Sister Martha Keller: Sharing the spirit with a smile

She began a bereavement support group for those who’ve lost a loved one. “When I interviewed, Father Brian said he needed someone to work with adult education, the elderly, and to follow up on those who had lost a loved one,” she said. “There’s something really healing about offering a support group in a church family.”

Father Roby sees four strong gifts in Sister Martha.

“She exudes compassion to all ages, whether it be someone who possesses material need or someone who just needs a listening ear,” he said. “Sister Martha sees lots of people throughout the day and I know, for sure, that they are touched by her compassion, her ability to relate, and empathize.”

Another gift is her happiness, he said. “I am constantly observing her laughter and cheer among many of the parishioners. I don’t have to see it to believe it because I hear it out of her own mouth. Throughout any given day, she lifts up lots of broken hearts and spirits.”

Sister Martha and Father Brian Roby have ministered together for two years at St. Francis de Sales.

Father Roby also believes Sister Martha is an accepting person.

“She accepts people where they are and then challenges them to grow and mature, especially in matters of faith, religious formation, and spirituality — areas of her own personal strength,” he said. “I can attest that people are always better off for having crossed her path. I especially witness this in our RCIA process.

Sister Martha is also a model of prayer and virtue, Father Roby said. “Her ministry revolves around her prayer life and the fruit of her prayer and reflection is virtue. I am convinced that this is why several people seek her out for spiritual guidance and direction.”

Douglas P. Arnold is the director of music and liturgy at St. Francis, and works closely with Sister Martha. “She knows her job well, she’s able to bring that to the people with joy and life that we’ve not seen before,” Arnold said. “She’s organized and efficient, and always presents things in a fun way, with excitement.”

Mike Sullivan is an Ursuline Associate and a longtime parishioner at St. Francis. “It’s good to have someone who is involved and visible to everybody,” Sullivan said. “People were afraid she’d leave when she got the vocations ministry. She’s good at getting people involved.”

Donna Luchesi is always happy to see Sister Martha. Luchesi is a member of St. Francis whose arthritis makes her fretful about trying to walk the short distance to church. Sister Martha visits her often.

“It’s so wonderful that she visits me,” Luchesi said. “It makes my life so much better.”

Sister Martha is grateful for the attitudes of the parishioners at St. Francis, the mother church of Paducah that has a mostly older congregation of 600 active families.

“Everyone is grateful to have programs, they are highly motivated and very serious about their faith,” she said. “I rarely have anyone say ‘no’ here.”

Myrick is a convert to Catholicism, so didn’t grow up around sisters. “She’s added to my spiritual growth,” Myrick said. “You just feel a presence there. You can tell her priority is the Lord, she relies on Him.”

Myrick is impressed with Sister Martha’s work ethic. “I don’t know how she does all she does, and now she has this job with vocations.”

The Keller baker’s dozen

Sister Martha grew up on a farm in the small community of Whitesville, on the opposite side of Daviess County from Maple Mount. She was the 12th of 13 children born to Elizabeth and Bernie Keller.

“Mom and Dad were hard workers. I never saw them just sitting around, other than reading the paper or praying,” Sister Martha said. Her oldest sister is 19 years older, and her one younger sister, Margaret, is two years younger. “We love to be together. When we come together, it’s quality time.” There are eight girls and five boys in the family.

All the Keller children attended Catholic school, with Sister Martha taught by the Sisters of Charity at St. Mary of the Woods Elementary School and by Ursuline Sisters at Trinity High School in Whitesville. One teacher who impressed her at Trinity was Sister Loretta Rueth.

“She taught American history, typing, and home economics,” Sister Martha said. “She was an exceptional motivator as a teacher and had a marvelous sense of humor, which made learning so enjoyable.”