In Remembrance of Sister Philomena Cox, OSU
March 13, 2017
Sister Amelia Stenger, OSU
On the evening of March 9, on her 91st birthday, Sister Philomena joined our Ursuline Sisters and Saints in Heaven. She is now reunited with her family and all those who served with her at Brescia and lived with her on her missions. We will miss her strength and love of life.
Philomena Ward Cox was born in Owensboro, KY on March 9, 1926 to Thomas Sylvester Cox, Sr. and Margaret Catherine Ebelhar Cox. She was baptized on March 14, 1926 by Rev. Richard Maloney and was confirmed on April 26, 1936 by Most Reverend John A. Floersh.
She was the third child in the Cox family with older brother Thomas Sylvester Cox, Jr. and older sister Mary Gertrude Cox Taylor. To her brother-in-law, Louis Taylor who was unable to come and to you, her niece Mary Lou Nolan and friends who are here with us, we offer our sympathy and prayers.
She attended St. Joseph School in Owensboro for both elementary and high school. Ursuline Sisters taught in that school all twelve years. She listed some of her grade school teachers as Sisters Angelica, Jean Bernadine, Mary Vivian Richie, Joseph Mark, Thomas Marie and Rudolph. Some of her high school teachers were Sisters Lennora, Joan Marie, Casimar, Raphael, Francesca, Marietta, (not our Marietta Wethington), Romuald, Helene, Robert Irene and James. All were powerhouses of education.
After graduating from high school in 1944, she entered Mount Saint Joseph novitiate on the evening of September 7, 1944. She received the habit of the Ursuline community on August 14, 1946 and kept her baptismal name of Philomena. After two years of training in the Novitiate, she made her first profession on August 15, 1947 and final vows on August 15, 1950. Her classmates were Sisters Mary Laura Henning, Mary Mercedes Knott, Theresa Ann Legeay, Ann Marie Millay, Joseph Cecelia Mueller, Marie Kathleen Saffer, and Marie Brenda Vowels. Today, we share our thoughts and prayers with her classmates Sister Marie Brenda and Sister Marcella. We pray with you and offer our sympathy.
Like many of our Sisters, she started teaching before she had her degrees. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in History in 1965 at Brescia College, (now University) and received her Master’s Degree in History from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1970.
During the years she was going to school, she taught at St. Catherine School in New Haven KY, Clementsville Public School and St. Charles Public School in Marian County. She then moved to St. Alphonsus School at the bottom of the hill for three years before going back to New Haven to teach at St. Catherine again. Other teaching assignments included St. Pius X in Owensboro, St. Mary Magdalene in Sorgho and St. Columba in Louisville. One time in a conversation, she was talking about her years in St. Columba in Louisville. She said there were lots of burglaries there so she slept with her gun under her pillow. She was a strong woman and there is no doubt she would have taken care of business if it had come to that.
In 1976, she began a fifteen-year mission at Brescia in Owensboro. She became the Director of Building Services. When she cleaned a building, it was clean. She did not just direct the workers while they were cleaning, she was right in there with them mopping and waxing. Every room and window sparkled when she was finished.
When she completed her work at Brescia she came to the Mount and worked in the Business Office. She served there from 1991 to 2000. From 2000 to 2008, she was the local treasurer for the Sisters here at the Mount. She retired in 2008.
These are the facts about Sister Philomena but there is so much more that was found in her files when we looked through them. There was information about her Aunt Elizabeth Ebelhar, who served in the army in World War II and marched with the troops down the Champs-Elysees in Paris at the end of the war. She was proud of her Aunt and kept a number of articles about her.
We found a wonderful story by her precious dog Soupy called “Hound’s Feet on High Places—The Autobiography of a College Convent Canine.” It was the story of Soupy, her dog, who lived with the Sisters at Brescia for many years. We think Sister Ruth may have helped Soupy write his story.
One paragraph tells us about several of his Sisters. It says, “When allowed inside, I delighted in leaping onto Mama Phil’s high bed—a feat I could accomplish from a dead stop. Another short leap took me from the bed to the windowsill, where I could lie sunning for hours. In the music room my dear Auntie Marguerite would welcome me onto the piano stool with her and while music has always been a bit bothersome to me, being close to her made it more than bearable. Once Mama Julie found me on top of her up-right piano, enjoying the view out the window. She asked how I did it, but I’ll never tell.” To you, Sister Marie Julie, we offer our love and sympathy at the loss of your sister and friend.
There were several letters in her file that tell so much about Sister Philomena. One that was so impressive was from Minda Ward. Sr. Philomena received it in January of 1993. It says, “Dear Sister Philomena, Most people who have lived long enough to experience real reflection, realize that there have been at least a couple of people along the way who have significantly altered or guided their lives in a very positive way. It is also probably true that those very influential people never know about the great impression they have made, unless someone happens to make an important acceptance speech for a great award.”
“I have not had many people beyond my parents who have made enduring impressions on my psyche. But I was lucky enough to have you in my life for a short, but very important time. I have thought of you so very many times since seventh grade. Since its pretty unlikely I’ll be making any acceptance speeches, I wanted to thank you in this humble way.”
“I remember few things so clearly from my sixteen years of academic training as my seventh grade and you. Of course, it was not subject matter that made such an impression, it was that special connection that you made with your students—with me. I wanted to avoid the word ‘inspire’ but my thesaurus doesn’t offer an adequate substitute. Somewhere in the 7th grade I decided I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to teach like you did. I remember it was the first time I observed my male classmates really liking a teacher. I watched you teach them how to swing a bat. I was so athletically inept, I was really impressed. But even more impressive was the message I received that being a girl didn’t mean having to be a wimp. In so many ways you demonstrated such a ‘take charge’ style with all the self- confidence I could ever hope for. But you seemed equally at ease in joking around with us and having fun. It’s the kind of stuff I try to teach in management leadership and supervisory training. You, like many other great role models, were a woman ahead of the times. ….”
“Perhaps the most important message I received from you at that time and what made that year such a joy was that it was okay to be smart. You encouraged me. I didn’t have to feel embarrassed anymore about my need to achieve or worry about being different. Before, there seemed to be the sense of guilt somehow associated with not making the slower students look slow. …. I’m pretty certain that your class was more interactive and more creative than any previous class. I never remember being reprimanded. Maybe I was kept busy doing something more interesting. …Both then and now, it is my regret that I had you for a teacher for only one year. I’m sure many others also feel that same way. …Thank you for everything.”
A few more paragraphs from another letter from Yvonne Thompson tell us more about Sr. Philomena. She received this one in 2003. “Dear Sister Philomena, I sat under you my 6, 7, and 8th grades at St. Mary Magdalene in Sorgho. I’m writing this letter to thank you for your influence in my life while in grade school. You were one of my hardest teachers and expected much from me and I know you saw the potential in me. Because of your firm, but loving way, to this day, 36 years later, I still remember being in your classroom and hearing your voice and hearing your laugh. I now see that you truly enjoyed what you did. You certainly had a huge responsibility, not only as principal, but for educating us and imparting the love of God into each of us. (And I have to also say, I can still diagram a sentence.) I always loved it when you played softball with us at recess or lunch. It showed us you were a real person. … Learning was fun when you taught. You were very often spontaneous and creative in your approach. Thank you again for laying a solid foundation in me.” At the time Yvonne wrote this, she was a dentist in Lexington.
These two examples tell us so much about Sr. Philomena. Her zest for life, her down to earth way of dealing with things, her ability to fix things in her workshop, her love of animals, her dedication to the work no matter what it was. Her dedication to education and living out our mission of Christian formation. These are the things we will remember about Sister Philomena.
She died on her birthday. What a significant date for her. She came into this world on March 9 and she returned to God on March 9. We would like to thank the staff of the Villa and the Sisters who sat with her during these last few weeks. Your dedication is a blessing to the community.
Finally, in Soupy’s autobiography, the last paragraph says, “While I realize that it’s my birthday that’s being celebrated this week, I want to say at this tentative ending point that I want to celebrate my very happy home and to dedicate this little autobiography to my almost thirty mistresses, and especially…to my always devoted Mama Phil and Mama Julie. I wish us many more happy years together.
I imagine Soupy and Mama Phil are celebrating and will be celebrating for ages to come. God has blessed you, Sister Philomena and has blessed our community with your presence. Pray for us.