren G. Harding was president – that Frances Vivian Mudd joined Theresa Roberta, her three-year-old sister, as the second daughter born to Xavier Eugene and Pearl Gertrude Mudd, in Frederickstown in Washington County, Kentucky. Almost three weeks later, on Thursday, September 9, she received her full name – Mary Frances Vivian Mudd at her baptism at Holy Trinity. Perhaps someone knew even then just how special she would become, because her baptismal name was even recorded in Latin – Maria Franciscam Bibianam Mudd – and that caused some real confusion for the convent record keepers; but to her growing family, she would be just Vivian.
When she turned seven, Vivian was introduced to the Ursulines – beginning her education in the Washington County Public schools in September 1928. She was taught by Ursuline sisters throughout her public school years – growing in faith and her own expression of the Ursuline charisms. She was confirmed at Holy Trinity on a spring Tuesday in May of 1931. Vivian was an active nine-year-old, and one of six youngsters in this expanding Washington County farm family.
Five years later, Vivian would win her elementary school diploma and be accepted as a student at Frederickstown High School – there were now eight Mudd youngsters. Again, Vivian was taught by Ursulines. By the time she would graduate on June 2, 1940, she would belong to two groups of ten – she had nine brothers and sisters, and nine Frederickstown classmates. Relationships among her siblings and her friends was so important to her, and she loved her four sisters and five brothers – Theresa Roberta, Harry Parker, Angela Elizabeth, Thomas Edward, James Bernard, Charles Gonza, Mary Geneva, Joseph Adrian, and Pearl Gertrude. And to you, her sisters and brothers, and the countless nieces and nephews, and great and great-great nieces and nephews, we the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph offer our condolences and our prayers.
So now Vivian and her nine classmates (three boys and seven girls) accepted their class motto – “Live Pure, Speak Truth, Right Wrong” – and stepped out into the tumultuous world of the 1940’s. In just three weeks, Vivian would send her letter to Mount Saint Joseph, writing that she had “given a great deal of thought to becoming an Ursuline of Mount Saint Joseph.” She started sewing her required outfits the next week and in just over two months, she would leave her family to begin another life at Maple Mount – a place to which she had never been before. She would say later, “it was not easy to leave my family, they were very young – in fact the youngest was only nine months old.” Although Vivian’s dad would claim later that since “she didn’t cry when she left, [he] knew she would probably stay” – and she did. But when it became possible to make home visits, going home to visit was Sister Jean Gertrude’s “chief pleasure.”
Thus, on a Saturday, September 7, 1940, Frances Vivian Mudd recalled joining with other postulants, including Rita, Cleo, Maxine, Ursula, Evelyn, Theresa, Teresa, Ruth, and Margaret. And by August 14, 1941, this lively crew would have become a class of thirteen as they were invested into the novitiate at Mount Saint Joseph as Sisters Maureen Brown, Mary Consolata, Mary Corda, Dorothy Marie, Jean Gertrude, Mary Evelyn, Mary Joachim, Mary Jovita, Ruth Ann, Mary Stephen, Mary Adrian, Mary Anacletus, and Mary Pauletta. A new family and an incredible group of Ursulines! And to Sister Pauletta – we offer our love, our prayers, and our sympathy as you grieve the loss of your last classmate.
Within two years, Sister Jean Gertrude would profess her first vows on Sunday (another special Sunday!), August 15, 1943, and supported by her novitiate experience and classes at Mount Saint Joseph Junior College for Women, she would begin her first mission with the third grade at Saint James School in Louisville, Kentucky. For the next thirty years, Sister Jean Gertrude would teach the lower grades in Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska schools. In Kentucky, these would include Saint James in Louisville, Saint Bernard in Clementsville, Saint Catherine in New Haven, and Saints Joseph and Paul in Owensboro. She taught six years at Saint Teresa in Glennonville, Missouri, and in Nebraska for four years at Saint Benedict in Nebraska City, and at Saint Joseph in Paul, Nebraska.
