Sister Marilyn Mueth, OSU: Wearing many hats to serve the Lord

 Update:Sister Marilyn Mueth completed her ministry at St. James School in 2012. She served as librarian, religion and math teacher at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Fairview Heights, Ill., until 2014, when she served in family ministry until 2016. She returned to St. James in 2016, where she is now a K-8 resource teacher.

Sister Marilyn stops to give personal instruction to one of her second-graders.

When Ursuline Sister Marilyn Mueth came to teach second grade at St. James Catholic School in Millstadt, Ill., Sister Dorothy Helbling, then the superior of the Ursuline Sisters of Belleville, Ill., told her she only intended her to stay three years.

“I’m starting my 18th year,” Sister Marilyn said. That’s been fortunate for the 700 families of the church, the only Catholic parish in the small town near Belleville.

“I keep asking her to stay to teach my youngest, who’s in first grade now,” said Wendy Fischer, a parent of three. “I think having nuns and priests brings religion more to life. It’s important to have her with the kids, she can explain so much. She does so much for the school.”

Sister Marilyn is responsible for preparing her students, and the public school students from the parish, for first Communion. She teaches her second-graders every subject except physical education. She leads both the children’s choir and the parish adult choir, started a liturgical band for students a few years ago, and maintains the school Web site.

“I open the church at 7, she’s usually there already,” said Fr. Marvin Volk, the pastor at St. James the past four years. “I’ve been fortunate to have someone like Marilyn. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if she weren’t here. Who would fill all those shoes?”

When the Ursulines of Belleville merged with the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph in 2005, Sister Marilyn chose to stay in Millstadt at St. James, where she lives with her mother, Marie, and down the street from her sister. She is the only sister teaching at the school, and believes there should be more of an Ursuline presence in the Belleville area.

“My principal said, ‘I didn’t know every Catholic school didn’t have a sister.’ Everyone wants that sister in second grade teaching sacraments,” Sister Marilyn said. “I can give practical ideas because I’ve taught everything. Ursulines do a good job of living in the middle of people, like Angela intended us to be.”

Sister Marilyn leads math class for her second-graders, letting them know they are counting and subtracting by four.

All four of Eric Guetterman’s children were taught by Sister Marilyn, the oldest of whom is now 20. “All four kids loved having her — the way she teaches, the way she gets God across,” Guetterman said. “It’s great that she has second grade, for the sacraments. She helps the parents too. I’ve never heard of one kid who didn’t like her.

“I think there should be more sisters to teach,” Guetterman said. “They add a value that regular teachers can’t.”

Greg Rakers said it means a lot to have Sister Marilyn working with the children of the parish.

“My daughter is a sophomore in high school, she told Sister she was the most influential teacher she had,” Rakers said.

Sister Marilyn’s co-workers at St. James marvel at her energy level and her devotion to her students.

Sue Casto, a 25-year veteran, teaches first grade. “I call her ‘the flying nun.’ She has more energy than anyone I know,” Casto said.

“She keeps us on our toes. She comes up with a lot of liturgical ideas that we wouldn’t have thought of,” Casto said. “She (helps) us with the religious focus, because that’s the focus of her life.”

Sister Marilyn’s presence reminds the staff that everyone needs to focus on service to others, Casto said.

“We’re more than just going to Mass and praying. People in the community notice that,” she said.