Sister Marie Goretti Browning, 91, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, died Monday, Jan. 29, 2024, at Mount Saint Joseph, in her 74th year of religious life. She was a native of Calvary, Ky.
Sister Marie Goretti was a gentle and prayerful woman, always ready with a smile and a kind word. She had one of the most varied ministry careers of any Ursuline Sister.
She graduated from Brescia College (now University), Owensboro, Ky., in 1966, then earned a master’s degree in psychology from Xavier University in Ohio in 1970.
She taught at St. Bartholomew School, Buechel, Ky. (1952-59), Seven Holy Founders School, Affton, Mo., (1959-64) and was principal of St. Leonard School, Louisville (1964-68).
Sister Marie Goretti took on several roles at the Motherhouse in Maple Mount. She was director of novices, 1970-80; she was elected three times to leadership, serving as a council member in 1972-76 and 2000-2004, and assistant superior, 1980-84. She was director of the Mount Saint Joseph Retreat Center, 1988-94, and director of pastoral care at Saint Joseph Villa until retiring in 2009.
She served as administrative assistant at Brescia College (1984-85). She was a parish coordinator for Immaculate Church, Owensboro (1985-88); pastoral associate for St. Thomas More Church, Paducah, Ky., (1995-99) and St. John the Baptist Church, Fordsville, Ky., (1999-2000.) She was director of faith formation for St. Mary Magdalene Church, Sorgho, Ky. (2004-07). She served in outreach ministry in Benton, Ky., in 2008.
Survivors include the members of her religious community; her sister, Ursuline Sister Clarita Browning of Maple Mount; and nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, Lee and Mary Agnes Browning; and her siblings Father Lawrence Browning CP, Father William Browning CP, Emma Rita Newdecker, Josephine Browning and Agnes Marie Watts.
The funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, at Mount Saint Joseph, where visitation will begin Wednesday at 4 p.m., with a wake service following at 6:30 p.m.
Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, Owensboro, is handling arrangements.
Gifts in memory of Sister Marie Goretti may take the form of donations to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.
Wake Reflection for Sister Marie Goretti
By Sister Sharon Sullivan, congregational leader
Jan. 31, 2024
Sister Marie Goretti once wrote, “I believe that everywhere I was is where I was supposed to be.” Of her many ministries and choices, she often said, “I thought God wanted me there.” On Monday morning, January 29, 2024, as the Eucharistic Prayer concluded and after hearing the promise of the Psalmist, “When I call out to the Lord, he answers me (Psalms 3:56),” Sister Marie Goretti found herself once more just where God wanted her to be – at home, in His loving arms.
Sister Marie Goretti’s journey on this earth began Sunday, early in the morning, on November 27, 1932, in Calvary, Kentucky, as the sixth of seven children born to Joseph Leo and Mary Agnes Abell Browning. Christened “Mary Isabel Browning” the following Thursday, December 1st, at the Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary, Isabel – as she became known – found her place among the Browning family.
She joined her two brothers, Joseph Leo and William Abell (who became Passionist priests Father Lawrence and Father William), and her sisters Mary Josephine, Emma Rita, and Jane Frances (whom we know as Sister Clarita). Three years later, Agnes Marie, the final member of this faith-filled family was born, and the tally was complete.
To Sister Clarita and to Sister Marie Goretti’s nieces and nephews, we Ursuline Sisters extend our prayers, our condolences, and our love as you celebrate Sister Marie Goretti’s life.
Even though it was in the middle of the “Great Depression” and the number one song of the year was Rudy Valee’s “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” the Browning farm during Isabel’s childhood in the 1930’s was a good place to grow up. For it was located in God’s Country in the Holy Land of Kentucky, on the banks of the Rolling Fork River, and nestled among the forests of the Knobs.
The Browning siblings had “all kinds of opportunities to experience work in the field,” but they also had a big yard, and for a few summer months each year they had a croquet game set up for all to enjoy. Sister Marie Goretti reported, “We used to have more fun playing croquet! Some of our neighbors would join us and we would all cheat with each other. . . . I got pretty good at it, but I wouldn’t say I was an expert.” And she never explained whether she meant “croquet” or “learning to cheat with fun.”
On a Tuesday in September 1938, before she was quite six years old, Isabel started first grade with the Ursuline Sisters at Calvary School. There she received her best gift ever: She learned to read. She would say, “I love to read. I have always liked it. At home, my parents had a bookshelf with a lot of old books in it. They were good stories. I used to go upstairs into that room and get into that corner and just read and read those books.”
In Fall of 1946, after eight years at Calvary School, Isabel moved on to Saint Augustine High School in Lebanon, Kentucky. There she encountered the Sisters of Loretto, and there she would stay through her junior year, while her older sister, Jane Frances, was finishing her high school years at Mount Saint Joseph Academy and would soon become Sister Clarita.
But Isabel did not want to follow in Sister Clarita’s footsteps. She reported that at that time, “I fought being a Sister; I had two brothers who were priests, and a sister who was an Ursuline. I didn’t want people to think that was what I was going to have to do.”
Isabel’s resistance lasted until her senior year of high school, when her good friend (and cousin) Laura Abell decided to go to Mount Saint Joseph Academy. Since Laura was going, Isabel “decided that’s what (she) wanted to do, too.” It was then that God’s design prevailed; Sister Marie Goretti would later recall, “I felt like God enveloped me (when I got to the Mount).” She was where she was supposed to be.
Isabel began her senior year at Mount Saint Joseph Academy in the fall of 1949, and just a few months later, on Wednesday, February 1, 1950, she became a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. She graduated from the Academy in May 1950, and on Monday, August 14, that same year, took the name Sister Marie Goretti, joining her twenty-two other classmates as Mount Saint Joseph Ursuline novices.
