In Remembrance of
Sister Mary Sheila Higdon, OSU
February 19, 2018
Sister Amelia Stenger, OSU, Congregational Leader
Who would have guessed that on Wednesday morning when Sister Mary Sheila was eating breakfast with us in the dining room that she would go to heaven in just a few short hours. The gospel message, “You do not know the day or the hour,” is certainly true for our Sister Mary Sheila.
Dorothy Marie Higdon was born on June 11, 1929 to Bernard Joseph Higdon and Mary Philomena Strehl Higdon. Her dad was born in Saint Lawrence, Ky and her mom was born in Stanley. Her grandfather, Adolph Strehl, was born in 1844 and came to America at the age of eighteen from Switzerland. Her Grandmother, Mary Strehl, was born in 1862 in Paducah, Ky and was from Germany. Her dad’s parents were both born near St. Lawrence, Ky. In her history, she wrote, “When I was a child, they cared for Fr. James Higdon at the rectory of St. Alphonsus. Their names were Zachary and Mattie. The Higdon name is Scotch-Irish. That is where I got my red hair.”
She was number ten of eleven children. There were eight boys in her family—Raymond, James, Gerald, John, Thomas, Marvin, Hugh and Anthony. The girls were Mary Louise and Catherine. Her parents and all her brothers and sisters have gone to heaven except Hugh and Anthony (Gene). We offer you our sympathy and prayers. We are grateful for all of you from her family who have come this evening to share in this celebration of her life.
Dorothy was baptized at St. Stephen Cathedral on June 30, 1929. She began school at St. Joseph School in Owensboro and attended school there during all her early years. She was confirmed on April 4, 1936 at St. Joseph Church by Bishop John A. Floersh. She attended St. Joseph High School and graduated in June 1947. She said she was a tomboy all the years when she was growing up because all the siblings around her were boys.
In one of her files she wrote, “I went to St. Joseph School in Owensboro and loved my teachers, Sister Angelica, Sr. Mary Clare, Sister Jean Madeline and Sr. Mary Damien. They were so good to me.”
She began her formation as an Ursuline Sister in September 1947. She said, “Sr. Angelica taught me in first grade and when I entered the novitiate on September 8, 1947, she was the Postulant Mistress. That was a real surprise.”
She continued by saying, “I believe my vocation began when I was in Grade 2. The Sisters inspired me and nurtured me. They must have known that my mother was not well. She became seriously ill when I was 5 years old. The Doctors didn’t seem to diagnose her (problem) but as I look back, I believe it must have been Muscular Dystrophy since she was unable to walk without crutches…and finally was in a wheelchair for her last ten years.”
She added, “It was very hard for me to leave home to enter the Novitiate with my mother like she was but I guess I thought my dad and my two brothers who were still there could take care of her.”
When she was asked her motive in wishing to become a religious she said, “I want to enter for the sanctification of my own soul and the souls of others.”
She entered with Sisters Luisa Bickett, Clarita Browning, Coletta Drury, Jane Irvin Hancock, Mary Afra Henning, Eileen Howard, Ann Miriam Johnson, Rose Theresa Johnson, Jamesetta Knott, Mary Louise Knott, Miriam Therese Lanham, Mary Renee Monaghan, John Mary O’Reilley and Sister Grace Swift joined the class when she moved here from Paola. Sister Luisa, Sister Clarita and Sister Grace, we pray with you and offer our support as you say good bye to your classmate. This year we will remember her especially since we will celebrate you and her on the seventieth anniversary as a member of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. We know you have done much together over these past seventy years.
Dorothy received the habit on August 14, 1948 taking the name Sister Mary Sheila. When it came time for Dorothy to choose her religious name, she submitted three choices. Her first was Marie Bernard after her parents; the second was Catherine Marie for her sister. As she was looking through a Catholic newspaper, she saw the name Mary Sheila and thought it was pretty, so she put it down as her third choice. She said, “I didn’t find out it was my new name until Bishop Francis Cotton announced it. I found out later that Sheila is Irish for Cecilia which was my confirmation name.”
