Sister Mary Eileen Howard, OSU, May 29, 1927-March 8, 2015

Wake Reflection for Sister Mary Eileen Howard, OSU
May 29, 1927 – March 8, 2015

“And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them.”

Mark 10: 13 – 16

Early in the morning on Sunday, March 8, 2015, as the clocks of the nation sprang forward to welcome the extended daylight of Spring, Sister Mary Eileen Howard used that impetus to respond to Jesus’ invitation and vault herself into the loving arms of her God. How did this soul, configured in awe and adoration of her Creator God, begin and complete the cantata of praise which was her life?

This fourth expression of the deep love between Arnold and Ethel Shively Howard, the fourth of the ten Howard children, was born Sunday, May 29, 1927, in Whitesville, Kentucky. Just over a month later on Sunday, July 10, 1927, at St. Mary of the Woods Catholic Church, this bright light was baptized Eileen Marie Howard and joined her brother and sisters on the already-begun family faith journey. With one more sister and five more brothers, the Howard family was completed over the next twenty years. Mary Josephine, Mildred Genevieve, James Leon, Eileen Marie (our Sister Mary Eileen), Ita Isobelle, Robert Carl, Charles Elbert, Daniel Eugene, Michael Lee, and Brice Dean. And on behalf of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, I offer to you – Jim, Ita Belle, Bob, Dan, and Brice – and to her countless nieces, nephews, and other family and friends, our deepest sympathy, love, and prayers as you celebrate the life and grieve the loss of Sister Eileen.

Eileen clearly loved her family and remembered that over her early summers she often babysat for one or more of those five younger brothers, remarking that she “loved sitting on the front porch swing, singing lullabies to them, and seeing the toddler drift off to never-never land.” Perhaps even then she was inviting the children into Jesus’ loving arms and perhaps foreshadowing her embrace of Kindermusik fifty years later.

In September 1936, after turning seven, Eileen followed the footsteps of her older sister to St. Mary of the Woods School, just across the way from the family farmhouse. For the next twelve years, she would study there with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Although the soil on that particular Howard family farm was poor, the family house was so close to St. Mary of the Woods; “the house’s proximity to Church and School compensated us for the land,” and the church and school “became the center of our family’s faith life.”

In addition to her time among the Sisters of Charity, young Eileen had the opportunity for some experience of the Sisters of Loretto; two of her aunts belonged to that order and visited when her grandmother passed away. Sister Eileen remembered being a “little overwhelmed by the long habits and yards and yards of black material with a large bonnet on top.” She was a “little afraid and a little in awe,” but she was also most curious. “The bonnet seemed to me to be a big roof over their heads. I wondered what it would feel like to have to carry a roof around with you.”

For the most part, even though she grew up during the Great Depression and the Second World War, Sister Eileen remembered a childhood nurtured in the rich soil of loving parents, prayer, music, and multiple opportunities for learning, praise, and joy. She would reminisce:  My mother was so creative, and my dad knew everything there was to know about farming; at least I thought so.  Summers were for bare feet, keeping house under the apple tree, taking water to the hay balers, and riding home perched high on the hay. Autumn brought out popping corn in the wire popcorn poppers, laying in apples, gathering nuts, and savoring freshly baked gingerbread and a glass of milk after school. Winter’s cold brought hog-killin’ time with all the family and neighbors on board, frosty bedrooms with quilts for snuggling, and a chance to cuddle with Grandmother who delighted the grandkids reading for hours – “sometimes holding the book upside down and reading from her imagination. We had such fun!”

Sister Eileen would later say, “reading was my favorite pastime, the stories took me to another world – the world of wonder and enchantment.” And yet, she knew, “from my earliest days, Jesus-God was all in all to me. In my pre-teen and teenage years, going to church seemed as natural and necessary to me as drinking water.” But, other than wondering what it might be like to carry a roof on her head, Eileen had not thought of herself as a religious.

She graduated from St. Mary of the Woods in 1945 as World War II was coming to its close, and in September of 1945 began her studies with the Ursuline Sisters at Mount Saint Joseph Junior College for Women. Sister Joan Brown became her voice teacher and someone to whom Eileen could talk. Sure enough, “it was at the end of my second year [at Mount Saint Joseph] that I realized that God had marked me to be a religious. This initial realization was frightening. But God had his ways.” And so, Eileen Marie Howard graduated from Mount Saint Joseph Junior College on Wednesday, June 4, 1947.

Three months later, on Sunday, September 7, 1947, she began her faith journey with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph as a postulant. In her official “Novitiate Questionnaire,” Eileen requested acceptance as a novice, saying, “I want to fulfill the purpose for which God made me.” Taking the next step to fulfill that ambition, she joined her thirteen classmates for their investiture one hot summer Saturday, August 14, 1948. These fourteen became Sisters Luisa Bickett, Clarita Browning, Coletta Drury, Jane Irvin Hancock, Mary Afra Henning, Mary Sheila Higdon, Mary Eileen Howard, Rose Theresa Johnson, Jamesetta Knott, Mary Louise Knott, Mariam Therese Lanham, Mary Renee Monaghan, and John Mary O’Reilly; and would study, pray, and grow together over the next two years. To Sister Eileen’s remaining classmates – Sisters Luisa, Clarita, Jane Irvin, and Mary Sheila – on behalf of all of us, I extend our love, our prayers, and our consolation as you celebrate with and bid your classmate farewell.

