Sister Rose Karen Johnson, 83, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, died Jan.15, 2024, at Mount Saint Joseph, in her 66th year of religious life. She was a native of St. Lawrence, Ky.
Ever joyful, Sister Rose Karen was an educator for 29 years, then served in parish ministry. From 1995-2015, she was pastoral associate at St. Joseph Parish in Central City, Ky., where her desire to share her faith and spread hospitality resulted in 24 people becoming Ursuline Associates.
She was a teacher in Kentucky at St. Bartholomew School, Buechel (1960-66), St. Joseph School, Leitchfield (1966-69) and St. Brigid School, Vine Grove (1986-89). She was teacher and later principal at Mary Carrico School, Knottsville (1969-70, 1971-81) and principal at St. Peter of Alcantara School, Stanley (1981-82), Precious Blood School, Owensboro (1982-83) and St. Mary Magdalene School, Sorgho (1983-85). She was also a teacher at Sacred Heart School, Poplar Bluff, Mo. (1985-86).
She was a parish minister at St. Michael Parish, Georgetown, Ind. (1989-91) and assistant local superior at Maple Mount (1992-95) before moving to Central City.
Survivors include the members of her religious community; two sisters, Alma Victoria Higdon, Clarkson, Ky., and Mary Eveyleen Melton, Cedar Hill, Tenn.; nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Damien and Catherine Johnson; and her siblings Gerald Johnson, Frank Johnson, Ursuline Sister Rose Theresa Johnson, Ursuline Sister David Marie Johnson, Stella Howe, Sister of Charity Marie Johnson, Sister of Charity Catherine Johnson, Mary Elizabeth Johnson, Theresa Johnson and Mary Howell.
The funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, at Mount Saint Joseph, where visitation will begin Wednesday at 4 p.m., with a wake service following at 6:30 p.m.
Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, Owensboro, is in charge of arrangements.
Donations in memory of Sister Rose Karen may be made to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.
Wake reflection for Sister Rose Karen Johnson
By Sister Sharon Sullivan, congregational leader
Jan. 24, 2024
At Mass on Monday morning, January 15, 2024, we heard from the First Book of Samuel (16:7) that, “Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” That day the Lord, whom she had loved all her life, looked into the heart of Sister Rose Karen Johnson, and saw there her ever joyful acceptance of God’s call – and so He called her home that night.
The thirteenth child of Damien and Catherine Johnson, Sister Rose Karen came into this world as Mary Ellenee Johnson, nearing midnight on a blustery Thursday, December 5, 1940. Ellenee was the capstone, perhaps the icing on the cake, for this family of fifteen – Mom and Dad – two sons – Gerald and Frank – and eleven daughters – five of whom gave their lives as vowed religious to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky. These were Ursulines: Sister David Marie, Sister Rose Theresa, and Sister Rose Karen; and Charities: Sister Marie and Sister Catherine. Six more daughters were Victoria, Mary Evelyn (or Evelyne), Stella, Mary Elizabeth, Theresa, and Maxie.
And to Sister Rose Karen’s sisters and nieces and nephews, we Ursuline Sisters extend our prayers, our condolences, and our love as you celebrate Sister Rose Karen’s life.
Fewer than ten days after Ellenee joined her family in this world, the family together celebrated the beginning of her life-long journey of faith with her baptism on Saturday, December 14, at Saint Lawrence Church in Knottsville, Kentucky. Seven years later, on a May 22nd Thursday in 1947, Mary Ellenee expanded her journey, embracing the Holy Spirit with her Confirmation Class at Saint Lawrence Church in rural Daviess County.
For Ellenee, growing up in a Catholic family meant attending Sunday and, when possible, daily Mass; participating in missions and benedictions; and sharing the Rosary with the family each night. She reported that “we kids would get up early, walk a mile to receive Communion with the Sisters then come home for breakfast and to get [our] lunch pails and then just walk right back to school.” School was at Saint Lawrence, and it was there that she came to know the Ursuline Sisters.
Life was not just church and school; the Johnsons were farmers and farm chores were a part of everyone’s day. They raised watermelons and other fruits and vegetables (along with cows and sorghum); it was said that Mary Ellenee once ate so many watermelons as she helped, that she “cut way into the profit from the watermelon patch.” Being the youngest must have had its benefits.
After completing elementary school at Saint Lawrence, Ellenee began her secondary studies at Saint Williams in Knottsville in 1954, where she continued for two-and-a-half years. It was at the end of 1956 when Mary Ellenee realized that her life now must go into a new direction.
It was near or just after her sixteenth birthday that Sister Rose Karen reported she “was coming home one Sunday after Mass, riding in the back of the truck, and the thought just came to me to become an Ursuline Sister. Our house had burned and we were getting ready to move into the new house. I told my mom about my decision. She said, ‘Why?! Don’t you want to live in the new house with us?’ and I said, ‘No, Mom.’ And they let me come.”
Ellenee enrolled at Mount Saint Joseph Academy in January 1957, and on February 1st, one year later in 1958, became a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, writing on her application, “I want to help others to know and love God.”
Still seventeen, Mary Ellenee entered the Novitiate that year on Thursday, August 14th, becoming Sister Rose Karen and joining her classmates Sisters Vivian Bowles, Ann Patrice Cecil, Regina Marie Foushee, and Stephen Marie Hayden. And to her remaining classmates, Sister Vivian and Sister Ann Patrice, we offer our love and our prayers.
Sister Rose Karen graduated from the Academy in May of 1960 and began her teaching career just three months later in the first grade at Saint Bartholomew School in Buechel, Kentucky. She would later say, “I am an excellent first grade teacher (and) enjoy being a principal and do a pretty good job.” She spent six years at Buechel, three at Saint Joseph in Leitchfield, and then twelve more back home in Knottsville at Mary Carrico School.
During these years she also earned her baccalaureate degree from Brescia College and her Master’s degree from Western Kentucky University; then she was awarded the honorary rank of “Kentucky Colonel” before she left Mary Carrico School. For the next nine years she shared her knowledge and her more-than-twenty-years of experience with several other schools in Kentucky and Missouri – Saint Peter in Stanley, Precious Blood in Owensboro, Saint Mary Magdelene in Sorgho, Sacred Heart in Poplar Bluff, and Saint Brigid in Vine Grove.
In 1989, after nearly twenty-nine years in the schools as teacher and principal, Sister Rose Karen wrote, “My experiences in the schools have been greatly rewarding. Now I would like the challenge of working with adults as well as children in a parish ministry. . . . I am an outgoing person who loves and works well with people.”
She began her parish ministries in Georgetown, Indiana; served three years at the motherhouse as Assistant Local Superior; and then – in 1995 – initiated her two decades of ministry among the residents of Muhlenberg County in Kentucky.
Reflecting on her days in Muhlenberg County, Sister Rose Karen shared that when she first moved to Muhlenberg County, “she was introduced to the highly protestant area by two young boys appearing on her doorstep who then told her, ‘I guess you know you’re not wanted here.’ Her response was to wave to everyone she met and to smile. ‘Now, they wave to me,’ she said.”
Sister Rose Karen was later joined by her sister, Sister Rose Theresa, who shared her Muhlenberg County ministry for several years, living together in a house owned by the parish. Sisters Rose Karen and Rose Theresa understood that they could not “step out of the house without witnessing. It’s not us, it is God working through us,” they said. The people of Muhlenberg County would say “many folk around here have changed their attitudes toward Catholics simply because of the very fact of who they are. They [the Sisters] make you feel loved, because you know they are going to be praying for you.”
At Saint Joseph Parish, Wednesday morning Mass was shared in the parish house where Sister Rose Karen and Sister Rose Theresa lived; after Mass, Sister Rose Karen would “scurry to the kitchen to make biscuits [and gravy] and coffee” as part of the potluck brunch held for all those attending the Wednesday morning Mass. They say that she became known as “Our Lady of the Gravy.”
Within those twenty years in Greenville and Muhlenberg County, Sister Rose Karen invited and assisted more than twenty persons in becoming Associates of Mount Saint Joseph. Her time among the people there reflected what she once said of herself: “My gift is praying – is sharing the Lord and trying to see Christ in those I meet. I love to help people.” Of Muhlenberg County, she would write: “You wouldn’t find a more beautiful community to work, pray, and play in than Saint Joseph and Muhlenberg County.”
Sister Rose Karen served in many different roles at Saint Joseph and in Muhlenberg County – doing parish ministry, attending revivals and Thanksgiving services, leading prayers at community Sunrise Services on Easter mornings, giving talks at Ecumenical Services, and her healing touch ministry. Perhaps this would be the perfect place to also mention that she and Sister Rose Theresa, for six years from 1998 to 2004, took part in a Christmas “clown ministry” with children in Louisville. . . bringing joy to many.
But health issues in 2015 led Sister Rose Karen to leave her ministry in Muhlenberg County and to return to Mount Saint Joseph and her final years in Saint Joseph Villa. She brought with her a joyful heart, her winning smile, and the gift of seeing Christ in everyone she met. She helped as a substitute information receptionist, crocheted filter-socks for Water with Blessings, and shared her smile and prayers with all. And to all those in Saint Joseph Villa who worked with and supported Sister Rose Karen, we give our thanks and offer our prayers and our love.
In her last years, one prayer that she noted time and again singing in her heart and written on many scraps of paper reflects her giving and generous spirit. She wrote – “Thank you Jesus for trusting me enough to share your passion.”
And it was perhaps through this grace that she regarded as a cherished privilege, that Sister Rose Karen was able to step with undivided joy into the loving arms of her Lord.
Sister Rose Karen, we will miss having your joy among us here, yet we rejoice with those who can now rejoice with you.
Blessings for you, Sister Rose Karen.