She began her education at Mount Saint Joseph Junior College as soon as she took the habit. Two years later she began her teaching ministry at St. Charles School in Bardwell, KY. From there she served at St. Bartholomew school in Buechel, KY. Sr. Maureen O’Neill was one of her students there along with 77 other little ones. There were no teacher’s aides in those days. It is hard to imagine that many first graders in one room but she did it well. Sister Maureen is proof of that.
On August 15, 1954 she made her final vows.
She spent eleven years at Seven Holy Founders School in Affton, MO. Most of those years were spent teaching the first grade. Sister Mary McDermott was in one of those first grade classes. From there she transferred to the St. Angela Education Center in Louisville as Director for two years. She had also received a certificate as a reading specialist. A principal was needed at St. John School in Plattsmouth, NE in 1972 so she travelled to Nebraska to minister there.
During those years from 1950 until 1967 when she completed her first degree from Brescia College (now University), she attended classes during the summer. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education, a minor in Art and a Kentucky Teaching Certificate. When she finished her first degree, she started her Master’s degree at the University of Kentucky where she completed that degree in 1974. While she was teaching in Nebraska she attended courses at Creighton to get a certificate in Pastoral Ministry. She used that religious education training as Director of Religious Education at Holy Name, Henderson, KY, St. Joseph and Holy Spirit Parishes in Bowling Green KY, St. Mary of the Woods in Whitesville, KY, St. Francis Borgia parish in Sturgis, KY, and Sacred Heart parish in Dexter, MO. When one parish wasn’t enough, she took on three in South Central Missouri. These included St. George in Van Buren, MO, St. Catherine Siena Parish, Piedmont, MO, and Our Lady of Sorrows in Williamsville, MO. Though all these parishes were small, she gave so much to all of them.
During those years in Southern Missouri, she travelled many miles on weekends to do her ministry. She attended Mass four times each weekend. On Saturday night she attended Mass at St. Catherine in Piedmont at 4:30 p.m., then drove 22 miles to Williamsville for 6:30 p.m. Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows. On Sunday morning, she coordinated parish high school religion at St. George in Van Buren, where Mass was at 8:00 a.m. Then she would drive 45 minutes to St. Catherine for Mass at 11:00 a.m. where she would have religious education.
Sister enjoyed art and loved being in the Ozarks where the beauty of nature was the greatest attraction. In an article about her while she served in Missouri, she said, “In the fall, this place is just glorious. I can’t believe how beautiful it is. This area attracts me so, the beauty of the area, it does something for my soul, I feel peaceful here. There are a variety of people. I have so many friends here.”
She served so well in the Ozarks area. In an article about her in the Extension magazine, it said she served as church decorator, liturgical coordinator and bible study leader. In the wider community she actively participated in the senior nutrition center outreach program and also served as the secretary of the ministerial alliance. She loved the RCIA classes in all three parishes which were located in three of the poorest counties of South central Missouri.
Many of you here tonight are her friends from parishes and areas where she served. We are so glad you are able to be with us as we celebrate her life and good works. We are grateful for your love of our Sister. We remember with you the wonderful work that she did with you in your parishes.
Since 2011, she has served here at the Mount in several different areas. She answered the phone at the switchboard, greeted people as they came to pray with us, drove sisters to the doctor or to visits with their family members, helped decorate areas around the motherhouse, helped with the chapel and led community prayers.
When she left Missouri, she was given the “Catch the Spirit Award.” It said, “Sister Mary Sheila serving God through faith, service and love, graciously gave her time, knowledge and ability to impart the Christian teachings of Catholicism. She inspired us as members of the United Methodist Church to renew our sacrifice, witness and service to God, giving fresh and contemporary meaning to Paul’s ancient words to Timothy—Well Done Good and Faithful Servant.”
This evening we say the same because you have been a good and faithful servant and a good and faithful Ursuline.
Rest in Peace