Wake Service Reflection: Sister Mary Carolita Young, OSU
At 6:55 a.m. on the 29th of November, 2006, Sister Mary Carolita Young died at the age of 93. On April 10, 1913, no one would have predicted such a long and fruitful life for the weak, two and one-half pound, premature infant born to Lorenzo Carroll Young and Lola (Loretta) Higdon, in their home near Saint Mary’s in Marion County, Kentucky. Baptized the very next day at Saint Charles Church, she was so tiny that she had to be held on a pillow, and Father Pike remarked that he had trouble finding her! She received the name Mary Estelle, after her father’s first wife. A few weeks later, her grandmother Higdon stopped by for a visit, and found her daughter Lola sick in bed, and Lorenzo trying to feed three-week old Estelle a meat skin…you can imagine that Mrs. Higdon took care of that situation in a hurry.
Two younger sisters died in infancy, but when she was three years old, Estelle rejoiced that a big sister, Marie, the daughter of Lorenzo and his first wife, came to live with them. When she was eight, she was gifted with baby brother, Joseph Carroll, of whom she said, “He quickly demolished all the toys I had kept in good condition for several years.”
At age eleven she welcomed a second brother, Joseph Harry. The Youngs had a happy home, and Sister Carolita loved her family very much. The sacrifices that seemed to be most painful to her in her lifetime involved being so far from her beloved family and not being able to participate in their special occasions. Early in her religious life, she missed her father’s funeral because of a snow-bound train. On behalf of our whole Ursuline community, I want to express our sympathy to her family represented here. She is the last of her generation.
In 1925 a tornado destroyed the Young’s home and much of the property and livestock on their two farms; after that, she said, the family fell on hard financial times. Mary Estelle also had many illnesses in her childhood, one of which persisted as a chronic condition from which she suffered as a adult. Partly because of her health, her parents began her education at home, so that she was able to skip the first grade at Saint Charles School, and go right into second grade. She also completed the seventh and eight grades in one year. Her Ursuline teachers in grade school were Sisters Gabriel Hayden, Loyola Hayden, Geneva Clayton, Marietta Fenwick, and Mary Edna Robinson. From high school at Saint Charles she remembered Sisters Robertus Wethington, Mary John Purdy, Joseph Lawrence Speak…and birthday parties, pie suppers, hayrides, dances, Halloween parties, and visiting friends and family!
The year she entered grade school, four young women left to join the Ursulines, and she promised herself then that she would do that some day. So when Sister Robertus gently hinted that she might have a vocation to religious life, she was ready for that next adventure. On September 8, 1931, she entered as one of the “eight Beatitudes,” with seven classmates Sisters Tresine, Ruth Agnes, Sylvia Mary, Mary Denise, Helen Marie, Martha Ann, and Mary Reginald. Sister Christina Eckman was their first novice director, but became ill after only a month and had to leave that office. Devastated, the eight met in secret conclave and promised that “We will stick together and no one will run over us.” And they did, celebrating their 60th jubilee year in 1992 with all eight present.
Sister Teresa Thomas, their new novice director, wrote a special poem for the eight when they received the habit on March 19, 1932 (you can see a copy on the table in the back). Mary Estelle took the name Mary Carolita, after her father, Lorenzo Carroll. Now, the date of their investment created a problem for Sister Carolita a year later, since they were scheduled to make their first vows on the 20th of March. Carolita said she had a real problem saying “twentieth,” and only intensive coaching by classmate Sister Mary Denise got her over that hurdle.
Her first mission was to Saint Charles in Bardwell, Kentucky. Arriving in Mayfield one evening by train, she and her companion were met by the pastor, Father Harold Luckett. The roads were muddy, the way was dark, and Father told them “They send young sisters here in the dark so they can’t find the way out.” She and her mother thought that was far from home, but after three years she was assigned to Blanco, New Mexico. At that time, sisters in New Mexico did not return for six years, so Sister Carolita made her final vows in Farmington. The letter from Mother Teresita to the Archbishop of Santa Fe, asking him to designate a representative to receive the vows, explained her delay in sending the letter. The date on the letter was February 1, 1937, and Mother Teresita apologized that “Our institution was waterbound for about two weeks…” And in an interesting twist of fate, Sister Carolita celebrated her silver jubilee at Waterflow—New Mexico and water in that part of her life story, too!
