Sister Mary Jude Cecil, 87, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, died Dec. 16, 2019, at Mount Saint Joseph, in her 69th year of religious life. She was a native of Owensboro.
She graduated from Mount Saint Joseph Academy, Maple Mount, in 1950. She earned a bachelor’s degree in French from Brescia College (now University), Owensboro, in 1967, followed by a master’s degree in French from Murray State University, Murray, Ky., in 1973.
Sister Mary Jude was the epitome of Ursuline hospitality. Those in her presence knew they were the most important people in the room, and she was always ready to listen or teach, whichever was needed first.
She taught at Rosary Chapel School in Paducah, Ky., (1955-57) and was principal there from 1960-67. She taught at St. Mary High School in Paducah from 1969-74, and again from 1985 to 2007, then served as an Ursuline presence in the Paducah area until retiring in 2013. She was a teacher at Mount Saint Joseph Academy (1967-69). She taught at St. Catherine School, New Haven, Ky., (1952-55), at Bishop Byrne High School, Memphis, Tenn., (1974-85) and was principal at St. Mary Elementary School, Nebraska City, Neb., (1957-60).
Survivors include the members of her religious community; three siblings, Mary Lucy Adams of Owensboro, Jack Cecil of Sarasota, Fla., and Michael David Cecil of Naperville, Ill.; nieces and nephews.
The funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 23, at Mount Saint Joseph, where visitation will begin Sunday at 4 p.m., with a wake service following at 6:30 p.m
Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, Owensboro, is in charge of arrangements.
Donations in memory of Sister Mary Jude may be made to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.
Remembrance of Sister Mary Jude Cecil, OSU
December 22, 2019
Sister Amelia Stenger, OSU
How does one start to tell about the life of such a wonderful woman, educator and Ursuline Sister? The best way might be to use a note sent to her on October 13, 2009. It said, “Sister Mary Jude, you probably don’t remember me—I know you have had thousands of students in your long teaching career. You were my French teacher when I was a student at St Mary High in Paducah, KY in the early 1970’s. I always wanted to thank you…for being the best teacher I ever had anywhere. You were one of the people who helped make high school a tolerable time for me, during what was in many ways a difficult period in my life. I know my older sister, Susan, feels the same way. I still get complimented on my French accent, and so thorough was my preparation under your tutelage that by the time I got to graduate school, many years later, I tested out of the French language requirement! I hope the years have treated you well, and I know that you have brought much joy to many more students over these past decades. Very best Regards, Peter Obermark.”
Not only did she bring joy to her students, she brought joy to all of us who have known her for her 87 years. Seventy of those years have been as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph. Early last Tuesday morning, she ate all her breakfast, smiled all the way back to her room, sat down in her chair, closed her eyes and went to heaven. She is celebrating with all the Ursuline Saints along with many members of her family.
Martha Elizabeth Cecil, known as Marty by her family, was born on October 10, 1932 to Anthony Dominic Cecil and Lucy Hayden Cecil. She was fifth out of ten children– Anthony Dominic, William Randall, John Tyler, Joan, James Paschal, Mary Lucy, Michael David and Judy Margaret. Before she was born, a tragic barn fire took the life of their second oldest son, William, who died in the fire at age three. Her oldest brother, Anthony, Jr. died at age 39 from a massive heart attack. Two Sisters, Joan and Judy died of cancer. Her brother, Jim, died recently. We offer Jack, Mike and Lucy our sympathy and prayers. Many of you here are related to Sister Mary Jude and we offer you our prayers as well. Our staff in the Villa and the Almost Family organization, have taken such good care of Sister Mary Jude. We know it was difficult for you to say good-bye to her on Tuesday. We also offer our prayers to her student and friend, Mary Danhauer, who has been so faithful in coming to be with her during the past few years.
Martha Elizabeth was baptized on October 17, 2019 at Saint Stephen Cathedral. She was confirmed on May 14, 1940 at Saint William Church in Knottsville, Ky by Bishop Cotton. In the early 1930’s, they moved from Utica, KY, to Knottsville, KY. Their home was across from St. William Church and School. It was there that she first met the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. They became her teachers all through her school years.
She started to school at St. William School when she was five years old. She loved the sisters and learning from the very first day of school. When she was ready for the seventh grade, they moved to Owensboro where she still had Ursuline teachers. She said that Sister Mary Jane inspired her with her smile, her kindness and gentleness. She wanted to be like her when she grew up. She planted the first seed for her future vocation call to be an Ursuline Sister. In the upper grades she had Sister Rose Emma Monaghan and Sister Merici Mattingly for her teachers. But she said they were much more than teachers. The Sisters knew that the Cecils had all these kids who were hungry. She said, “They’d stop by and say, ‘Do you know anyone who could use these dresses? Or The sisters often found they made one too many pies and would ask the Cecils to take the extra. The sisters walked to church for night prayers and would stop every day with some treats for the children.
The Mount was a very big part of her childhood. Martha’s Mom and Dad would load up all the children in an old Ford and go to the Mount on Sunday afternoons to visit her Dad’s two sisters, Sr. Celestine and Sr. Alicia. His third sister, Sister Mary Clement, died very young in the early 1900’s during the flu epidemic.
Martha said that she and her brothers and sisters would run down into the valley over and over. She remembered every inch of the grounds.
When she came to the Academy in 1949 as a junior, she soon knew that she wanted to live here the rest of her life. She entered as a postulant on February 13, 1950 and never looked back. She entered with 24 other young women. Her classmates who entered with her are Sisters Marie Goretti Browning, Marie Carol Cecil, Mary Elaine Burke, Amanda Rose Mahoney, Mary Alfreda Malone and Mary Angela Matthews. The rest of the 24 have gone to heaven. We offer you our prayers and know you will miss your sister.
She began her novitiate years on August 14, 1950. It was on this date that she became Sister Mary Jude. She chose “Mary Jude” as her name because of her mother’s great devotion to Saint Jude, “the saint of the impossible.” She made temporary profession on August 15, 1952 and soon after left for her first mission at St. Catherine School in New Haven, KY where she taught for three years.
During this time, she was also going to school at Brescia College, now University, to obtain a degree in French. She received her degree in 1967. That means she went to summer school for fifteen years to get her first degree.
In 1955, she was missioned at Rosary Chapel in Paducah, KY to teach. They lived in the school on the top floor. This was a school for black children who were segregated from city and county schools. She taught there for two years. She attributed credit to the parish for helping her learn what a REAL hard life was like. They lived on a shoestring budget just as the people did. She said she loved every year of her ministry there. She said that Rosary Chapel had loving, grateful and hardworking people who came after work at nights and weekends to make the school theirs. She would return to Rosary Chapel several years later.
During the following years she taught at St. Mary Elementary in Nebraska City, Rosary Chapel school as principal, at Mount Saint Joseph Academy as French teacher, St. Mary High School in Paducah as French teacher and co-principal, Bishop Byrne High School in Memphis as French teacher, then back to St. Mary High School in Paducah as French teacher. It was during this time that she received her master’s degree in French in 1973 from Murray State University.
She taught 55 years in all and then began a ministry of presence and outreach in the Paducah area which lasted until 2013. In an article about her time there she said she joined a Women’s ministries group, helped with Fall Festival Fund Raisers, served at Christmas Bazaars, cleaned the chapel, helped with quilt raffles and bingo and celebrations for parishioners’ weddings. She helped any way she could at any time she was called.
She retired to the Mount in 2013. There she tutored the Sisters of the Lamb of God in French and volunteered at Centro Latino in Owensboro until 2016 when her eyesight got too bad for her to continue.
During her years of teaching, she touched the lives of thousands of students and parents. She was given many awards. She was Catholic School Educator of the Year for the Diocese of Owensboro in 1995. She received the Jefferson Award for her work at Bishop Byrne School in Memphis, The Golden Apple Award, Rotary Club Teacher of the Year, The Extra Mile Award from the Jaycees, and she was named Volunteer of the Year by Parkview Convalescent Center in 1996. This award was in recognition of the Service program that she started with the Seniors at St. Mary High School. Sister Mary Jude would take the students to nursing homes, Lourdes Hospice, Adult day care centers, the homebound and many other ministries. Sister Mary Jude said she liked to see the students change. She said, “First the students see it as their duty—for a course. Then, after a while, they begin to see it as giving of themselves. Then, they realize they are receiving as much or more than they are giving.” The class president that year, Clint Willett, described Sister Mary Jude this way. “Our community would significantly prosper if there was a Sister Mary Jude present in each high school to coordinate a similar community service program. Sister is always seeking out those who need help. Her great gift is not trying to fulfill those needs alone but sharing that opportunity with us and teaching us the true value and dignity of life.”
Sister Mary Jude had also started the same program for Christian Service at Bishop Byrne in Memphis in 1983. In an article in the Memphis paper she said,” The students spend four hours a week in visits. One hour a week they discuss their encounters and record them in journals. Those journals show how much they gain. It almost becomes a spiritual experience for them. It’s very touching. We have children who drop by the nursing homes to show off their prom dresses. The program has been in existence for several years, so we have past students who are married and out of college who bring their children to visit people they met during this class.”
When asked to tell her fondest memory after 55 years of teaching, Sister Mary Jude didn’t hesitate to answer. “It happened in 1972,” she recalled, “when my students and their parents held car washes, raffles and other fundraisers to send me to France for the first time. They raised the money for my ticket and spending money, and I spent four weeks touring France. That was my Renaissance, right there! I was never the same person. It enlarged me and stretched me and taught me. It made me a much better teacher.”
After that first trip in 1972, Sister Mary Jude made a number of return visits to France. Many were with students. But she said none of them compared to that first trip given to her by her students and their parents.
Fifty-five years of teaching, 40 years teaching French—Why? Sister Mary Jude gave the reason and it is very much what most teachers would say. “The reason I have such a passion for the language and for teaching is that students walk in and they know nothing, then when they leave after advance placement—especially the college courses—they’re able to speak, to comprehend, to read, to write, to listen and to know the skills they need. They can go to Europe and travel and live in France and study in France. Some can marry and raise families there. It is just so gratifying because it’s that same spark in their eyes that I saw when I tutored my little brothers and sisters. The gratification, the joy and the reward are there.”
When Sister Mary Jude left St. Mary’s High School in Paducah, she said she was trusting God with the next phase of her life, just as she did for her teaching career. She said, “I’ve been extremely active for 55 years. I’m going to take time to just be and let the Lord guide me. God always has and always will.”
Anyone who ever met Sister Mary Jude immediately recognized the joy and hospitality she exuded. She said that is was just part of who she was. “Love is so much better than complaining or trying to get ahead or being negative,” she said. “There has to be a caring for people.”
She truly did care for people and she cared for the Earth. Her favorite saying was, J’aime beaucoup l’univers parsceque c’est le Bon Dieu.’ ‘I love the universe because it is of God.”
When her vocation story was published in August 2015, there were hundreds of comments in response. One from Shawn Dittman summarized what many of them said. I will read this last one and then give you an opportunity to come up and share something about her life if you wish.
Shawn said, “I was lucky enough to have Sister Mary Jude as a French teacher when I was in 9th grade. I was a troubled teen; full of anger and blaming the world for my problems. I quickly learned that she was a person whose positive power was much greater than my negativity. She saw potential in me and encouraged me. It took many years for me to realize what the problems were, but she was one of those people along the way that truly helped me simply by being herself. She’s a brilliant human being and I’ll forever carry the light that she effortlessly brought me so long ago. Merci beaucoup, Sister Mary Jude.”
And Merci beaucoup from all of us who were privileged to know you.