Sister Marie Brenda Vowels still carries the spirit of the Southwest

The Land of Enchantment

“It was a big adventure for me,” she said. “It was a lot of fun to ride on the train.”

Sister Marie Brenda poses with the daughters of Edwin and Jane Leon outside their home at the San Estevan Indian Mission in Acoma, N.M., in the mid-1980s.

She was in Farmington, in northern New Mexico, for a year, then spent the next four years at St. Joseph School in San Fidel, about halfway between Albuquerque and Gallup. It was the beginning of a lifelong love for the Southwest.

“I liked (New Mexico) right away. I would have stayed longer if I could have,” she said. “We’d walk the foothills on the mesas and have a picnic. We had happiness on our missions. We’d pick nuts to make candy. We’d freeze apples so we could make pies in the winter.”

This is what she wrote about her time in New Mexico. “In the early days (1959-63) there were 27 Ursulines in New Mexico – 10 at Farmington, 10 at Waterflow and seven at San Fidel. We became close friends with the sisters in New Mexico and always got together for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. At Thanksgiving, after dinner we would go to Shiprock to skate. Brother Florence would fit us with skates and give us refreshments and what great fun we had. We usually gathered at San Fidel at Christmas and at Waterflow for Easter. When school was out there was a retreat for sisters at Waterflow, so I was the cook for four years. I would arise at 4 a.m. and make several pies or cakes or yeast bread for 30 people or more.”

Sister Marie Brenda, right, joins Sister Marie Montgomery with some Navajo children outside a hogan in Houck, Ariz., in the early 1990s.

Sister Marie Montgomery served 41 years in the Southwest, some of those with Sister Marie Brenda. “She’s a woman of prayer and very grateful. If you do anything for her, she just keeps thanking you,” Sister Marie said. “She made friends wherever she went. She led RCIA for years in New Mexico. She loved those people and she loved to teach them.”

For 18 of the next 20 years beginning in 1978, she was a parish minister teaching religious education at San Juan Pueblo, Acoma and Zuni in New Mexico and at Houck, Ariz. “I learned just a little of each native language, enough to converse a little with the older members of the tribes, who many times didn’t know any English,” she said.

Her 10 years in Acoma were her favorite, and one year she had 98 children receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. “The people were very friendly and cooperative,” she said.


  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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