Reflection on the Life of Sister Rosaria Ray
“I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.” These words from Psalm 40 are appropriate for Sister Rosaria’s many years of eager waiting for God. Her waiting finally ended at 4:30 on the morning of August 21 just as the Mount was beginning to come alive.
Agnes Kathryn Ray was the first child of William Jennings and Agnes Bessie Pike Ray. In her autobiographical sketch, Sister Rosaria gave an account of her coming into the world: “On January 11, 1921, my parents were united in the sacrament of Matrimony at St. Mary Magdalene Church, Paynesville, Ky., by Rev. Joseph Gettlefinger. This was a very happy day for them. January 4, 1922 was another happy occasion when they experienced the birth of their first child, Agnes Kathryn.”
Later she was joined by four sisters, Anna, Margaret, Martha, and Patricia, and four brothers, Edward, James, Robert, and Patrick, Patricia’s twin. Her living siblings, Anna, Patsy, and Pat are here with us tonight. Our Ursuline community extends to you and to all your family our sincerest sympathy and our promise of prayers. She cherished each of you and would often share stories about her family.
Sister Rosaria’s family was a very loving and religious one. Daily prayers, especially the rosary, were a top priority. Because there was no Catholic school in the area, the children’s first introduction to religious education was in their home. Their parents read Bible stories to them and taught them the Baltimore Catechism. The year that Kathryn received her first Communion, Sisters of Charity came to teach them for two weeks. In her own words, “I was so impressed by them that I said, ‘Some day I am going to be a Sister.’”
She never saw sisters again until she went to board in the high school in Flaherty, where she met the Ursuline Sisters. Her teachers were Sisters Mary Romuald, Mary Carmel, and Johanna. She also met Sisters Margaret Ann Wathen and Mary Grace Hutchins, who made the girls happy by sharing the leftovers from the sisters’ meals with them.
After four years of high school, Kathryn had not forgotten her desire to be a sister, but she did have some doubts. So she spent three years working at home and at Fort Knox as she continued her discernment. Her mother, who had other plans, was happy to see Kathryn dating and living a normal teen-age life. When Kathryn told her mother that she was seriously considering entering the convent, her mother told her if she did she wouldn’t buy her anymore clothes. Kathryn’s response: “I don’t want anymore clothes.” It was difficult for her mother to see her oldest child leave home, especially since there were still three small children. “But I knew the Lord was calling me and nothing could stop me, not even my dear mother whom I loved dearly.” Her father was more understanding.
Years later Sister Rosaria wrote that her mother had a stroke, leaving her paralyzed on one side and unable to communicate. Patsy and a dear friend of hers were her mother’s caregivers. Sister Rosaria was able to help on weekends and in the summer months. “This was a great blessing for me. I felt I was given the opportunity to return the love she had for me and to repay her in a small way for the hurt I caused her when I left home.”
Kathryn entered the convent on February 2, 1942 with Rita Hancock, Anita Riggs, and Frances Neville. Rita became our Sister Jane Miriam. Anita and Frances became Sisters Camilla and Francella respectively. They left the novitiate and Sisters Jane Miriam and Rosaria joined the September class: Sisters Bertha Marie, Jean Richard, Marie Julie, Dolorita, and Rose Marie. Sister Bertha Marie must have been waiting to welcome Sister Rosaria to heaven last Saturday. Sisters Jane Miriam, Jean Richard, Marie Julie, Dolorita, and Rose Marie, we extend our sympathy to you. We know you will miss your classmate, who stated that her novitiate was a happy one and that she loved her classmates.
Sister Rosaria’s teaching ministry, which lasted 22 years, began at St. Paul School in Grayson County. “My first experience of teaching was so thrilling that I hated for weekends to come. I never lost that thrill.” Sister Mary Cabrini recalls that Sister Rosaria got an early start in teaching. Sister Mary Cabrini was in the 4th grade at Flaherty when Sister Rosaria was a senior in high school. The 4th grade teacher was sick a lot that year and the principal of the school would always send for Kathryn Ray to substitute.
One teaching experience that Sister Rosaria found particularly challenging and exciting was in Waterflow, New Mexico, because of the different cultures. She taught one group for seven years, skipping only the 6th grade. While she was in Waterflow she learned to drive – the first in our community.
Sister Rosaria was a principal for 26 years and said she found the adjustment hard. She and Sister Mary Damien Abel were principals at the same time. Both were great educators – greatly admired and respected. P. J. Hayden was principal at Lourdes at that time. When he heard of Sister Rosaria’s death he said, “Well, at last she gets to be with Sister Mary Damien again.”
Other schools in which Sister Rosaria ministered included neighboring St. Alphonsus, Saints Joseph and Paul and Immaculate, Owensboro; Mary Carrico, Knottsville; St. Brigid, Vine Grove; St. Peter, Stanley; and St. Bernard, Nebraska City. She was always grateful for the many lives she touched in education.
When Sister Rosaria was asked to change from school ministry to pastoral ministry, she wasn’t fond of the idea. Later she wrote that she could see God’s hand in it. “It has been a little bit of heaven,” she said of her years at Saint John, Sunfish.
Sister Rosaria’s active waiting for God began in 1994 when she had surgery for cancer and was given a slight chance of survival. But she did survive and was able to return to active ministry in the craft room and as distributor of mail at the motherhouse.
She moved again to the infirmary in 2003. Of all her years in the infirmary she wrote, “I’m most grateful for the loving care I received.” To all our infirmary staff who so lovingly cared for Sister Rosaria, we say thank you. We are also grateful to Randy Shelby, our present pastoral care coordinator, as well as to Sisters Mary Irene and Clarita who for seven years faithfully cared for Sister Rosaria.
Sister Rosaria wrote that she had lived a very exciting life filled with many blessings. Now the waiting was coming to an end. Her dying process was a profound experience. Her deep spirituality and prayerfulness were so evident as she waited for God. Her faithful friend, Sister Mary Cabrini, stayed with her much of the day and prayed with her. Sister Rosaria remained aware to the end, saying what she wanted to say to each person who visited. One of the things I think she would want to say to all of us is a paraphrase she wrote of a passage of St. John’s gospel: Don’t be distressed. Let your hearts be free, for I leave with you my peace, my word. If you really love me be glad, have hope, for I leave with you my Spirit to guide you.
One of the sisters who came in to visit Sister Rosaria in her last day of waiting told her the Blessed Mother would take care of her. Sister Rosaria’s response was, “If she has to she will. You all have taken such good care of me, she may not have to.”
Sister Rosaria, we are glad we could care for you. Now we entrust you to our Blessed Mother, asking her to take you by the hand and gently lead you to Jesus, your spouse and lover, where you may rest in peace forever.
Marietta Wethington, OSU
August 23, 2010