Ready now to take that next step in following and drawing others to her loving God, Sister Mary Eileen Howard made her first vows on Tuesday, August 15, 1950, and immediately got on the road to St. Romuald’s in Hardinsburg, Kentucky. That year teaching a fourth-through-sixth-grade class confirmed for Sister Eileen that teaching children music, and not teaching social studies or math or science, was truly her calling. Over the next forty-five years, she would teach music to children of all ages throughout Kentucky with a brief sojourn in Missouri. Children and adults remember the music learned and shared, at:

  • Thomas More, in Paducah
  • Mount Saint Joseph Academy, in Maple Mount
  • James, and St. Denis, and St. Margaret Mary, in Louisville
  • Joseph, in Leitchfield
  • Catherine, in New Haven
  • Joseph and Paul, in Owensboro
  • Teresa, in Glennonville, Missouri
  • Brescia College, in Owensboro and the Motherhouse at MSJ.

And always the music they learned was transformed to the music of praise; and her students and colleagues would join in chorales, fairs, concerts, liturgies, associations, and musicales.

During her years of teaching, Sister Eileen enriched her spirit and shared her creativity in so many other ways as well. On Saturday, August 15, 1953, at Saint Thomas More in Paducah, she made her final vows. Then over the next few years she had some rather close calls – surviving a train derailment near Louisville (she was a passenger on the train, in one of the many derailed cars, trying to travel back to Paducah); escaping (with two young cantors) a cascade of falling and collapsing 16-foot organ pipes in Paducah; and enduring a night-long solo bus ride with multiple flat tires in the foggy dark. Not deterred at all by these misadventures, Sister Eileen continued her education earning a Baccalaureate degree from Brescia College, a Masters of Music Education from Murray State, and attending workshops and institutes in states throughout the eastern United States. She enjoyed bus tours and trips to New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Yellowstone, New Mexico and other manifestations of God’s creative goodness with family and friends.

Always a seeker, Sister Eileen was a spiritual journeyer as well, spending two years from 1974 to 1976 exploring and expanding her contemplative prayer life while living with the Carmelite Sisters at Queen of Heaven Monastery in Bettendorf, Iowa. Of that time, she would write, “what was ventured in faith has terminated in a greater faith.” And that which drew her back to Mount Saint Joseph was, “ultimately, the warmth, love, and devotion of our sisters.”

Beginning in 1985, after attending a Kindermusik workshop in Tennessee, Sister Eileen expanded her ministry to bring the love and joy of praise-filled music to the very young children and their families. She established the Kindermusik program at Brescia College, reaching out to young children and their families throughout the region. But music was not her only gift with young children. Sister Eileen was an accomplished story-teller and a writer of short stories for the very young; her poetry could delight and instruct. If you will permit me, I will share just these few lines from her larger “Why the Moose?”

Dear Mr. Moose,       //         A pitiful excuse
God used when He made you!        //       I’d like a clue!

. . .

Your upper lip folded over,
Twisting like rubber when you chew –
And what’s more –
Those small sleepy eyes in your big burly head
Seem to say, “Is there a bed?
Out there?                 //          Somewhere?
And I wonder if that dangling goatee
Gets in the way when you drink from the sea.

. . .

So, dear Mr. Moose, at home in the zoo,
I’ll thank God forever for the likes of you!

And she brought her gentle love of the God of Life with her whenever she encountered children. Even in a dentist’s office waiting room in 1998, Sister Eileen could exchange names and conversation, evangelizing even through a game of checkers with a three-year-old.

In 1996, Sister Eileen brought her gifts of music and joyful praise to enrich the lives of the Sisters at the Motherhouse here at Mount Saint Joseph. For a decade and more, she graced the liturgies, shared her music, and created “thank you” scrolls for us. But her health could not provide for her body the energy and strength her spirit desired. She moved to the Villa and became a NASCAR-qualified motorized scooter driver; creating liturgical music for us for as long as she could. In 2013 she surrendered that element of her days. But she did find life and support among those who live and work in the Villa; and to all those – Sisters and staff alike – we give our thanks and offer our prayers as you, too, bid farewell to Sister Eileen.

Then, at evening prayer on Saturday, March 7, we each prayed: “O God, you shepherd us with tender care and you draw us to yourself in a covenant of love. Help us to heed the words of Jesus to follow the call of your Spirit.” Sister Eileen must have heard those words and deep within her heart responded with a “yes” to Jesus’ earlier call she heard long ago when he said: “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

So we can say, “Welcome home, Sister Eileen.”

Sister Sharon Sullivan
Congregational Leader
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph


  1. Karen De Sosa

    What a wonderful person to know! Sister Mary Eileen, always with a smile, was a cheerful and loving friend and she will be greatly missed.

  2. Rita Tanner

    she was one of my favorites. I always enjoyed a visit with her when going home to the Mount. May she rest in peace. She will be missed.

  3. Vanessa & Tony Howard

    We will miss your kind words, funny emails and thoughtful cards!
    Love, Tony & Vanessa

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