Sister Mary Sheila Higdon, OSU: Creating beauty wherever she serves

“I was an assistant to a Sister of Charity, and I lived with Charity Sisters and one Franciscan. It was a good experience,” she said. Her responsibilities were parish school religion and sacramental preparation, and also helping with RCIA. She was also involved with one-on-one special religious education for some developmentally delayed parishioners.

“We taught them about Jesus in a very simple way,” she said.

In 1985, the superior asked her to go Bowling Green, Ky., where Sister Mary Timothy Bland was living by herself. Sister Mary Sheila became director of religious education for both St. Joseph and Holy Spirit parishes. She had large classes for RCIA at Holy Spirit.

“I loved it. RCIA is the most rewarding thing I do,” she said. “People who come into the church are so inspiring. It’s just a thrill to see them at the Easter vigil receive the Easter sacraments.”

After five years in Bowling Green, in 1990 she began a series of three-year ministries, first as director of religious education at St. Mary of the Woods, a more rural parish in Whitesville, Ky., about 12 miles from Owensboro; then as pastoral associate and DRE at St. Francis Borgia Parish in Sturgis, Ky.; and next her return to Missouri, this time in the southeastern town of Dexter as pastoral minister and DRE at Sacred Heart Parish.

It was in Sturgis that she became good friends with Maggie Pierson.

Sister Mary Sheila peers into Big Spring in the Mark Twain National Forest in Van Buren. When she has time, Sister Mary Sheila visits Big Spring for the peacefulness.

“Maggie and (her husband) Kenny bought a house for me to live in,” Sister Mary Sheila said. “They wanted a sister so bad. It was very hard for them when I left.”

Maggie Pierson said Sister Mary Sheila is like “a sister and a mother. She was there for me when my dad died. She is anything you would need in a true friend,” Pierson said.

“Anytime I have a question about religion, I can count on her to give it to me straight,” Pierson said.

“We spent a lot of time together. We decorated the church, planned religious events, went shopping, went to the Chrism Mass,” she said. “We visited the sick. If someone was terminally ill, she was always there.”

St. Francis Borgia got a lot stronger while Sister Mary Sheila was there, Pierson said. “She brought religious education for adults, and youth activities that we didn’t have before,” she said. “We had programs we could learn from.”

It was Sister Mary Sheila who got Pierson in the habit of coming to the annual Mount Saint Joseph Picnic, and now she and her husband Kenny are stalwarts at working the picnic each year.

After three years in Dexter, Sister Mary Sheila found the opening at Van Buren in 1999, and her three-year cycle ended. She’s taking her ministry one year at a time now. “As long as I’m able, I want to work,” she said.

In her spare time she likes to read, listen to soothing music, and spend time with friends. A lot of her reading is spiritual books in preparation for her classes.

More than 50 years ago, Sister Mary Sheila’s brother Hugh married Therese Montgomery, sister of Ursuline Sister Marie Montgomery. When the sisters were home in the summers, they would go visit their siblings together, and they became friends on those trips.

“She’s always been a good person,” Sister Marie said. “She’s calm and gentle by nature. She loves her ministry and loves her family,” she said. “She will lend a helping hand wherever needed. She’s very accommodating and smiles easily.”

Among all the stops she’s made in 62 years as an Ursuline Sister, it’s that easy smile and gentle touch that people remember.

By Dan Heckel