Sister Marie Brenda Vowels still carries the spirit of the Southwest

Sister To and Fro

Some of the sisters who ministered in New Mexico stayed there for many consecutive years, but Sister Marie Brenda came back to Kentucky several times to teach or be a principal before returning to the Southwest.

In 1970, she was asked to be principal and teacher at St. Andrew School in Harrodsburg, Ky., which required her to do three things she’d never done – be a principal, teach the seventh and eighth grades and learn to drive. “I had to get up to study eighth grade math every morning,” she said.

She taught all grades in her years in the classroom, but she enjoyed fourth grade the best. “They were old enough to do things on their own but were not a discipline problem.”

Sister Marie Brenda, center, joins other well-wishers at a farewell party with Father Dale Jamison, OFM, second from left, in the late 1990s.

In 1975, Sister Marie Brenda was chosen to lead the community post office at Maple Mount, but after a few months on the job, the superior decided she was needed to take over as principal and teacher at St. Joseph School in San Fidel, N.M. After three years there, she began 18 years of parish ministry in the Southwest.

From 1995-97, she served in outreach in the far western Kentucky town of Benton, taking communion to people in hospitals and nursing homes. In 1997 she returned to New Mexico for a year, but she needed surgery in 1998, and knowing the conditions where she lived in New Mexico were not conducive to her recovery, she decided it was time to come home to the Mount for good.

“It was hard leaving New Mexico, most people think it is,” she said. “The people make the place.”

Sister Marie Brenda has a back ailment, and once she returned to Maple Mount, she found exercising in the pool at Owensboro’s HealthPark did wonders for her. It also helped her develop a friendship with the woman who drove her to the HealthPark for 12 years, Sister Ann Patrice Cecil.

“She loved exercising in the water,” Sister Ann Patrice said. “She’s a wonderful motivator, even if she didn’t feel good, she was very dedicated to exercise.”

Sister Marie Brenda plays progressive rummy with Father Valentine Young, OFM, who came for a visit to the Mount in January 2009. Sister Marie Brenda served with Father Valentine in Houck, Ariz. “Father Valentine taught us this game, now everyone at the Mount plays it,” Sister Marie Brenda said at the time.

Sister Marie Brenda is a very prayerful person, Sister Ann Patrice said. “She listens to the rosary on tape every day. She’s very disciplined in her prayer life,” she said. “We mark the full moon on our calendars. She likes to go outside each month and see the full moon. She’s a very loyal friend.”

Sister Marie Brenda worked the community switchboard for 11 years until retiring in 2009. Her room in Saint Joseph Villa previously belonged to Sister Joseph Adrian Russell, who was her friend and housemate for many years in New Mexico. She’s always enjoyed playing cards and used to crochet baby blankets in her free time, but these days she devotes most of her time to prayer. She considers herself blessed to be a sister.

“It’s been a good life. I wouldn’t have done anything else,” she said. “The Lord knew best.”

By Dan Heckel


  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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