Sister Marie Brenda Vowels still carries the spirit of the Southwest

Sr. Marie Brenda Vowels


If it weren’t for a fire at Vine Grove (Ky.) High School in the early 1940s, it’s possible Frances Marie Vowels may have never become Ursuline Sister Marie Brenda Vowels.

The fire caused her to attend Flaherty Public School her senior year, where Ursuline Sisters Agnita Sweeney and Ruth Agnes Conners were her teachers. They were the first Ursulines who taught her and they had a profound effect on her future vocation.

“I received a missal for getting the highest average in religion that year and also a scholarship to the Mount Saint Joseph Junior College, but I decided that summer to enter the novitiate,” Sister Marie Brenda said. “Sister Agnita talked about the need for vocations. I thought I should help out.”

Sister Marie Brenda has been helping out as an Ursuline Sister for 68 years, with 30 of those years spent as a teacher or parish minister in the Southwest, serving the needs of poor Native American or Spanish families.

Sister Marie Brenda was the second oldest of 14 children born to the late Steven Edward and Maude Elizabeth Vowels. (She has one brother and two sisters still living.) She was born in Louisville, but when she was 4, her father lost his job during the Depression and the family moved to her maternal grandfather’s farm in Meade County, about an hour away.

“We had no electricity until I was 13,” she said. “The day we got electricity I did seven loads of laundry.”

Sister Marie Brenda is pictured in 1970 with her longtime friend and spiritual director, Father Meldon Hickey, in Grants, N.M. Father Hickey died in 2005.

The first Ursuline Sister she met was Sister Jamesina Spain, who prepared her for the sacrament of Confirmation when she was 10. “Her story telling about the saints stuck with me,” Sister Marie Brenda said.

She had not given much thought to becoming a sister until the influence of Sisters Agnita and Ruth Agnes. “I was never sorry I became a sister,” she said. “I’ve had a happy life and loved all my ministries.”

“I had a huge crowd for my investment, relatives even came in a Flaherty school bus and on the back of my grandfather’s cattle truck,” she said. She is still not sure how the name Marie Brenda was chosen for her, but she’s never regretted it. “I’m the only Brenda in the community.”

When she entered in 1945, the Ursuline Sisters were predominantly teachers, and her first teaching ministry was in 1947 at St. Romuald School in Hardinsburg, Ky., teaching third, fourth and fifth grades all in the same room.

“It’s kind of hard preparing lessons for three levels,” she said. After stops in two more Kentucky elementary schools over the next seven years, she was asked to teach the first four grades at St. Anthony School in Axtel, Ky.

“That was hard to have them all in the same classroom,” she said. “I had to keep the older kids busy while tending to the first-graders.” When the superior asked her in the summer of 1958 if she would like to teach at Sacred Heart School in Farmington, N.M., she jumped at the chance.


  1. Sr. Teresa Riley

    Congratulations, Sr. Marie Brenda! This is a beautiful article about a beautiful person. We are blessed to have you as an Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph.

  2. Ann Jenkins Caspar

    Hello, Cousin
    I am so happy to have all this history of you and will add it to my Vowels family tree if you don’t mind.
    May 5th, we had a Jenkins/Vowels reunion at St. Brigid to honor my Mom (Irene Vowels) and Dad (Clarence Jenkins)on their 70th wedding anniversary. Mom, now 90, ask about you ever so often. I will have to make sure to share this article with her.
    God bless you, Ann

  3. MONA Vowels Haire

    I remember we would get a christmas card from you each when you where in New mexico. Mom died in 2011 and she still had Christmas card from you. My grandfather was your dad’s brother.

  4. Terrie Magiera

    I just had to comment about this article because just this very night I was at my parents house and we were looking at their new parish directory, (St Anthony in Axtel), and there were some old photos from several years ago and in one of them was Sister Brenda. What a coincidence that I saw this tonight. Awesome!

  5. Mary Jo Nault (Karen)

    A sweethert and my bonny companion when we taught at Knottsville. God gave her the happiness gene and she shared it with everyone and I see she still is.
    A blessing of Pure Love and Light to you DeaR sister. XO

  6. Mary Jo Nault (Karen)

    A Sweetheart and my bonny companion when we taught at Knottsville. Sister was blessed by God with a huge HAPPINESS Gene which she shares with everyone,
    A Blessing of Pure Love and Light to you
    Remember me in your prayers

  7. Sr.Rosemary Keough, OSU

    And thank You, God, for Sr.Marie Brenda–a small package of love for You and all Your People!

  8. Sr. Cecelia (CJ) Olinger

    What a joy to read about my dear friend, “Brenda Sue!” Yes, I knew most of this story anyway. Speaking of playing cards, she taught me Cribbage and about the only time I play it now is with her when I’m at the Mount. Looking forward to that this summer! Wish I were closer to visit more often…..

  9. Sr. Mary Ellen Backes

    It’s good to read about the life of Sr. Marie Brenda. I appreciate her story since it’s always challenging to stay in touch and to connect with the many dear sisters at the Mount. What a generous and gifted life of giving herself to God’s own! Sr. Mary Ellen

  10. Terri Barton

    One of the kindest people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. I met sr. Thru Sr. Joseph Adrian and Mary Henry and became fast friends. What a great day that was for me!!!

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