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

Students of all ages sing under the direction of Sister Marilyn at the opening school Mass on Aug. 21 at St. James.

Rachel Besse is a student at Kaskaskia College and sings soprano in the choir. She was taught by Sister Marilyn in the second and eighth grades. “She was good,” Besse said. “I remember doing sign language to ‘Abba Father.’”

Catherine Dixon said the group has fun together because Sister Marilyn isn’t a rigid taskmaster.

“I think we’re meaner to her,” Dixon said with a smile.

A farming life

Sister Marilyn grew up on a farm in the small town of Paderborn, Ill., not far from where she lives now. Mueth is an often mispronounced German name, which rhymes with “teeth.”

“In Paderborn, it was pronounced ‘Meat,’” she said. “Just call me Marilyn.”

Her family was her whole community as a child, Sister Marilyn said. “My two sisters and my mom, we were all in the garden, all mowing grass, all doing laundry,” she said. “My mom didn’t drive, so we always went everywhere with Dad. That was my life.”

Sister Marilyn joins Fr. Marvin Volk, pastor of St. James, and her mother Marie in her living room.

Four generations of the Mueth family lived on the farm in Paderborn.

“It was my great grandpa’s farm. In the early 1900s he came over from Germany,” Sister Marilyn said. An early business decision set a different course for the family.

“My earliest ancestors owned Laclede’s Landing,” she said, now a prominent St. Louis destination point for dining, entertainment, and tourism. “It wasn’t good for farming, so they sold it.”

Her father, John, was a farmer all his life. Her mother, Marie, remains a homemaker.

After high school, Sister Marilyn began working in an insurance office, but later learned that Gibault High School (in nearby Waterloo, Ill.,) needed a secretary. The principal was Fr. Ed Hustedde, who had taught her two years of high school. “He said, ‘You should be in school,’” she said. When she later got a scholarship, he urged her to go. The two shared a love of education.

After graduating from college, she was a lay teacher for seven years at Immaculate Conception School in another nearby town, Columbia, Ill., where she taught junior high and fourth grade. She was a math teacher, and did musicals.

“I was the organist, I practiced three hours a day,” she said. “Music keeps coming back to me. I started with the accordion, and still play. I taught myself the guitar.”

Her sisters got married, but she did not think that was her calling. She took a year off and “went convent shopping.”

Sister Marilyn gives instruction to her adult choir, which meets at St. James Parish on Thursday nights.

“I never met an Ursuline until four months before I entered.”

At home with the Ursulines

“I went to the Notre Dame Sisters, but their rule was I had to go to four other convents first,” Sister Marilyn said. The people of her parish in Paderborn asked her to learn sign language for “Abba Father,” because they’d seen Ursuline Sister Dorothy Helbling perform it at King’s House Retreat Center in Belleville. That was her first step toward becoming an Ursuline.

“God gets you where He wants you to go,” Sister Marilyn said. She was 30 years old when she entered the postulancy, and the next year became one of 34 Ursuline Sisters of Belleville. This is her 28th year as a sister.