Wake Reflection for Sister Mary Mercedes Knott, OSU
February 10, 1923 – February 21, 2013
“Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.”
On the morning of February 21, 2013 – Thursday of the first week of Lent – the antiphon we shared for the Canticle of Zechariah was that verse from the Gospel of Saint Matthew (7:7). We did not know for certain until later that evening that it was Sister Mary Mercedes who was knocking on heaven’s door. Surely she was welcomed into the loving arms of her Lord and the embrace of her younger brother William Vincent (Buck) and her younger sister, Minnie, our own Sister Jamesetta.
Sister Mary Mercedes began her journey here in Kentucky, in Knottsville, when she became the first addition to the new family started by James Eugene and Virgie Lee Horrell Knott. Mary Catherine, or Kate as she was known, came into this world on a wintry Saturday, February 10, 1923; in less than a month, on the first Saturday in March, 1923, Mary Catherine was baptized at Saint William Church in Knottsville. Within two years, the new family had moved to Wilhelmina, Missouri, where they welcomed Kate’s first sister – Mildred Louise – soon known as Minnie. The two girls were joined in two more years by William Vincent, and for the next fifteen years, eight more Knotts (that’s eleven!) would share some time within the loving circle of the family. Two would live only hours – James Eugene and Mary Agnes – and one baby sister – Mary Mercedes – would be among her family for only two years. But the eight Knott brothers and sisters have shared their joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, for many years. And to the surviving siblings, Mary Frances, Mabel Eloise, Charles C., James Patrick, and Margaret Aurelia – together with the sisters- and brothers-in-law, the more than thirty nieces and nephews, and many, many more – we, the Ursuline Sisters, offer our heartfelt prayers, love, and condolences.
Growing up in a loving family, in a faith-filled home, marked by shared times each day for morning and evening family prayer, Kate also found that same sense of love and faith in her school community. She began her elementary education in 1929 at Dunklin County Public School – taught there by Ursulines for eight years; she graduated from Dunklin in 1938, earning the right to attend high school at Glennonville Public High School – where she was again taught by Ursulines until her graduation in 1942. At the end of her freshman year, on a Wednesday, May 31, 1939, Kate received the sacrament of Confirmation, advancing further in her faith.
But these were war years, and within six months of her high school graduation, Kate had moved to St. Louis to work for Cupples and Hess. Within a few more months, when she turned 20, Kate joined the ranks of women serving their country in the war plants. While perhaps not exactly “Rosie the Riveter,” Kate worked almost two years at McQuay Norris, making piston rings for airplanes; by the time she left for Mount Saint Joseph, she was an overseer in her department.
And just how did Kate get to Mount Saint Joseph? Perhaps the best words would be “simply” and “naturally.” She would later say that the sisters who taught her inspired her to “work for God.” In her application, Kate answered the question, “What is your motive in wishing to become a Religious?” with this statement, “I just feel that a religious vocation is my calling.” Her pastor from Wilhelmina, who recommended her to Mount Saint Joseph, said of her family and of Kate, her “religion is a matter of everyday life – something that is natural, not put on.” Years later, during her Golden Jubilee, Sister Mary Mercedes would offer her jubilee verse from Ecclesiastes 3:1ff, “For everything there is a season, a time for every occupation under heaven; a time for giving birth, a time for dying; a time for planting and a time for harvesting.” Now – February 1945 – was the time for Kate to come to Mount Saint Joseph, and she knew it. In January of that year, she wrote, “I was very glad to hear that I had been accepted for I was anxious to know.”
So, on Friday, February 2, 1945, Kate became a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters; and in August of that same year, on a hot Tuesday, Kate became Sister Mary Mercedes, joining her novitiate classmates: Sisters Marie Kathleen Saffer, Theresa Ann Legeay, Mary Philomena Cox, Ann Marie Millay, Marie Brenda Vowels, Mary Laura Henning, and Joseph Cecilia Mueller. What a group that must have been. And to her remaining classmates, Sisters Philomena and Marie Brenda, we also offer our love, prayers and sympathy.
Two years later on a Friday, August 15, 1947, Sister Mary Mercedes made her temporary profession and entered the next season of her life. For fifty-four of the next fifty-eight years of her ministry, Sister Mary Mercedes would help create homes – oh, her titles were housekeeper, food services director, diet kitchen – but in reality, she supplied a loving environment, replete with delightful meals, prayer, and quiet humor. Her annals and notes tucked away reflected her faithful acceptance of the simple daily and seasonal elements of her life of “working for God.” Let her share some:
- In June 1948 [while leaving Nebraska], Sr. Annalita and Sr. Francella and myself boarded a train for St. Louis; no tickets. We went on to MSJ, and they sent the tickets. [No big deal! Just let it happen.]
- On April 6, 1957, Sr. Joseph Marie and I arrived in Waterflow, NM. A sand storm welcomed us. I stayed there until March 1964 when they closed Sacred Heart Academy. [Have you ever been welcomed by a sand storm? And then stayed seven years.]
- [When she was 65, in 1988] “I rode a city bus the first time [in 40 years] since I had left St. Louis before entering the convent. Now that I am a senior citizen, I have done it several times.”
During those 58 years, Sister Mary Mercedes would serve in eight different towns and missions, two of them multiple times. She began at St. Bernard Academy, in Nebraska City, Nebraska; and made her perpetual profession at St. Catherine Convent, in New Haven, Kentucky. She then served the first of three assignments in the diet kitchen at Mount Saint Joseph, ultimately sharing her delicious culinary arts for 13 years. Next were St. Denis Convent in Louisville; Cathedral Convent at St. Stephen in Owensboro (where I was fortunate enough to discover her cheese grits and experience her generous, accepting, Ursuline hospitality); and St. Angela Convent in Louisville (serving there twice for a total of fifteen years). And when she was a little over seventy, Sister Mary Mercedes returned to New Mexico, serving in pastoral outreach at St. Joseph Parish in Aztec.
Once again, Sister Mary Mercedes followed the path of simple naturalness as she described those years. Do you wonder how she saw the ministries she performed? Again her annals draw a rich picture; these are the tasks she undertook and the related activities she enjoyed or shared. For her travels and celebrations she reported every year that she went often:
- To St. Louis or Valley Park or elsewhere in Missouri to be with family for reunions, visits, funerals, get-togethers, weddings
- To Cumberland Falls or North Carolina or Branson to enjoy and learn
- To MSJ for Picnic and Retreats and Sharing
- To Ryan Steak House to celebrate birthdays and feast days [How Ryan Steak House must have mourned when St. Angela convent closed!]
And the ministry elements of a loving homemaker? She wrote of her duties that she would:
- Buy and cook food and bring in the groceries
- Clean the house and redecorate
- Can for winter – gathering fruits and vegetables – beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches
- Visit the elderly and transport sisters
- Cut the grass and rake the leaves
But she put it best in her 2002 and 2005 annals when, in response to the prompt Description of Ministry, she wrote [perhaps a little tongue in cheek]: “You cut up, peel your vegetable, cook it, and season it. [Then] I watch the sisters eat their meals and pray for them.”
In 2005, Sister Mary Mercedes stepped into another season of her life, and retired to the Mount, where she promptly saw a need and filled it. Again, she gave a straightforward and quietly humorous accounting: “I saw the porches on the Lourdes building. So I sweep bird droppings up each day. There will be four fewer birds next year because I take down the nests every time I see one being built [on my porch].”
In 2007, Sister Mary Mercedes came to her last home and last season, sharing her gentle humor and love with the staff and sisters in the Villa and in Pastoral Care. The nursing staff remarked on her witty humor, never knowing whether they would get a straight answer or a humorous quip:
- “Good morning, how do you feel?” they would ask.
- “With my fingers,” dead-panned Sister Mary Mercedes.
- “Do you want to eat your supper?” urged the nurse.
- “No, do you want it?” teased Sister Mary Mercedes.
To each of you in the Villa and in Pastoral Care, we thank you for loving and supporting Sister Mary Mercedes, and offer you, as well, our prayers and condolences.
For, as the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that “for everything there is a season. . .,” we can – with love and faith – know that Sister Mary Mercedes has responded in her right time; let her continue her journey heavenward; and rejoice that, as she stood and knocked, God and all the Saints were there to welcome this loving Ursuline homemaker home.
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph