During the summer of 1972, Ursuline Sister Mary Jude Cecil took the opportunity to improve her ability to teach high school French the best way she knew how – by spending the summer in France.
That summer, she lived with the Sisters of the Lamb of God, a religious community based in France that had sent sisters to America in 1958. After 41 years, Sister Mary Jude found a way to return their kindness.
The Sisters of the Lamb of God were founded by Father René de la Chevasnerie, S.J., in 1945, open to women who had been unable to enter religious life due to poor health or age. When the founder sought a mission in America, the Most Rev. Francis Cotton, bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., asked that a community be established in his diocese. The Sisters of the Lamb of God came to Owensboro in 1958 and have had a presence there ever since.
“We’ve never cut ties with France,” said Sister Debra Ann Bailey. “Not everything our founder wrote has been translated,” said Sister Deborah Lynn Masterman. “The letters we get from the sisters in France are in French.”
One of the sisters who arrived in 1958 was Sister Claire Marie. After ministering in a mission in Cameroon for 19 years as a nurse, she was elected superior general of the congregation for 12 years. When her term ended, she returned to Owensboro, where her mission work started. She had been teaching the Owensboro sisters to speak French, but in 2013 she decided to retire and return to France.
“Sister Audrey (Gold) called me and asked if I’d be willing to teach,” Sister Mary Jude said. “I about came through the phone. I’ve missed teaching so much.” Sister Mary Jude was a teacher from 1952 to 2007, with many of those years as a high school French teacher. When her eyesight began weakening, she moved into outreach ministry in Paducah, Ky., for six years. She retired to the Mount in 2013.
Since the fall of 2013, she’s been trying to meet the sisters’ needs once a week with French lessons in the Grand Room of Paul Volk Hall on the Motherhouse campus. Among her teaching methods is to have them sing songs in French. When they gathered on Feb. 14, they sang “Le soeil se leve, je tourne vers toi Seigneur,” or “The sun comes up, I turn toward you Lord.”
The Sisters of the Lamb of God say they find it more difficult to learn a new language as adults compared to their school days, but they can tell they are making progress.
“(Sister Mary Jude) is wonderful,” Sister Debra Ann said. She and Sister Deborah Lynn are the only two of the four who have been to France. Sister Mary Jude teaches the sisters the same way she taught her high school students, focusing on reading, writing, listening and then speaking.
“You don’t think she’s tough because she comes in such a sweet package,” said Miriam Kavanagh, a novice. “But then you think, ‘I didn’t think this was coming.’”
There’s no end date in mind with the classes. Sister Debra Ann said she would like to continue as long as possible. Sister Mary Jude said the same, she will teach as long as her vision allows her.
“I’m thrilled I can return something to the order that was so good to me,” she said.