She began working on her master’s degree in pastoral studies in 1982. She served as coordinator of religious education at Our Lady of Lourdes from 1979-86, then filled a similar role at Immaculate Parish (1986-88) and Precious Blood Parish (1988-92) in Owensboro. “I’ve found good volunteers wherever I’ve been,” she said. “Some of the same people are still working at Immaculate that were working when I first came in 1986.
“Religious education is a way for parents to be associated with the church, but we’re still running with volunteers,” she said. “We have 100 kids in our religious ed program, not all of them from our parish.”
She left Precious Blood in 1992 to begin the ministry she enjoyed the most.
“Bishop John (McRaith, who retired as bishop of Owensboro in 2009) has such a desire to have people on the same page regarding church,” Sister Julia said. After a Synod of bishops in 1992, people said they wanted adult religious education. Sister Julia began ministering in the Office of Adult Education for the diocese from 1992-99, and was coordinator of off-campus courses at Brescia.
“I was thrilled out of my socks to work with adults,” she said. “I taught five subjects: Old Testament, New Testament, catechetical methods, liturgy, and Catholic faith. I studied my head off.”
Her primary objective was to form catechists, to provide Catholic school teachers certification, and provide adults a way to grow in their faith.
Courses were offered off-campus through Brescia’s Weekend College, but they had to be outside Owensboro. “People loved it,” she said. She traveled throughout the diocese, teaching four-hour classes on a Saturday in one city, the next weekend in another. After five weeks, she moved on to other cities. Sister Mary Irene Cecil was the director of adult formation.
“She was a good teacher, people really took to her classes,” Sister Mary Irene said. “She has a great love for scripture, it’s so much a part of her.
“Whatever she is teaching comes from her heart, not a book. It comes from her deep prayer life, and her reflection on scripture, not just reading the words,” Sister Mary Irene said. “It’s like what they said about Jesus: ‘He teaches with authority.’ It was more than just explaining a scripture meaning. I think Julia has that gift. That same gift overflows with people she deals with. That’s why she’ll do well in leadership.”
When her parents retired, they moved to Owensboro and “made an investment” in a house in the center of town, on Hill Avenue. Sister Julia’s father had the first of a series of strokes in 1997, and she decided it was more important for her to be closer to home. “I resigned in June 1999 and was blessed to find this job at Immaculate, just five minutes from their house.”
Her father died in 2002. When her mother died in 2004, the house was deeded to the Ursulines. Her parents’ generosity is recognized by a plaque hanging near the entrance to the campus. Sister Julia and Sister Judith Nell live in the house now.
Her father lived to be 89, and her mother, 85. It’s rare in the Ursuline community for a sister to have both parents live to such an advanced age.
“I was one of the few to have two parents,” she said. “I was grateful I could be with them,” she said. “I learned a lot from my parents. The main thing was, ‘If you set your mind to it, you can do just about anything.’”
She has ministered at Immaculate longer than any place, now in her 11th year. She will leave the church this summer when she becomes assistant congregational leader.
“It’ll be hard to leave here,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from these people — their faithfulness, their willingness to share. They helped me bury my parents. They teach that the church is us.”
Fr. Jones said Sister Julia will truly be missed. “She will do a great job for the sisters,” he said. “We’ll still have her as part of our worship community at Immaculate.”