Wake Reflection for Sister Walter Louise Lush, OSU
In a speech she gave at a Cursillo Ultreya in November 1984, Sister Walter Louise said that she was surprised to realize that everything which she considered significant in her life—things for which she was most thankful to God—came about very much contrary to her will. She may have surprised herself (she certainly surprised us) when she did not wait for her celebration of Christmas here at Mount Saint Joseph, but slipped into eternity very early in the morning of December 23.
More than one sister noted in the Office of the Dead and the Mass that morning how many references there were to light, or to seeing. From scripture: “You set captives free and give sight to the blind…” and “We walk by faith, and not by sight…” From Saint Angela: “Believe firmly that at the hour of death especially, you will recognize me to be your faithful friend…” and “God’s light will surround us at the moment of death.” (Last Legacy) I know S. Walter Louise’s eyes twinkled as she looked for the first time on the heavenly mansions, all lighted up for Christmas.
Lura Mae Lush was born on December 7, 1914 in Wax (Grayson County) Kentucky, the seventh child of twelve born to Leo Lush and Ida Johnston, of English and Scottish ancestry, from Dog Creek (Hart County) Kentucky. Her brothers included Joseph Arnold, Clevie Isadore, John Edwin, and Joyce; her sisters were Daisy, Evangeline, Generose, Carrie, Mary Richard, Audrey, and Mildred. She loved her family so much, and would want me to extend special love and sympathy to all of you, from our whole community.
Of all her gifts from God, the one she cherished most was her family life and the influence it had on her. She had a happy and carefree childhood, commenting that they were “poor in material possessions but rich in love, caring, and sharing.” Her earliest memory of her mother and father was when she as a four-year-old watched them cooking and delivering food to victims of the influenza pandemic. She noted that “ideals are not taught but caught.” Her fondest memory was of the family at their evening prayers, when one of the younger ones would usually “ride horsey” on their father’s back as he prayed.
Lura attended all eight grades at the one-room Blue Springs Public School in Iberia, Kentucky. She never saw or heard of a sister until two Ursulines came to teach religion classes (“Baltimore Catechism questions galore were memorized”) and she was very impressed. Not that she was interested. She had been dating the same boy for five years, and fully intended to marry him. But then, she said, a tug-of-war began between her and God…and she trusted to the spirit in her own heart and let God catch her instead! This surprised both Lura and her family, for she admitted that she did not enjoy going to Mass (which was all in Latin) but would entertain herself with thinking about what she was wearing, even if it was hand-me-downs. For her, pretty clothing was a big priority, causing her mother to remark that she would never go to the Mount and put that black veil on; to which Lura replied, “Oh yes I will, too!”
She came to the Mount as a postulant on Sept. 8, 1935, where she and her classmates (S. Ancilla Marie, Mary Edgar, Mary Bernice, Janette Bowling, Cordelia, and Joseph Marian) were in Sister Martina’s first formation class. On the day they became novices, many of the guests were late because of the large crowds gathered in Owensboro for the execution of Rainey Bethea, a young black man hung in the last public lynching in America. At age 81, S. Walter Louise wrote about how the horror of that day had affected her.
S. Walter Louise said that she took all her high school courses privately at Mount Saint Joseph and St. Bernard’s Academy in Nebraska City. She later completed a B.S. degree in History at Brescia College, an M.A. in Elementary Education at Eastern Kentucky University, and did some post-graduate work at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
While she was completing her high school diploma, she worked in the kitchen at the Mount, then as a housekeeper at Saint Columba’s in Louisville and at Saint Bernard’s Academy in Nebraska City. Her teaching career of 32 years included all eight grades, plus a few years as principal. The schools she served were in Brown’s Valley, St. Lawrence, Cloverport, Central City, Clementsville, Nebraska City, Sorgho, and Hardinsburg. She said every assignment left her with happy memories—one of which was having 55 students in grades 1-4 in one room. But since three of her students turned out to be Ursulines (S. Marie Joseph, Joseph Claire and Rose Karen) she figured she did not do such a bad job.
