Wake Reflection for Sister Miriam Medley, OSU
April 23, 1919 – November 26, 2012
“. . . she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” Luke 21:4
We had just celebrated the feast of Christ the King, and had entered the last week, the final week, of ordinary time. In the Gospel for the Mass on Monday, November 26, we heard the King say, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest. . . she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood (Luke 21:3-4).” Then just that afternoon, it was Jesus who accepted the final offering of Sister Miriam Medley, and called her home to his embrace. Today we honor Sister Miriam, who throughout her life went about preparing and offering her “livelihood” to God.
It was just after Easter Sunday, on Wednesday of the Octave of Easter, April 23, 1919, that a fourth little girl was born to the family of Albert Wesley and Catherine Lee Blandford Medley. Ten days later, on Saturday, May 3, 1919, the worshipping community of Holy Cross Church in Loretto, Kentucky, was enriched by the addition of one more soul as the tiny infant was baptized Jane Marice Medley. Ten children would be born to the Medley family – five girls and five boys – Marguerite (who became our Sister Charles Catherine), Madeline, AnnaBelle, Jane Marice, Charles, Joseph B., Joseph A., two Francis Gerald’s, and Mary Kathleen.
The Medley family, growing up in Loretto in rural Kentucky, must have been a family entranced with the world around them, passing on to their children the same rich interest in discovering the diverse joys of God’s creation. For later, Sister Miriam would comment that one of her “. . . earliest memories was moving from an old house to a new house. I was about four and the electric switches by the doors fascinated me. I went from room to room, turning lights on and off.” She did not mention remembering anyone chastising her for this, so we are free to imagine the whole family exploring with Jane the marvels of electricity in their new house.
Jane then entered the world of education at Holy Cross Elementary School – the “public” school staffed by Ursuline Sisters from Mount Saint Joseph. Shortly after her sixth birthday, she was confirmed Mary Jane Marice Medley, on a Monday early in May – May 11, 1925 – thus furthering her discovery of a life of religious awareness while still quite young.
Jane continued her Catholic public schooling, moving up to Holy Cross High School and more Ursuline teachers. When she was fourteen, tragedy struck the Medley family, when – on Christmas Eve in 1933 – their dear mother died, leaving behind seven children, the youngest of whom was only six-weeks-old. In Jane’s words, “. . . for three years we struggled, but my dad married again and life became easier.” So, when Jane graduated from Holy Cross High School in 1936, it was with a slightly lighter heart that she made the decision to begin her studies at Mount Saint Joseph Junior College for Women.
However, after one year at Mount Saint Joseph, perhaps with questions about her future burning her heart and filling her prayers, Jane took what was, perhaps, the only “sabbatical” in her life and went to spend a year with her “dear Aunt” – perhaps her Aunt Ruth – in West Virginia. Sister Miriam would later report that her Aunt Ruth was a “special guide” for her in her late teen-age years. And, from her “annals,” we also know just how special her family was to her; so, to her sister Kathleen and to Sister Miriam’s nieces and nephews, we Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph extend our prayers and condolences at this time.
Well, Jane had indeed reached a decision that year in West Virginia and had returned to Kentucky ready to resume and expand her relationship with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. At nineteen years-of-age, she formally requested to join the postulant class of 1938; we know, from Mother Teresita’s response to Jane’s letter, that the Ursuline family had been eagerly anticipating Jane’s arrival.
On August 26, Mother Teresita wrote:
My dear little Jane,
Thanks to our dear Lord for giving you the desire to enter Holy Religion; or rather should I say, the grace to follow the desire which has been at the bottom of your heart for ever so long. . . . You have prayed for light and the Sisters have certainly prayed for you – we so wanted you to answer yes.
Perhaps the Sisters were spurred on by Jane’s own sister Marguerite, now Sister Charles Catherine, OSU. Less than a week later, Mother Teresita would continue: “We are expecting a nice class of postulants; Mary Rose and Ruth Helen [Mary Leon] are here and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the others.” Mother Teresita would end with the exhortation: “I will leave you now in the arms of the dear Sacred Heart – pray and love – nothing else is worthwhile.”
So, again on a Wednesday, September 7, 1938, this time on the eve of a day of celebration, Mary Jane Marice Medley joined with fifteen other young women in the 1938 postulancy. Within a year, on Monday, August 14, 1939, Jane would become Sister Miriam Medley, and, with almost her entire postulant class, enter the novitiate at Mount Saint Joseph. And what a class that was: Sisters Ann Elizabeth Busam, Carmencita Carrico, Annunciata Durr, Mary Paula Hundly, Mary Stella Hurin, Clarentia Hutchins, Mary Barbara Ketzer, Mary Rose Lindauer, Miriam Medley, Anastasia Mudd, Eleanor Rapier, Mary Leon Riney, Mary Victor Rogers, Olivia Ryan, and Mary Emily Whelan. Today only Sister Clarentia remains of that class of pioneers and explorers; and to her and to all Sister Miriam’s Ursuline colleagues and friends we offer our love and our prayers as we remember her time among us.