It was now 1973, and Sister Jean Gertrude had completed her Baccalaureate degree at Ursuline College in Louisville and had earned her Rank II teaching certificate through the fifth-year program at Western Kentucky University. She was ready to specialize and thus she came to the Saint Angela Educational Center in Louisville, Kentucky. With time out for a three year stint working in health care at Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Jean Gertrude would spend twenty years teaching remedial reading (plus some math in the last years) to children at Saint Angela’s in Louisville.
Now, from the beginning, Sister Jean Gertrude could – and did – sew anything and everything; she listed “sewing” as her special gift and, when asked if she would want any kind of training to strengthen her gifts, most modestly replied “I’d like some sewing classes” – classes that she could probably have taught. Well, Sister Jean Gertrude was also the master at the welcoming smile and a model of Ursuline hospitality – making all newcomers feel immediately at home, helping with the complicated stitchery involved in those unfamiliar habits, and just being simply welcoming. With that in mind, it was interesting – and perhaps typical – to see what happened with Sister Jean Gertrude’s students when she returned to the Saint Angela Educational Center in 1984. Her annals tell the story:
- In 1985-86 (the first annals she completed), Sister Jean Gertrude had three pupils in grades one through three, and reported the work was “very rewarding.”
- The next year, in 1986-87, she had six pupils, and in 1987-88, she added grade four.
- In 1988-89, she added math and had nine pupils – plus two days a week helping the elderly.
- In 1989-90, she added the fifth grade and now had eleven students – it is so clear that once her students came, they stayed.
- By 1992, she was up to the sixth grade, and in 1994 had made it to the seventh.
- In May of 1996, the Center closed, but Sister Jean Gertrude still worked with a student through 1998, and attended his eighth grade graduation in 1999, reflecting that “1999 was my first time not to have a student since 1943.”
When Sister Jean Gertrude returned to Louisville, she also discovered she had nurtured a travel and exploration bug. Taking her “first trip” to Arizona and New Mexico in 1988 – a true adventure with Sisters Teresa Riley and Alfreda Malone – they spent two weeks on the road with a planned 4:00 a.m. wake-up call to see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon (well, they overslept until 5:00 a.m., but still saw the sun rise), and an overnight stop in Hope, Arkansas. Who would have guessed that just four years later Bill Clinton – from Hope, Arkansas – would be elected president? Do you suppose there was a connection?
Two years later, Sister Jean Gertrude reported she went to the Louisville Zoo for the first time ever and had a “wonderful time;” and in two more years, she took a trip on the Corydon (Indiana) Scenic Railroad. In yet two more years, she reveled in the Stephen Foster Story at the state park in Bardstown. Sister Jean Gertrude never stopped enjoying and exploring her world. When the Saint Angela Reading Center closed, Sister Jean Gertrude simply completed her own transformation into a quilter and craft guru. Making and sharing quilts, dolls, pillows, and all kinds of fabric crafts filled her days and helped satisfy her creativity.
A feature story in The Record claimed “Sister Jean Gertrude Mudd wears her quilting wounds with the pride of a soldier decorated for bravery in combat.” She would report, “everything is handmade. My fingers show it. In order to get a small stitch, you have to take the pain.” Those who lived with her at Saint Angela lost count of the quilts she made, the lost items she rescued and transformed (finding treasures in trash heaps – and yard sales), and the souls she welcomed. There were no strangers at Saint Angela’s – even an attorney fresh out of law school, who needed a quiet space to study for her bar exams, was welcomed to the convent and treated to a craft show – Sister Jean Gertrude’s welcome and hospitality made of her another life-long friend.
At last, in 2006, Sister Jean Gertrude “retired” to Mount Saint Joseph to continue quilting and anything else where she was needed. Before long, she would move to the Villa to continue sharing her welcoming hospitality and to, once again, “give a great deal of thought” to what her God was asking of her. To all the Pastoral and Health Care staff who loved and cared for Sister Jean Gertrude, and daily received her smile and welcome, we Ursuline Sisters offer you our thanks and our condolences and prayers.
For while Sister Jean Gertrude was giving time to her thoughts, her loving God was preparing a place for this maker of beauty and welcomer of friends, and would soon say to her, “this is your day that I have made, come to me and be glad.” And so we thank you, Frances Vivian/Sister Jean Gertrude for all that you shared with us and we wish you “God speed.”
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph