“My mom was 40 when she had me. My friends’ grandparents were the age of my parents,” Sister Monica said. She is 15 years younger than the next youngest Ursuline Sister, but she has no trouble relating to older sisters. “I have always been around older people. I’m involved in these relationships.”
An early event that shaped her life was the death of her father just two weeks before her 14th birthday. “I was angry,” she said. “I had dreams that my mom would die and I would be left alone. My mom is such a strong, strong woman, her faith and what she passed on to me got me through it.”
Her school, Owensboro Catholic High School, had a group for students who lost a parent, but her shyness still made it difficult for Sister Monica to talk about her feelings. That experience has helped her relate to some of the special education students she now teaches.
“One girl in my class a few semesters ago told me her father passed away,” Sister Monica said. “I told her I still feel that loss sometimes. You’re not different or odd because you have these feelings.”
After graduating from high school, she received an associate degree in accounting from Owensboro Community College, then worked eight years for Bolser Bookkeeping and Tax Service, doing books for small businesses. “The accounting world is the same thing every month,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was making a lasting impression.”
Her initial love was teaching, spurred by the faith formation classes she began teaching at St. Stephen when she was 17.
“Sister Margaret Ann Aull was at our parish, she opened the doors for me,” Sister Monica said. Sister Margaret Ann needed a catechist in faith formation for kindergarten students, and Sister Monica eventually taught that for seven years.
“She was a person who had the qualifications to work with little kids, and was willing to share the gifts she had,” Sister Margaret Ann said. “I knew the Lord was calling Monica. She was spiritual and she loved people, that’s one of our qualifications.”
Sister Ann McGrew came to the parish next, and asked Sister Monica to prepare the second-graders for their first communion and reconciliation, which she did for three years.
“I didn’t think I could do it. That’s such an awesome responsibility, and I was so shy,” Sister Monica said. “Sister Ann said, ‘I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t think you could do it.’”
Sister Ann said she had a dual reason for asking Sister Monica.
“Monica is a very capable person, but at the time, she didn’t have much confidence in her capabilities,” Sister Ann said. “I wanted to help her build confidence. I also wondered if she would have a vocation.”
Sister Monica first thought about becoming a sister in high school, but thought, “No way, I like to have fun,” she said. Her life had revolved around service – her parish youth group, school service programs – and when she made a koinonia, she heard a priest talk about how he’d struggled with his decision to enter the clergy.
“Sisters and priests were on pedestals to me,” she said. “For the first time, I thought, ‘He’s not perfect.’” At her table that day was Ursuline Sister Judith Nell Riney, who asked her if she’d ever considered religious life. “I struggled with it. I didn’t think I was sister material,” Sister Monica said.
She went online to research religious communities, but none fit until she visited Maple Mount. “I grew up under Sister Margaret Ann’s guidance,” she said. “She was so kind to all my family, nothing seemed to bother her. She never pressured me, it was her way of life that attracted me.”