Sister Julia Head, OSU: A lifetime of openness and presence

Sister Julia with Fr. Tony Jones, pastor at Immaculate Parish. The two have ministered together the past four years.

Update: Sister Julia Head completed her ministry at Immaculate Parish in 2010, served six years as assistant congregational leader, then returned to Immaculate in September 2016 in adult formation ministry.

Sister Julia Head has spent a lifetime reading every book she could find, studying scripture, and preparing herself for whatever role she was to fill for others – teacher of children and adults, or leader of the catechesis for a parish.

Yet, when she talks about success, she quotes a salesman, who told her, “People don’t care what you know, they want to know that you care.”

“I used to think you had to get the ‘right program,’” said Sister Julia, who has been the pastoral associate at Immaculate Catholic Church in Owensboro, Ky., since 1999. “Then I thought you had to get the ‘right people.’ Now I think it’s the ‘right presence.’ What I miss about the people who are gone is their presence.”

To those who know her best, Sister Julia’s presence is very visible.

“I attend Immaculate Parish where Julia ministers and am witness to Julia’s gentleness and compassion to her parish family there,” said Sister Judith Nell Riney, her friend and housemate. “I hear from parishioners of their respect and appreciation for Julia in her work with the children, baptism preparations, sacramental formation, RCIA, grief and counseling ministry, scripture study programs, and her presence and openness to all in the parish.”

Words like “depth,” “compassion,” and “deep spirituality” are used by everyone who knows Sister Julia.

“Julia is a person you can talk to. She has a kind, compassionate heart that she listens with,” said her longtime friend Marianna Robinson. “She has a way with words in her speaking and written expression.”

Fr. Tony Jones, who has ministered with Sister Julia for four years at Immaculate, said aside from the many public roles she plays, it is the small things she does for people that will also be missed.

“She’s so good about calling people to wish them a happy birthday, or sending notes of encouragement, things that happen behind the scenes,” he said. “She’s very, very smart, so well read. Her knowledge of scripture is unbelievable. I’m a better priest because of her.”

Sister Julia is responsible for all catechetical formation at Immaculate except marriage preparation. She also leads a scripture class, and has been “acting” chair of formation for the parish council for five years. She proofreads and writes articles for the bulletin.

She is passionate about her ministry, especially the role of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

Sister Julia meets with catechumen Sarah Sparks, and her co-sponsor, Bradley Byrne, during one of two RCIA classes she holds at Immaculate Parish.

“RCIA has been one of the greatest gifts of Vatican Council II.The return to the catechumenate of the early Church has enriched all who have been involved either as a catechumen, candidate, sponsor, leader or pastor,” she said. “The process of the RCIA urged all of us to get a clearer grasp on our understanding of the Catholic faith, of the meaning of being Church, of walking with one another as Christ.It gave us a new vocabulary and invited all to share in the wonders of our Catholic faith and its application to our everyday lives.”

Her interaction with the people involved in RCIA has been special for Sister Julia.

“Some of the seekers who have expressed their hunger and thirst for God have touched my life in profound ways,” Sister Julia said. “They have opened my heart to new ways of praying, urged me to an attitude of gratitude related to the gift of God and Christ in my life. Some of the men and women with whom I have walked to Easter sacraments are some of my dearest friends here at Immaculate. I treasure the experience.”

The term “serious” gets used a lot with Sister Julia, but that is only one side of her.

“Sister Julia is serious and purposeful; yet, the twinkle in her eye keeps her grounded in life’s less serious side,” said Sister Rose Marita O’Bryan, her classmate at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. “She is just a marvelous human being. I revel in the times our lives have crossed and crisscrossed through the years.”