Sister Mary Evelyn Duvall, OSU

Wake Reflection for Sister Mary Evelyn Duvall, OSU

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee [my Lord] . . .

William Wordsworth

At around 4:20 in the afternoon on Tuesday, April 26, 2011, in the pause between towering thunderstorms, Sister Mary Evelyn Duvall’s and God’s calendars were finally “in synch.” Secure in the assurances of Saint Angela Merici, that “the Lover of us all will grant us a precious grace at the hour of death [Last Counsel],” Sister Mary Evelyn let her loving God take her home.

For weeks, Sister Mary Evelyn had shared with her sisters and care-givers that, as far as she was concerned, she believed her time to go home was now; but God’s time and other needs kept altering her plans. As with so many of us, that altering was the pattern of Sister Mary Evelyn’s life.

On a late summer Friday, September 8, 1922, in rural Sunfish, Kentucky, Mary Evelyn was born to James Tilford (J.T.) and Mary Bennie Duvall, their third daughter and fourth child. Seven weeks later, on Sunday, October 29, she was baptized at St. John the Evangelist Church in Sunfish. Over the next decade, the Duvall family would grow to include fourteen children and, in Sister Mary Evelyn’s words, an “orphan girl” who was fully included in their family. These five brothers and nine sisters, with her parents, planted the seeds of love and faith for Mary Evelyn. And to Frances, Lawrence, Catherine, Mary Elizabeth, Martha, and William (WP) we – the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph – offer our deepest sympathy for your loss and extend to you our prayers and condolences.

Sister Mary Evelyn reported that her “first memories were of my parents going broke on a large farm during the Great Depression. My parents lost everything they had except each other and nine children. There wasn’t much money but we had enough to eat and were kept clean and neat.” Surely she also recalled her first communion at the age of seven at Sunfish on a late spring Sunday, June 8, 1930. Then Mary Evelyn grew up in Huff, Kentucky, which she called “very rural” and which the U.S. Census Bureau designated a “populated place” – a beautiful hill and valley, karst landscape in Edmonson County.

Sister Mary Evelyn recalled that her dad was a “farmer, country store owner with a post office . . . [and] later Dad became a Buick dealer.” He certainly foreshadowed the multiple, varied talents his daughter Evelyn would develop and use. Her mom was a housewife and mother who did their washing “on the board” during the Great Depression years – a new meaning for “being on the board.” Mary Evelyn recalled early chores and responsibilities – from toting wood, coal, and water, to gathering eggs from 600 chickens. The farm also hosted at least 18 cows that needed to be milked each day, and “washing dishes wasn’t exactly easy for such a large family.”

Even though Mary Evelyn attended public schools – Sunfish, Little Mountain, Cub Creek, Huff, and Lebanon Junction – and encountered the Ursulines only at their two-week Vacation Bible Schools, by the age of seven she had begun to feel that “being a Sister was what I wanted to be.” By the time she was fourteen, she was not as sure about her plans, and “at sixteen I dated some,” but around seventeen, “the idea returned strong and hard.”

Mary Evelyn did her homework and announced that she planned to enter the postulancy at Mount Saint Joseph on her 18th birthday, which would be Sunday, September 8th. Once again, her calendar had to shift just a little, for the entrance was scheduled for Saturday, September 7th, 1940 – one day shy of that birthday.

One year later, on Thursday, August 14, 1941, Mary Evelyn joined with twelve others for their investment into the novitiate at Mount Saint Joseph. Ten of this class made vows two years later, Sunday, August 15, 1943. We remember this striking class: Sisters Maureen Brown, Mary Consolata Stallings, Mary Corda Carrico, Dorothy Marie Willett, Jean Gertrude Mudd, Mary Jovita Milner, Ruth Ann Essex, Anacletus Mouser, and Mary Pauletta McCarty. Two class members remain – Sisters Jean Gertrude and Pauletta – and to the two of you who share this year of Jubilee, we also offer our prayers and our condolences at the loss of your classmate.

Sister Mary Evelyn was now ready to begin her ministry as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph; she seemed to have her own schedule for how that might develop, too. She wrote, “at the interview with the Superior I had told her that I didn’t want to teach; [one reason was] I was afraid of the responsibility of souls. Therefore, during my formation years, I did not take classes as my classmates did.”

