Sister Nancy Murphy, OSU: Always putting others first

“I just remember my mother picked up the pieces and carried on,” Sister Nancy said. “My father owned the pool room in Curdsville. My mother would go tend the pool room, the men respected her. I probably inherited the ability to withstand a lot of stress because of my mother, who is a very determined woman.”

An Ursuline life

After her epiphany during Communion in 1960, Sister Nancy joined the sisters as one of a 29-member postulant class. She is one of six still remaining from that class, with the others Sisters Rose Marita O’Bryan, Kathleen Kaelin, Rosanne Spalding, Helena Fischer, and Julia Head.

Holy Spirit is the building on the former Motherhouse grounds where Sister Dorothy Helbling lived while she was superior.

She took the name Sister Mary Hugh Murphy, in honor of her parents. “I liked the name, it was short. Of course, when teaching third grade, it was ‘Sister Mary Huge’ or ‘Hue,’ she said. Her feast day was April 1 — April Fools Day.

In 1986, while serving as formation director for the community, she attended a formation conference in Canada. “We talked about our names and nicknames at prayer. I concluded everyone had one name or a feminine name,” Sister Nancy said. “I came home and thought ‘I’d love to go back to my baptismal name, Nancy Elizabeth.’ I got the courage to call Sister Joseph Angela (Boone), who was treasurer. She was so helpful and kind to me,” Sister Nancy said. “By the end of December 1986, all of the information was processed. To my surprise, it was the smoothest transition and a very significant move in my life. Everyone called me ‘Sister Nancy.’”

Now her feast day is Nov. 17, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, in honor of the church in Curdsville where she was baptized and her patron saint.

Her vow class was the second to graduate from Brescia College (now University) before they were sent out to teach. Her first ministry took her from the farm life to the big city, at St. Margaret Mary School in Louisville, where she taught sixth grade from 1965-68.

“I loved the big city. It was a chance to go to the movies, to experience a bigger world,” Sister Nancy said. “I didn’t drive. Our community was the first to get a station wagon.”

Her next ministry was teaching sixth grade at St. Edward School in the Louisville suburb of Jeffersontown from 1968-72. “I loved the kids there,” she said. When she went to St. Edward in the summer of 2009 for the church’s 125th anniversary, she talked with one student she’s kept in touch with and met two others she taught.

She next went to St. Catherine School in New Haven, Ky., for a year in 1972, which she described as a culture shock. “The kids didn’t have the discipline to study like those in Louisville,” she said.

Sister Nancy stands outside the former Motherhouse building in Belleville. The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Calvary came from Germany to North Dakota in 1910, then moved the motherhouse to Belleville in 1945. It was not until an official separation from the German sisters in 1983 that the community became known as the Ursuline Sisters of Belleville.

After a semester there, Sister Annalita Lancaster, then major superior, asked her to go to Calvary, Ky., a rural public school, to be head teacher in January. “I told her I’d never been an administrator,” Sister Nancy said. “She told me I was the first person they thought of for this position.”

Plans changed and she finished the year in New Haven, but started at Calvary the next school year, where she stayed for five years, long enough to get tenure. “They were good years,” she said, thanks to the faith community with whom she lived. They included Sisters Mary Celine Weidenbenner and Sara Marie Gomez, and former Sisters Dorothy Denniston and Ann Kathleen Thompson. “There was a lot of focus on prayer,” she said.

Sister Nancy attended Western Kentucky University to work on certification to become a principal, then put that to work in 1978 at St. Thomas More School in Paducah, Ky. “I lived with Sister Margaret Marie Greenwell, who was my lifeline, such a support,” Sister Nancy said.