Update: Sister Marie Joseph Coomes completed her ministry with Audubon Area Community Services in 2013. Since October 2018, she is serving as assistant to the director of community life at the Motherhouse.
A gentle giant.
A good friend.
Sister Marie Joseph Coomes, a tiny, soft-spoken Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, is being called all of the above as she settles into her newest ministry as a senior companion for Audubon Area Community Services. She is completing one year of caring for three clients in the volunteer program, which is an agency of the United Way. She visits an elderly couple twice a week and an elderly woman three times a week. The main focus of the four-hour sessions is companionship, but she is also there to do light housework for them, to take them to the doctor, the bank, the grocery. She even takes them to vote when there is an election.
In the short time she has been associated with the program, she has earned the admiration, respect and love of her clients, her fellow volunteers, and her supervisor. The clients call her “a blessing” and “a good friend.” Her immediate supervisor calls her “a gentle giant.”
Sister Marie Joseph was a natural for the role of senior companion. For a quarter of a century, she had helped care for those in need in the Mount Saint Joseph Infirmary and Saint Joseph Villa.
Sister Marie Joseph Coomes is a native of Daviess County. She was born on a farm 15 miles east of Owensboro in the Knottsville area, the first of nine children (five girls and four boys) born to J.B. Coomes, a farmer, and Josetta Coomes, a homemaker. Her youngest sibling – Theresa Roby – died of leukemia this past January. All of her other siblings survive as well as her father, now 86 years old and living in Philpot.
Raised in Saint Lawrence parish, Sister Marie Joseph attended Saint Lawrence Grade School where she was taught by the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph and, in the third grade, had her first thoughts of becoming an Ursuline Sister. “I thought of it back then,” she recalls, “but I didn’t think about it very long. I put it out of mind. I didn’t think it was something I could do.” Those thoughts wouldn’t resurface for many years.
After grade school, it was on to Saint William High School in Knottsville, where she was Ursuline-taught for four more years before graduating in 1959. “I did have one lay teacher in high school,” Sister Marie Joseph recalls. “Her name was Mary Rose Shoemaker. Except for her, all of my teachers in grade school and high school were Mount Saint Joseph Ursulines and only one of them survives today – Sister Mary Evelyn Duvall, who is ministering in New Mexico (as librarian at Saint Francis of Assisi School, Gallup, New Mexico).”
At different times after high school, Sister Marie Joseph again felt a calling to religious life, but she remained at home, where she was busy helping her mother with her younger siblings and with chores on the farm. “I’d hoe the garden, pick vegetables, feed the chickens and even mow the yard,” she recalls.
In addition to working on the farm, Sister Marie Joseph worked in town at Newberry’s and Kresge’s as a sales clerk during the busy Easter and Christmas seasons.
She then made a big move and went to work fulltime as a factory worker at the Cigar Factory, making cigars. She worked at that job for four years. While she was working at the Cigar Factory, her thoughts about religious life returned. She remembers, “I kept having these thoughts, Should I be a nun?”