Sister Miriam remembered her years as postulant and novice as, “in general, very happy ones.” By 1941, On Friday, August 15, she was ready to make her Temporary Profession and step forth immediately to her first teaching assignment at “Little Saint Joe’s” in Raywick, Kentucky. Forth the bold explorer.
The next forty-five years would be consumed with teaching, learning, growth, and new responsibilities – including the step of making her Final Profession on Tuesday, August 15, 1944. Sister Miriam reported that thirty of those core teaching years were in public schools – even though they carried names like Saint Anthony, Saint Teresa, and Holy Name of Mary. Most of these assignments would see Sister Miriam teaching students in the middle years from fifth through eighth grades. For almost twenty of these years, she would also serve as principal. Her schools and their locales read like a litany of an offered livelihood:
- Saint Joseph, Raywick
- Saint Anthony, Peonia
- Saint Teresa, Glennonville
- Holy Name of Mary, Calvary
- Mount Saint Joseph Academy
- Mother of Good Counsel, Louisville
- Saint Ignatius, Louisville
- Saint Charles Junior High Lebanon
- Flaherty Elementary, Flaherty
- Cathedral School, Owensboro
Throughout these years of ministry, Sister Miriam was continuously preparing herself for her next step – turning on and off those electric switches of learning. Twenty-one summers at various schools ultimately led to a Baccalaureate and a Master’s degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She secured teaching and principal certifications for all grades – one through twelve, and maintained the certifications through continuous education – adding Ursuline College, Louisville; Brescia College, Owensboro; DePaul University, Chicago; and Saint Louis University, Saint Louis to her curriculum vita. Within these central years of service, in 1970, Sister Miriam also joined the prestigious ranks of those designated as members of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. Perhaps we need to add military honors.
As Sister Miriam realized she would be moving into another phase of her shared livelihood, she characteristically began to prepare. Now she added institutes and workshops for RCIA, Catholic Leadership, Ministry Formation, and Pastoral Ministry. For a year, she and her classmate, Sister Mary Leon, ministered at Saint Paul and Resurrection Parishes in Princeton and Dawson Springs, Kentucky.
Then she was called to service in the Library at Brescia College – of course, she added to her voyage of discovery and professional growth, attending a National Library Conference in New Orleans. While at the Library at Brescia, one of Sister Miriam’s duties was to train and work with the Library’s work-study students. Perhaps all those years of teaching middle school students paid off with those freshmen and sophomores; as the position of Library work-study student ultimately became one of the most sought-after positions at Brescia.
After seven years at Brescia, Sister Miriam followed Horace Greeley’s advice to “go west, young [at heart], go west;” and in 1994, she became a pastoral minister at Saint Joseph’s in Aztec, New Mexico. While there, she continued her lifelong commitment to discovery and learning, participating in workshops, senior citizen trips, and special events in just about any place they were offered. In one of her annals during those years, Sister Miriam listed on the back at least ten different sites she had travelled to throughout the Four Corners area – sites in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado; and then just for good measure, listed a couple more on the front.
But it was soon time to come home to Mount Saint Joseph, and in 1998, in her 79th year, Sister Miriam came to the Motherhouse to serve as Sacristan and Librarian. Within four years, she was reporting that she had begun taking computer lessons and that she “enjoyed it very much.” She added the “Jot ‘em Down” store to her duties, and – finally – in her 2004-2005 annals, Sister Miriam reported gleefully that – satisfying her discovery bug – she had taken a cruise to Alaska.
Sister Miriam was moving more and more toward her greatest voyage of discovery, and in 2006, she joined the full-time Powerhouse of Prayer – moving in 2007 to the Villa. There her learning became more and more interior, supported by the care and love of the Sisters, nurses, and other health care and pastoral care staff around her. To all of those who supported and prayed with Sister Miriam in the Villa, we give our thanks and offer our prayers and consolation as you reflect on her homecoming.
And, so we do see, Mary Jane Marice – Sister Miriam – Medley did indeed “offer her whole livelihood” to her loving God. She truly followed the words she had heard from Mother Teresita in 1938, and perhaps we could do no better as we say to Sister Miriam – “[We] will leave you now in the arms of the dear Sacred Heart – pray and love – nothing else is worthwhile.”
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph