Sister Mary Ethelreda Hayden, OSU

Wake Reflection for Sister Ethelreda Hayden, OSU

The first reading for yesterday, the First Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2007, talked about God seeing our afflictions and bringing us out of them “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deuteronomy 26: 7-10). At about 2:40 that morning, Sister Ethelreda Hayden took that strong hand, was embraced by that outstretched arm, and left her bed of pain for that land of milk and honey.

On behalf of all the Ursuline Sisters, I want to extend our sympathy to the family, to her living classmates Sisters Jean Madeline and De Chantal. We also want to give our thanks to the health care and pastoral care teams, and to all the sisters who cared for her in her last years and her final hours here at the Mount.

Marie Ernestine Hayden’s journey to the land of milk and honey began back in 1915, on September 12, when a second child was born to Felix Hayden and Ethel Veronica Buckman, of Fancy Farm Kentucky. She and her older brother Bill were the first of seven children: William Felix, Marie Ernestine, Frances Virginia (our Sister Mary Mercy), Mary Catherine, Charles Louis, Frances Eula, and Mary Elizabeth. She was baptized Marie Ernestine at Saint Jerome Church in Fancy Farm on October 2, 1915.

When she was three years old, the family moved to Carlisle County near Bardwell. She loved their farm, and said she spent many happy days climbing the fruit trees — and picking and eating the fruit! The farm was only a quarter of a mile from Saint Charles School in Bardwell, so the children usually took a shortcut through the fields. Marie Ernestine’s first grade teacher was Sister Joseph Benjamin —no wonder she grew up loving her Ursuline teachers.

After finishing the eighth grade, she worked for a year on the family farm and in a grocery store, testing cream. In 1932 she followed the call of her heart and entered the novitiate at Mount Saint Joseph, with a class of 15…but that was not meant to be. In December she had to go to Louisville for surgery for appendicitis, and when she returned in late January she was told that she had been away too long — she had to go home on the feast of St. Angela, January 27. But nothing daunted, she returned in 1933 to enter again, this time with a class of seven others: Sisters Aloise, Charles Borromeo, De Chantal, Jean Madeline, Marie Bernadette, Elizabeth Bickett and Thelma Boone.

At her investment she received the name Mary Ethelreda (perhaps in honor of her mother, Ethel?) and she thereby acquired a great patroness who was a queen and an abbess of the 7th century. In the novitiate Mary Ethelreda worked in the kitchen and the dairy (they must have been making use of that experience she had testing cream). After her first profession she was sent to Browns Valley to begin 16 years of working as a housekeeper there and at Saint Charles in Lebanon, Saint Mary Home in Owensboro, Saint Catherine in New Haven, Saint Columba in Louisville, and Saint Rose in Blanco, New Mexico.

In 1952 she began her second career of teaching, which was to last over 37 years, and which would take her to Paul Nebraska, Hillsboro Missouri, Saint Paul in Leitchfield, Saint Lawrence in Philpot, Saint Mary Magdalene in Sorgho, Saint Benedict in Wax, Saint Bartholomew in Buechel, Saint Joseph in San Fidel New Mexico, Saint Bernard in Clementsville, Saint Teresa in Glennonville Missouri, Saint Joseph in Mayfield, and Sacred Heart in Poplar Bluff Missouri. The grades she taught ranged from first to fifth. Since she had entered without a high school diploma, she completed her high school at the Mount during the summers from 1954-1959. In 1961 she began her college work at Brescia College and went on to graduate in 1979 — after 18 years of college and just 28 years after she started to teach!

In 1984 the Paducah Sun newspaper featured an article in honor of her 50th jubilee year. Here’s a quote from that article: “(She) is a quiet woman, not given to much talk about her half-century tenure in service to her church. Her 13 first-grade pupils keep mostly quiet while she’s talking, too. Her secret to discipline success is two-fold. ‘Mostly it’s just looks or maybe I point my finger,’ she laughed.” She also shared her classroom philosophy with her interviewer. “You have to challenge them and you have to challenge yourself to keep the ball rolling.” Her advice to new teachers? “Put your heart and soul into it. Make the students aware of what learning is all about. Show them how bad it is if you can’t read or write.”

The high points of Ethelreda’s life seemed to be family celebrations… wedding anniversaries, funerals, birthdays…but in 1985, for her jubilee, she made a pilgrimage to Rome, Lourdes, and Fatima. She would glow every time she talked about that!

Ethelreda retired in 1988. She was very happy at the Mount, saying that she loved helping others and that she received many “spiritual benefits” living here. She worked with the Retired Senior Citizen Volunteer Program, helped in the kitchen and craft room as needed, and made many, many lovely crocheted angels for the picnic. And always, she was a quiet, gentle presence among us, patient and uncomplaining.

My favorite way to picture Ethelreda will always be in the dining room. She loved preparing food, and a meal was an event for her, She prepared and ate her food ceremoniously, with reverence and relish. Her meal would extend long before and after most of the rest of us would rush in and gulp ours down. And I think much of her enjoyment was the social aspect of meals. She sat in a strategic place in the dining room, right where she could see us all coming and going, and from where she could share a quiet smile when we caught her eye. That place at the end of the table seems very empty right now.

Ethelreda, gentle Ursuline woman, welcome to your land of milk and honey! Remember us as you dine at the heavenly banquet table with your dear Sister, Mary Mercy, and all your loved ones. Surely you have completed what you said you wanted to be your final prayer, “Lord, help me to come closer to you.” Now you are as close as you can possibly get, wrapped in the arms of your God.

Michele Morek, OSU
Congregational Leader