In 1982 she came to the Mount to serve four years as “program planner” and activities director for the retired sisters. At age 72 she moved into parish ministry in Hardinsburg, where in just five years she endeared herself to that parish community. She used to comment that she was not a good conversationalist, and said that was a heavy cross for her. But perhaps it was that which made her such a good listener, who could understand the silent language of eyes and smiles of the nursing home residents. They would kiss her hand and—as she said—they were drawn together “like magic.” When she left, someone wrote of her that she “spread so much cheer, love, and compassion… probably most of all she let so many people know that someone cared.”
What a perfect person to be chosen to begin a ministry of Catholic presence to the people of Caneyville! As S. Walter Louise would tell people, “I’m not retired, I’m rehired.” So the Bishop gave this 77-year old adventurer $700 a month, with which she moved into an apartment over the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting hall (living by herself for the first time in her life) and began what she said was the most enjoyable and life-giving ministry of her life. Caneyville had only three or four Catholic families, so she ministered to everyone in town.
It did not take her too long to find a disabled man living alone in dire poverty, whose bed was a couch seat on concrete blocks. Aware of her tight living allowance, she bought him a bed for $50, saying out loud to herself as she did so that “If I buy this I will get it back some way.” Three hours later a stranger asked her if she needed anything; she told him the story of the bed, and soon got back $200! Not all her adventures turned out so well—she was attacked by a large dog and spent 12 days in a hospital, and a few months later was involved in a car accident. She kept meticulous records of all her activities there; if anyone ever needs to know what “being a Catholic presence” entails, they need only to check her archives folder. When she left Caneyville, two of her Baptist friends there sobbed aloud.
In 1995, “not retired, but rehired,” she came to live in Paul Volk Hall and helped with the personal and pastoral care of her fellow residents. Her adventures were not over even then: on a trip to Opryland she went on both of the water log slide rides. S. Walter Louise continued to be interested in everything: family history, Ursuline history and the writings of Angela Merici. Retirement brought time to read and write and do needlecraft, but it also brought deteriorating sight and hearing. But she appreciated Randy Shelby, the healthcare staff, and all her sisters did for her—most recently the birthday cards and letters that the aides and the sisters in pastoral ministry so kindly read for her. I know she joins me in saying thank you to each of you, and offering you the community’s sympathy.
She liked a quote from a biography of Mere Marie, where author Agnes Repplier commented: “Of course, the Ursulines were the most adventurous of nuns!” She loved to travel and counted as one of the most influential experiences of her life a trip to Cremona Italy, where she went as one of the first ambassadors of the Friendship Force. Later she got to travel to the Holy Land and Washington DC. In recent years, when someone would stop in to see her with news of a trip, she would beg them to come back and tell her about it. Some-times she would say to me, “Let’s sneak off and go somewhere!”
One of the lasting memories of the evening prayers the young Lura shared with her parents was the old prayer that went: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you.” She commented later in life that she felt her father and mother had reaped the benefit of that prayer in their peaceful deaths. The family legacy seems to be holding fast, in S. Walter Louise’s gentle death.
This was one of the hardest reflections it has been my privilege to write, not because there was not enough information in her file, but because there was so much! S. Walter Louise was an excellent and prolific writer and storyteller. I found a short reflection she wrote, called, “From Death to Life.” It revealed how she had come to terms with the fear of death, as she said: “I try to see it as life; as wood needed for the fire; as a field in which a treasure is hidden; as a book to be opened; as seed which has to flower; as a secret which I have to know; as a crossing which I have to make.”
S. Walter Louise, you have added that log to the fire of your life of love, you have found the treasure, you have opened the book, you know the secret and have made the the crossing, and now you hold the flower—the Christmas Rose—in your hand.
Written and Presented by: Sister Michele Morek, OSU