Of that incredible class of twenty-three, three still remain today: Sister Mary Elaine Burke, Sister Marie Carol Cecil, and Sister Amanda Rose Mahoney (who had also entered with Isabel in February). To you each, we extend our hearts and prayers as you bid your classmate “farewell.”
Sister Marie Goretti would make her first vows two years later, Friday, August 15, 1952, and would leave immediately for where God next needed her to be – teaching first grade at Saint Bartholomew School in Buechel, Kentucky. There at Saint Bartholomew, she quickly moved on to the third and then the sixth and the seventh grades. She would later say about her teaching years, “I never got to teach the same grade long enough to love it. That turned out to be a real blessing. [Changing so much], I was helped to become much more adaptable. And I certainly needed that later on.”
After seven years at Saint Bartholomew, Sister Marie Goretti moved on to five years in the eighth grade at Seven Holy Founders in Afton, Missouri, and to four more years in the eighth grade and as principal in Saint Leonard School in Louisville. After sixteen years in the schools and with a degree from Brescia College under her belt, Sister Marie Goretti was asked to become a full-time student herself and, in 1970, completed her master’s in psychology degree at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
She had thought that her psychology studies were to help prepare her to teach in Brescia College’s psychology program, but God’s plans would propel her again in a different direction. In the 1970’s great change was occurring in the Church following the Second Vatican Council, Sister Marie Goretti’s new skills and insights would become a great gift to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph as their new Director of Novices.
She would write about beginning this new ministry: “I thought God was speaking to me, I was willing to do it; I was oblivious to what was facing me (especially) with the fallout of Vatican II.” But, once again, Sister Marie Goretti was in the right spot. “I had blind faith,” she wrote, “Those ten years were years of profoundly challenging growth. I worried a lot and prayed a lot. I made many mistakes, but they were important years. That’s the heart of all the ministries I’ve had. [Those years] impacted my life more than anything else. I thought God wanted me there.”
Reports of those years from others who participated always emphasized that, while Sister Marie Goretti could be quite challenging, she was always compassionate and kind – sentiments echoed by her students from earlier years and from her future years in religious education. Novices she directed also shared that Sister Marie Goretti “was an easy person for creative and fun-loving novices to surprise.” I would imagine there are interesting stories there!
Within those ten years, Sister Marie Goretti also served a term in elected leadership, which certainly helped prepare her for her next ministry. In 1980, she was elected Assistant Superior and served with Sister Mary Irene. Four years later, she became the Administrative Assistant to the President of Brescia College, Sister George Ann Cecil.
Then, in 1985, she began the first of her parish ministries as Parish Coordinator for Immaculate Parish in Owensboro, helping to inaugurate a relatively new ministry for women religious in the Owensboro Diocese. She said she was occasionally asked by her parishioners, “What is it that you do?” She would reply to these question-askers, “My emphasis is on what is possible.”
This emphasis and her openness to being wherever God directed her, led Sister Marie Goretti to accept many varied responsibilities. She served six years as Director of the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center, then for four years at Saint Thomas More Parish in Paducah, followed by a year at Saint John the Baptist Parish in Fordsville.
She had to leave that ministry early, because – for a third time – Sister Marie Goretti was elected by her sisters to serve in a community leadership position, this time as a Councilor. In a later tribute, it was noted “as some would have it, she was ‘recycled’ more than once.” Sister Marie Goretti would say of her many different roles, “I never had time to be complacent and couldn’t imagine living any other life.”
It was now 2004, and Sister Marie Goretti still had a few other places to which God would call her. She guided faith formation at Saint Mary Magdelene in Sorgho; spent some time in community outreach in Benton, Kentucky; returned to the Motherhouse to direct Pastoral Care; and after 2009, actually retired to Mount Saint Joseph.
During all these myriad ministries, a few things were ever constant: Sister Marie Goretti was always active in both ministry and her life beyond. Her annals (reports submitted to the Archives each year) reflect – multiple memberships on boards and task forces in the Diocese and other organizations; participation in Ursuline committees and planning groups; offering support for the Ministry Formation program at Brescia College; attending workshops, seminars, and conferences; teaching college courses and making presentations at conferences; sharing meals and celebrations and parties with family, friends, and Ursuline sisters; taking travels and trips and pilgrimages both near and far.
Of her many experiences, Sister Marie Goretti would often report, “Well, I launched forth in trust,” and once noted, “Moses did not know how to solve problems, but he knew how to pray.” Clearly, so did Sister Marie Goretti.
Within her final years in Saint Joseph Villa, her scope of “place” became narrower; yet Sister Marie Goretti chose to be involved in whatever activities became available, continually learning and offering. As her health issues increased, her annals became more about her supporting the Powerhouse of Prayer and about receiving visits from family, friends, and former students. In 2017, she wrote, I “pray for community and offer my limitations for the good of the (Ursuline) community.”
And so in this last spot to which God had directed her, and with the help of the staff and sisters in the Villa, Sister Marie Goretti was able to serve the community in her penultimate ministry of prayer. And we thank the Villa Staff who so lovingly cared for our Sister Marie Goretti and offer our condolences and prayer.
Now we celebrate our Sister Marie Goretti, whose life was about discovering (and saying yes to) wherever it was God wanted her to be. The young lady who fought the mere idea of becoming a Sister, would later say of that choice to become and remain Ursuline, “I do not regret a day of it.” We all join with Sister Mary Irene and Sister Clarita who once wrote, “Thanks, Sister Marie Goretti, for choosing the Ursulines instead of the Sisters of Loretto.”
And we wish you “bon voyage” as you are welcomed home.