Except for a brief period substituting in the upper grades in Raywick, and summer catechism missions in Kentucky and Colorado, Sister Carolita’s teaching career was spent mostly in high schools—the Mount, Holy Cross, Saint Teresa (Glennonville), Saint Catherine (New Haven), Saint Bernard Academy (Nebraska City), Sacred Heart Academy (Waterflow), Saint Romuald, and Flaherty High Schools—where she taught history, English, religion, social studies, commercial, and P.E. In the summers she attended school, earning a bachelors degree in social science at the Catholic Teacher’s College of Albuquerque, and a masters in library science at the University of Kentucky, with further study at Spalding College, Eastern Kentucky University, and John Carroll (Soviet studies). One of the spiritual and educational highlights of her life was a 1990 pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
In 1964, she was teaching at Flaherty when the superintendent of public schools asked her to take over the library job there—not an easy task. She said that dealing with teachers in grades 1-12 and managing libraries in two different buildings involved “a lot of foot work as well as head work.” She was no stranger to either type of work. Carolita was not only a talented and much-loved teacher, she had the intelligence, the people skills, and the organizational skills that made her an excellent manager.
Loving books and knowledge as she did, and having the true packrat instincts of a born archivist, she was a “natural” as a librarian. It took me a whole day to write this reflection, because her personal file was so interesting. She had a real sense of history and her place in it, and a keen eye for detail. Her autobiography, entitled “My First 76 Years” and her essay on her 37 years in the public schools of Kentucky, Missouri, and New Mexico, are marvels of rich historical detail and personal impressions. She names every priest who administered a sacrament, people who were guests at her jubilee, and most of you who lived with her on each mission. She traced family connections, told where a beloved pastor was buried, and supplied numerous details most of us would have missed.
The archives will be lucky to get her accounts of cotton vacation in Glennonville, and of bilingual adventures in Blanco. Sister Carolita often asked the Spanish lady who cooked for them in Blanco to translate the Spanish expressions she heard on the playground. For most of them, the lady would reply, “That is a bad word, Sister.”
In her reflections she muses on World War II and the impacts of commodity rationing, and on societal changes—how good it was to sit on the convent porch with the sisters after night prayers, enjoying just talking and “cutting up” with their students as they walked by…then observes tersely that—“then television came along.” She talks of mission life with no telephone, a coal stove, and a “unique privy” which she described in some detail. “We had few luxuries in living quarters, but we accepted what we were provided and made the best of it. I feel we experienced true community in the crowded and poorly heated houses that served as our homes.” Truly she had internalized the counsel Mother Teresita sent her before she entered: “The religious life is made up of service and sacrifice; if you have good will…you will be blessed with peace and happiness.”
Sister Carolita’s “service record” is long, but most of us never knew about the sacrifices in her life. Her smile was what attracted me to her when I knew her at Waterflow; her gentle spirit of acceptance impressed all of us through the months of her last illness.
Though she “retired” to the Mount when she was 82, Carolita kept her job as motherhouse librarian for 11 more years. She loved her work with the RSVP group in Curdsville, making lap rugs for elderly people and baby blankets for unwed mothers. Always grateful for anything that was done for her, I know she would join me in thanking the staff of Saint Joseph Villa, the sisters in pastoral care, the motherhouse staff, and all of you who made her last years joyful, who watched with her in her last few months, and who sat with her in her last few hours.
Since Sister was the last of the Eight Beatitudes, I was trying to decide which beatitude would be hers uniquely…but decided she deserved her own set of eight beatitudes. Sister Carolita,
Blessed are you who always made the best of it, for you shall have the best.
Blessed are you who were satisfied with little, for you shall be truly satisfied.
Blessed are you who loved your students, your family, and your community, for you shall always be loved in return.
Blessed are you who were filled with gratitude, for you shall have much to be thankful for.
Blessed are you who were modest and humble, for others will praise your accomplishments.
Blessed are you who smiled, for that is the way you shall be remembered. God is surely smiling on you right now.
Blessed are you, good Ursuline woman, for your community will raise up your name in blessing.
Blessed are you who led others in the ways of justice, for you shall shine as a star for all eternity.
Michele Morek, OSU
November 30, 2006