Sister Rosemary Keough, OSU: Sister Rosemary keeps her mission rolling

Sister Rosemary in front of the altar at St. Michael Catholic Church in Sebree, where she plays music each Sunday during the Hispanic Mass. Ursuline Sister Larraine Lauter made the tapestries in the background.

Update: Sister Rosemary completed her ministry with Centro Latino in October 2018. She is an information receptionist at the Motherhouse.

Sister Rosemary Keough’s office has a license plate in the back that spells her name in Spanish, “Hermana Rosa Maria.” That’s because her “office” is a gray Toyota Corolla that the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph provided her in November 2007. By mid-June 2008, she had driven 37,000 miles. Her previous car, a Geo Prism, had over 230,000 miles on it.

Sister Rosemary is one of two Ursuline Sisters ministering in the Owensboro, Ky., area with Centro Latino, along with its dynamo founder, Sister Fran Wilhelm. In the early 1990s, when Sister Rosemary was at Brescia University in Owensboro and Sister Fran was preparing to complete her term on the Leadership Council, both were discerning what to do next. “We were both thinking about prison ministry,” Sister Rosemary said. Sister Fran instead began helping a Guatemalan family, and realized how many Hispanics were coming into the community to work. That led to the creation of Centro Latino in May 1993.

Sister Rosemary joined Centro Latino Jan. 1, 2000. At 2:30 a.m. that day, the state police called to tell the sisters to come get some of the migrant workers who’d been drinking. “We haven’t stopped running since,” she said.

Sister Rosemary’s ministries have encompassed nearly every type the Ursuline Sisters are involved in, and she says she’s enjoyed them all. But she considers her work with Centro Latino her favorite.

“Sister Fran and I plan our goal each year and it’s always the same one: ‘To empower the people.’ We want them to become independent,” Sister Rosemary said. “Hopefully, their kiddos are learning English.”

Sister Fran said Sister Rosemary has an amazing dedication to the people served at Centro Latino. “Her knees hurt her so badly, but she keeps going. She’s so kind and so thoughtful,” Sister Fran said. She also brings a sense of humor that’s appreciated by the staff.

“She can be really funny,” Sister Fran said.

In the late 1990s, while serving as the activity director for the retired sisters at the Mount, Sister Rosemary said she knew there was a need for a Hispanic mission all over the country. She and Sister Jacinta Powers had worked briefly together in Chile years earlier, and Sister Jacinta was now on the Leadership Council. She asked Sister Rosemary what she wanted to do next.

“I said I’d like to go to the Mexican American Cultural Center (in San Antonio) to learn Spanish, and work with Hispanics,” Sister Rosemary said.

When she returned from Texas, she wasn’t sure where she would work. “Fran jumps on things like a bird on a June bug,” Sister Rosemary said. “I called Fran and asked if she needed help. Before I had time to think, she’d cleared it with the council.”

Sister Fran said she was very grateful for Sister Rosemary’s help. “Her Spanish was very slow, but she’s speeded up an awful lot since then,” Sister Fran said.

Sister Rosemary said she considers herself blessed to live with Sister Fran, but knows she can’t work at her pace. “We’ve watched maybe five movies in 10 years without interruption,” she said. “Someone is always calling.”

Sister Fran, Centro Latino co-worker Connie Caceres, and Sister Rosemary play music each Sunday for the Hispanic Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in Sebree, Ky., a tiny Webster County town with a large Hispanic population drawn by the jobs at the Tyson chicken processing plant. That’s how Sister Rosemary became the one to make the daily drive to Sebree and surrounding small towns to transport and translate for Hispanic women going to doctor’s appointments or in need of government assistance.

Maria sits on an examining table at the Henderson County Health Department as nurse Teresa Conrad asks her questions and Sister Rosemary translates.

A typical day

On June 10, Sister Rosemary left Centro Latino at 10:30 a.m. on her way to Henderson, Ky., to pick up Maria, 23, who is pregnant and has an appointment at the Henderson County Health Department for a checkup. She speaks little English, but she and Sister Rosemary converse in Spanish on the way.

The drive is about 30 minutes each way. Sister Rosemary considered living in Henderson or Sebree to cut down the time and costs of driving, “but the importance of community outweighs that,” she said. “At least Fran and I get to pray together at night.”

She usually comes in contact with new clients by word of mouth with women she’s already serving. Maria says her sister-in-law told her about Centro Latino. Sister Rosemary usually works with someone in the morning and another in the afternoon. She once translated for pregnant women while they were giving birth, but that became too much.

Her next stop is to pick up Brisia, who a few years earlier traveled across the desert pregnant to come to America. She now has two lively boys, Kevin, 5, and Rody Isaac, 2. They go to the Continuity Care Clinic at Henderson Methodist Hospital, where Sister Rosemary has her hands full with the boys in the waiting room.

Her next stop is in Sebree, where she goes to see a family with five children to deliver some canned goods. Generous people taking part in the Postal Workers annual food drive in May, in which Centro Latino is a recipient, supplied the food. Sister Rosemary drives up to a mobile home with a view of the railroad tracks in Sebree, and hands the bag of food to Aurelia, the mother in the family.