Sister Michael Marie Friedman: “…I think it is a challenge every day.”

The youngest of four children born and raised on a farm near Glennonville, Missouri, Sister Michael Marie was taught by Maple Mount Ursulines first through eighth grades. Her Ursuline education continued the next four years at the Mount Saint Joseph Academy. She entered the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in 1964 and continued her education at Brescia College.

Sister Michael Marie with middle school secretary Carolyn Peak.

Following her graduation from Brescia, Sister Michael Marie began her teaching career at Mary Carrico School in Knottsville in 1969. She spent two years as principal and teacher at St. Paul in Princeton, two more at St. Alphonsus, and then six years at St. Romuald High School in Hardinsburg.

She left administration and spent four years as a teacher at St. Mary High School in Paducah before serving four years as principal at St. Mary Elementary and one year as principal at Owensboro Catholic Middle School. She came to St. James as principal 14 years ago.

“I get satisfaction working with youth,” says Sister Michael Marie. “This is a long range goal – 10 or 15 years from now I want them to say that she taught me how to live my faith. I don’t expect them to like me now, but 10 or 15 years from now they may say she made a difference in my life.” Sister Michael Marie is already making a difference. Members of the St. James eighth-grade class were asked what they felt about their principal. Their answers:

  • “She’s been a leader all nine years that I’ve been here.” – Paige Redmon.
  • “It wouldn’t be St. James without her.” – Jarrett Skees
  • “She’s been a good supporter of our basketball team by attending every home game.” – Marc Oropilla.
  • “She’s been a moral guide to all of us.” – Neal Bush.
  • “She’s a good role model.” – Alyssa Herbert.
  • “She’s helped me out by directing plays that I was in.” – Austin Hall.
  • “She’s taught us to keep our composure in pressure situations.” – Calen Thomas.
  • “Her door is always open to us. It will be different when we get to high school.” – Jack Goblirsch.
  • “She always tells us to have a backbone, to use some common sense.” – Christina Thompson.
  • “She always has us first, before herself.” – Johanna Yun.

Sister Michael Marie pulls lunch duty three times a week. “It’s a great opportunity to be with the kids one-on-one,” she says.

Running a school of 443 students is no easy task, especially when the school is “gymless.” There are long-range plans for a gymnasium/multi-purpose facility, but right now the St. James Knights and Lady Knights athletic teams practice on the second floor of Batcheldor Hall, the basketball and volleyball teams play their home games and matches in the National Guard Armory. Batcheldor Hall, owned by the school and located on school property, has meeting rooms and after-school care downstairs and a small, multipurpose physical education gym and reception area upstairs.

The school’s track, cross country, tennis and golf teams use city facilities. “Saint James enjoys a reputation of being a really good school,” Sister Michael Marie proudly points out, “and as a result, the community is willing to share its resources with us. The city of Elizabethtown is just small enough to not be lost in numbers.”

Elizabethtown has a population of 24,000. St. James Parish, the only Catholic parish in Hardin County, has 1,400 families. St. James School has a faculty of 50.

Ellen Hamilton was a member of that faculty until last year, when she was named assistant principal. She says, “Sister Michael Marie has been a wonderful role model and mentor and helped guide me in my new position.” Ellen continues, “The students overall seem to respect her. When they are asked why they are doing something, they often say they are doing it for Sister Marie Michael or because of Sister Marie Michael. If she asks them to do something, they get it done.”

Gail Ashlock, a longtime teacher at St. James, is now the primary school secretary. She is also one of Sister Michael Marie’s biggest admirers. “She definitely is a leader,” says Gail, “and she has supported me both in the workplace and personally.” She continued, “I’ve been here longer. I’ve seen the school grow by leaps and bounds since she’s been here. Her leadership, her discipline, her religious knowledge and example are felt by everyone she comes in touch with, both students and adults.”