Wake Reflection for Sister Mildred Barr, OSU
On December 12, 2006 Sister Mildred came home from the hospital to die at home. How appropriate that Mildred, artist and special friend of our Blessed Mother, would go to meet her Lord on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image on the tilma of Juan Diego may be one of the most intriguing pieces of art in the world! Mildred, we believe that you are now seeing not the image, but the reality, with the 20-20 vision of faith.
Mildred was famous in our community for being one of our two “firecracker” sisters, along with Sister Mary Barbara Ketzer. Born on the Fourth of July, 1921 in Livermore (McLean County) Kentucky, she was given the name Mildred Cecilia Barr at her baptism six days later. She spoke lovingly of her happy home and of her special relationship with her father, William Garrett Barr, and her mother, Ruth Cecilia Payne. Mildred had six sisters: Helen Lucille, Mary Lillian, Janet Evelyn, Ruth Ann, Wilma Imogene, and Angela Marie; and eight brothers: Louis Bernard, William Garrett Junior, Herman Joseph, George (Jack) Edward, James Lawrence, Martin Leon, Gerald Lamar, and Frederick Aloysius. Even with that houseful, somehow her mother still found time to teach Mildred to write, paint, draw, embroider, quilt, sew, bake, cook, clean, and can. She also loved going “nutting” and rabbit hunting with Daddy in the fall. You, her family, were always special to her, and your visits were red-letter days in her life. All the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph extend our sympathy to you.
When it was time for her to enter the first grade, Mildred went to stay with her grandmother at Browns Valley, but had to return home a few months later when she got appendicitis. She stayed home after that, attending Livermore public school for nine years. In her three years at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, she loved all her teachers: Miss McNamara and Sisters Joetta, Josephine, Mary Celeste, Angeline, Eugenia, Generose, Mary Jean, and Joseph Marie, who, she said, was responsible for teaching her good study habits. She also worked in the sewing room, and was “very inspired” by Sister DeLourdes, but the one greatest person in her life was Mother Teresita Thompson, of whom she said “from her I learned to pray and empty my heart completely, so God could fill it with love and grace.”
We don’t know who inspired her to cast her lot with the Ursulines, but she did have many community connections: Sister Rosalia was her great aunt, Theresa Margaret and Mary Louise her second cousins, and her sister Wilma (Sister Mary Beata) was in the novitiate for three years. On September 7, 1939 Mildred entered the novitiate with Sister Margaret Joseph Aull, Mary Jane (Madeleine) Hicks, and Regina Mitchell (who left in the spring); Sisters Frances Miriam Spalding, Theresa Marie Wilkerson, and Robert Ann Wheatley joined them in the spring. We offer our special sympathy to you, her classmates, on the loss of the first member of your class. On August 14, 1940 Mildred took the habit and the name Sister Aloysius Marie.
Her one great ambition in life was to be a teacher, and she certainly got to do that—first at Saint Columba in Louisville. Her teaching career spanned the first through eighth grades and high school art, and took her to Saints Joseph and Paul, Blessed Mother, and Cathedral School in Owensboro; Saint Elizabeth Curdsville, Saint Brigid Vine Grove, Saint Martin Flaherty, Saint Denis Louisville, Waterflow and Blanco in New Mexico; Saint Mary in Nebraska City, Saint Raphael, and Mount Saint Joseph Academy. She said she probably enjoyed Saint Raphael and Curdsville most, and loved her community life in New Mexico.
Mildred got a BA degree in art from the College of Saint Francis in Joliet Illinois, and a MEd at Xavier University in Cincinnati. She said she got a lot of credits at Brescia, and “had the best teachers there!” She also got certificates in Religious Education and in Ceramics. In her later years, she completed a diploma program at the school for Charismatic Spiritual Directors in Pecos, New Mexico.
As her career began to wind down, she went to Seven Holy Founders in Afton, Missouri, to give private art lessons. For $5 a lesson, her students, ages 5 years to 60 years old, could learn drawing, oil painting, watercolor, acrylics, and pastels. She loved giving the private lessons, saying that “for many (of the students), it is an opportunity to do something special, where they are not recognized as special anywhere else. It is not a showy job, but I feel that God is present at the sessions.”
In 1987 she returned to the Mount to help Sister Fran with the Prayer House. There she cleaned house, prepared meals for the retreatants, tended herb and flower gardens, and did laundry, sewing, and secretarial work. She said she never loved a job so much — that she loved the hours of solitude while working close to nature, and that Fran helped her take big steps toward deepening her spiritual life. Mildred took each responsibility in life very seriously. When she was put in charge of the little gift shop and bookstore on campus, she dipped into each book, trying “to have a little knowledge of every book I sell, and to greet all visitors as Christ.”
Even after her retirement in 1991, she had many outside interests: going to her sister’s home to play cards, quilt, and paint, visiting friends to share common interests in genealogical research, concerts, books, birds, flowers, and Kentucky Historical Society meetings. Mildred wrote poetry — a little booklet of some of her poetry is on the back table. There’s a wonderful one about her Father, and all of her poems are full of color, as one would expect of an artist! Though retired, Mildred still had a ministry; in her retirement years she reclaimed her patroness, Mildred, who she said, was an abbess whose work was to care for poor, elderly women. To quote our Mildred, “I tried to see Jesus in all the sick, tired, and worn- out sisters in my group, and loved to pray with them, especially on their deathbed.” Mildred would want me to extend special thanks to Sisters Lois, Catherine Marie, Betsy, and all the sisters and staff members who were so attentive to Mildred as she lay on her deathbed. Thank you for surrounding her with love and attentive care.
In 1994, though confined to a wheelchair, Mildred continued to pursue her interests. Anyone who visited her room in Lourdes will remember the shelves full of genealogical tomes, and she always had a few art supplies tucked away here and there. She read voraciously, and expressed herself in art and poetry. One of Mildred’s poems read,
When skies are dark
and hearts are blue
There is no doubt that Mildred had her dark days — a good number of them — as she coped with recurring depression and an eating disorder. A doctor had predicted early in her life that she would have her “ups and downs.” But Mildred had a way of turning her minuses into pluses, and making lemonade out of the lemons life threw at her. When she had to attend meetings of Overeaters Anonymous, she volunteered to be treasurer, and became very active in the group. She used her deep spiritual connection with her Lord to pull herself up out of depression, over and over again. And though eventually she lived in a little world of her own, she always had a smile for visitors. Her 2001 archival report had a little space for the sister to list TRAVEL, and Mildred’s comment on that line was that she was “on the path to heaven in a wheel chair.” On the same page, she speaks of loving “prime time in my Sanctuary Room sending up incense of song and prayer.”
Mildred has left a colorful legacy for us — her paintings are spread far and wide in Ursuline houses and schools; every now and then another “Mildred Barr” landscape will pop up. One of our favorite memories of her will always be of a beaming Mildred, clad in a red or blue dress with her signature white pearls around her neck, and surrounded by her family at a Fourth of July birthday party.
Mildred, the dark days are past — only an eternal heavenly banquet awaits you. In your own words, you can now envelop yourself “within the Divine Presence…to love, adore, trust, enjoy, praise, and unite all in faith.” Remember us at that festive meal, and thank you for being our sister.
Michele Morek, OSU
(Reflection delivered by Betsy Moyer,OSU)