As a result, from 1943 to 1949, for her first six years on mission, Sister Mary Evelyn served as housekeeper, diet kitchen manager, and laundress in four missions – St. Charles at Bardwell, Kentucky, the Motherhouse at Mount Saint Joseph, St. Columba in Louisville, and St. Teresa in Glennonville, Missouri. During this time, she also had an opportunity to substitute teach for 12 weeks in a second grade class and was quite surprised to discover that “I found that I enjoyed teaching.”

So, in 1949, she began her teaching career, serving for the next 24 years in Kentucky and Missouri at:

  • St. Lawrence School in St. Lawrence, Kentucky
  • St. Anthony School in Browns Valley
  • Immaculate Conception school in Earlington
  • Seven Holy Founders School in Afton, Missouri
  • St. William School in Knottsville
  • St. Rose School in Cloverport
  • Our Lady of Mercy School in Hodgenville
  • St. Pius School in Owensboro – and –
  • St. Romuald School in Hardinsburg

Always one to encounter changes in her well-laid plans, she began one mission at St. Lawrence in Philpot in August, only to have the school burn down in October and all had to move to St. William in Knottsville.

In 1973, Sister Mary Evelyn began her love affair with New Mexico, where she would minister for the next 34 years. She taught first at Sacred Heart School in Farmington and then at St. Joseph School in San Fidel until 1992 (or 3). In her last year of teaching, Sister Mary Evelyn wrote, “[this was] my last year to teach in the classroom. A class I fully enjoyed. I wanted to stop while I felt that I was leaving with a great feeling for teaching.” How glad she was then that God had changed her mind. It was during that same year that Sister Mary Evelyn joined her second-graders’ efforts and participated in a ten-mile fund raising walk. She “won the first place ribbon for the oldest walker to finish 10 miles,” and her class raised the most money. They were, like Sister Mary Evelyn, “really motivated.”

I’m told that across all these years and all these schools, Sister Mary Evelyn saved the names of and cherished the memories of every one of her pupils. After leaving teaching, she served as registrar at Catholic Academy in Farmington until the academy moved; then she worked with the elderly at Sacred Heart Parish in Farmington. Finally, she moved in a new direction (like her dad) and, for her last ten years in New Mexico, served – no, not as a Buick dealer – but as librarian at St. Francis of Assisi School in Gallup.

In 2001, the Catholic Schools in the diocese honored Sister Mary Evelyn’s time with them, awarding her the Catholic School Hastrich Recognition Medal as an outstanding educator. Again, how glad we are that God kept changing Sister Mary Evelyn’s mind.

“My mission life was varied,” reflected Sister Mary Evelyn, and she noted that many had been among the poorer missions, but claimed, “I learned valuable lessons and now I know I must take what is given and make the best of it.” This she surely did. In addition to her ministries, she – of course – attended summer school, earning a B.S. in Elementary Education and 21 hours toward her Masters, but she “stopped summer schools at my own request. After all I got no more pay and there were other enriching things I wanted to do with my life.”

Among these “enriching things” were her endeavors as a gifted seamstress and needle worker. Many remembered and commented on her banners, vestments, altar cloths, and other crafts. She was an exceptional cook and a ribbon-winner at fairs and craft shows. Sister Mary Evelyn enjoyed traveling throughout the United States and especially in the west; she was fortunate to share in three extended trips to Europe with family, with friends, and with Ursuline pilgrims. Even as a tourist she was still evangelizing, sharing her faith and love of learning with passengers she encountered. With one, she shared a fascination with the story of Sacajawea and, on the basis of that one encounter, has maintained a years-long correspondence ever since.

But above all, Sister Mary Evelyn would say, “my vows and religious life had a great meaning for me which I seem to lack words to describe. I’m thankful to God that he chose me!” Well, Sister Mary Evelyn, we, too, are glad that God chose you to be an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph. We welcomed you home to Paul Volk Hall in 2007. When you moved to the Villa, you drew the staff there into your determined – but kind – embrace.

Now to the Villa staff, we offer you, with Sister Mary Evelyn, our thanks for your gentle care and we offer our condolences and prayers as well.

And, Sister Mary Evelyn, we thank God that you were given 70 years to share with us and that you had a chance to celebrate that Jubilee. We know, in Saint Angela’s words, that “God’s light and the joyful splendor of truth surround[ed you] at the moment of death [Last Legacy],” and your plans have now become God’s. Welcome home.

Sister Sharon Sullivan
Congregational Leader
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph