Wake Reflection for Sister Mary Renée Monaghan, OSU
May 18, 1929 – August 30, 2013
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. . . . At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ . . . the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.”
Matthew 25:1, 6, 10
Hear these words, taken from the Gospel reading for Friday, August 30, 2013: “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. . . . At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ . . . the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.”
Of course, these verses are part of the parable comparing the wise and the foolish virgins, but they can also help us frame our memories that later in that same day, one of our wise virgins – Sister Mary Renée Monaghan – heard that call to come and meet the bridegroom, and she knew she was prepared to rise up and follow. . . and so she did. And thus she became again, the fifth of the Monaghan children to join the family, this time in their heavenly home.
For eighty-four years ago, on a Kentucky spring Saturday, on May 18, 1929, Patricia Jean Monaghan became the fifth child born to John William and Mary Louise Monaghan. There in Central City, Kentucky, Pat – or Patty Jean – joined one brother and three sisters in the growing Monaghan family. One month later, as summer warmed Muhlenburg County, Patty Jean was baptized at Saint Joseph Church on Sunday, June 16.
As the years followed, the Monaghan family grew to include seven daughters and three sons. And we remember those Monaghans: John Edward, Anna Margaret (Ann), Rose Mary, Kathleen, Patricia Jean (our Sister Mary Renée), Agnes Lee, Barbara Nell (our Sister Michael Ann), Donald, Anthony, and Veronica June (Sister June of the Charity’s). And to you, Sister Renee’s siblings and nieces and nephews and other family members, we – her Ursuline family of Mount Saint Joseph – extend to you our love, our sympathy, out thanks for sharing her with us, and our prayers.
And so the family grew in love and fun and faith. Much later, Sister Renée would say, “There was never a dull moment growing up in such a large and loving family. [We] made our own entertainment. There was always someone to play with. The only disadvantage was wearing hand-me-downs.” She would also say of her family, “My father is one of the greatest people I know.” And “the most significant influence in my life was during my early years.” But Patty Jean was also coming to know and love another family in faith.
And, sure enough, probably on Tuesday, September 3, 1935, Patty Jean met her second family in faith and began her relationship with the Ursuline Sisters on her first day of school at Saint Joseph Elementary School. Her faith life continued to mature as Pat was confirmed in her Catholic faith on Sunday, April 16, in 1939. Throughout her eight years of education at Saint Joseph, she continued to experience what she saw as the love, joy, and acceptance of the Ursuline Sisters who were her teachers.
Pat was so impressed with her Ursuline teachers that she began to petition her dad (or, perhaps as a teen-aged daughter, to beg a little) to attend high school at the Mount Saint Joseph Academy. But these were still the war years, and it just did not seem possible. So Pat attended Central City High School, where she enjoyed English and History and “barely survived” Algebra and Latin; but she still remembered each of her teachers twenty-five years later. And then, another life-changing moment came to which Pat responded with a ready “yes;” two weeks before the beginning of her senior year, Pat got permission to attend Mount Saint Joseph Academy, and so, off she went.
Before Thanksgiving of that same fall semester, Patty Jean had submitted her application to become a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Her Saint Joseph parish priest, Father Boarman, recommended Pat with these – and other – words: “[Hers] is everything that could be desired for a budding vocation. [She is] from a staunch Irish Catholic family. . . . and I am [sure this] is not a passing fancy. . . .” So, Pat was accepted and on a cold Monday, February 2, 1948, this high school senior became a postulant of the Ursuline Sisters.
Just six months later, on Saturday, August 14, 1948, Pat became Sister Mary Renée and joined with thirteen other high-energy and quite gifted young women: Sisters Luisa Bickett, Mary Clarita Browning, Coletta Drury, Jane Irvin Hancock, Mary Afra Henning, Mary Sheila Higdon, Eileen Howard, Ann Miriam Johnson, Rose Theresa Johnson, Jamesetta Knott, Mary Louise Knott, Mariam Therese Lanham, Mary Renée, and John Mary O’Reilley. My goodness what a powerful group of wise virgins! And so, to Sisters Luisa, Clarita, Jane Irvin, Mary Sheila, Eileen, and Mary Louise, we offer our love, our condolences, and our prayers.
Now Sister Mary Renée had expanded her family from nine siblings, to include an additional thirteen sisters (her classmates) and a whole community besides. And two years later, as she professed her first vows on Tuesday, August 15, 1950, Sister Renée formalized her response to God’s call through the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. She would later reflect that, “I attribute my vocation first to God, then to my loving parents and family. Without the wonderful spirit of prayer and love in my family and among the Ursuline Sisters I knew, my God-given vocation would have never been answered.”
And now began the years of active ministry, supported by both her families. Before she had an opportunity to make her final vows on Saturday, August 15, in 1953, Sister Renée would have taught for three years at Saint Catherine School in New Haven and at Saint Sebastian in Calhoun. In a response to a rather oddly-phrased question, one of her supervisors would identify a pair of traits that would later characterize Sister Renée’s ministry to so many people.
- The question: “What is her attitude toward dull pupils?”
- The answer: “Always patient and considerate.”
Over the next twenty-five years, Sister Renée – with patience and consideration – would complete her formal education over her summer “vacations,” earning a degree in history from Brescia College (in 1967), and – in 1973 – a Master of Arts in Elementary Education from Western Kentucky University, with a School Administration Certificate in 1978. During the rest of her first fifteen years as a teacher, Sister Renée taught in three more schools, Saint Peter of Antioch, in Waverly; Our Lady of Mercy, in Hodgenville; and Immaculate Conception, in Hawesville.
Now would come some years between Missouri and Kentucky as Sister Renée would spend the next quarter century ministering as a principal. She guided faculty in five different schools during those years: Saint Teresa School, Glennonville, MO; Saint Joseph, Mayfield, KY; Saint Ignatius, Louisville, KY; Saint Pius Tenth, Owensboro, KY; and Sacred Heart School, Poplar Bluff, MO. Perhaps a sentiment expressed in the note Sister Renée received from the Superintendent as she was preparing to leave both Poplar Bluff and her school-based ministries sums up her forty years with schools, faculty, and students: “The school will certainly seem different on my next school visit, as I have come to assume that your cheerful personality had become almost as permanent as the electric fixtures!”
As Sister Renée reflected on her next steps and the shape of the call she was hearing, she shared two truths about herself: “I like working with people.” And “Every new encounter seems to open a new world for me.” My, what a lovely world view. And, for the next seventeen years – in addition to a brief stint as Activities Director for the Retired Sisters at the Motherhouse, Sister Renée would serve in Parish ministries at Saint Peter of Antioch Parish, Waverly; at Holy Angels Parish, in New Harmony, IN; and at Saint Francis deSales Parish, in Lebanon, MO. The people with whom she worked, studied, played, and prayed noticed Sister Renée’s patented considerately patient and open approach to all she did.
Sister Renée was variously described in notes and articles:
- The folk in New Harmony, IN, claimed, “Sister Renée believes in an open-door policy. . . right inside the open front door. She likes it that way, being available, connected, out in the flow of things. . . where she won’t miss out on anything.”
- Again from Indiana, after mentioning her parish work, her volunteering in the food pantry, her teaching at the Homework Center, and her additional ministry at the Ozanam Shelter in Evansville, parishioners noted “the most satisfying and appreciated aspect of her work has been ministering to the elderly.”
During all her years of ministry, Sister Renée continued to enjoy being with people, traveling and visiting with her family and her sisters, enjoying the natural world – but without mosquitos – and playing cards – Clabber, Cinch, Rook, Canasta, and almost anything. She once claimed, “I love to play and I like to win, but,” she said, “it doesn’t bother me if I lose.” While in her last ministry away from the Motherhouse, Sister Renée reported, “My ministry is very fulfilling and I enjoy every minute of it. . . . I feel that my life is what I make it and it doesn’t matter the circumstances; it is my attitude.” And, when asked, “Would you do anything differently if you could turn back the clock?”, she responded clearly, “Nothing, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
And so it was that, in 2005-2006, fifty-five years after beginning her ministries, Sister Renée was able to return for a year to a variety of ministries with and for her family. And how fitting, for she had once claimed that, “one of the most difficult times of [my] life was leaving [my] family to become a religious.” Now, as her ministry years were coming to completion, Sister Renée was able to give some time back to her first family. And a casual look at Sister Renée’s archival folder would certainly support the blessing of that time; for her folder is filled much more with information about her family’s accomplishments and events than about her own.
And now, it is 2006 and Sister Renée has returned to the Motherhouse to work a few years in the Archives and begin her retirement in the Villa. While at the Villa, Sister Renée maintained that same open-door approach, seeking to be available for and aware of all that transpired in the Villa, at the Motherhouse, within community, and among her family. And she waited for her final call with that same considerate patience. To all the Pastoral and Health Care staff, on behalf of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, I extend to you our thanks for your loving care of Sister Renée and our prayers and condolences for your loss.
And now we are back to the wise virgins who responded to the bridegroom’s call. You know, I do believe that Sister Renée certainly had her flask of extra oil and was ready to respond, but I also believe that she would have figured some way to reach out to those unwise virgins and to bring them right along with her. So we extend our thanks that we had those opportunities to share in Sister Renée’s enjoyment of life and considerate patience; and we rejoice with Sister Renée and each other that her bridegroom called and she was ready and able to respond.
Sister Sharon Sullivan
Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph