Sisters Joan Walz and Mary Agnes VonderHaar: “They have an incredible spirit of Saint Angela”

She knew she wanted to become an Ursuline Sister by her junior year at the Academy. “It’s like a girl who falls in love with some man, there’s that attraction,” she said. “I don’t know how you explain it, it’s just a movement in your heart. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

She kept her desires a secret while at the Academy. “If the (sisters) knew, they’d expect you to be good,” she said.

Sisters Mary Agnes and Joan outside St. Mary of the Woods Catholic Church in McQuady. The yellow sandstone was hand-hewn from a nearby quarry to build the church in 1910.

A girl among four brothers, mischievousness and a hearty laugh were in Sister Mary Agnes’ nature, and would follow her through many assignments. She said when she got homesick while in the novitiate, “I’d wish I would fall down the stairs and break my leg so they’d send me home.”

She entered the novitiate right out of the Academy in 1952.

“I hadn’t thought of being a teacher, I thought about being a nurse,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “I just wanted to be a nun. Teaching happened to be part of it.”

She only had two teachers in the tiny school of her childhood, Sister Rosemary Ford the first four grades, and Sister Ethel Sims in Grades 5-8.

Her first teaching job was at St. Thomas More School in Paducah, Ky., leading sixth-graders and then seventh-graders from 1955-60. Most young teachers moved around every few years, but she stayed five years. “I guess I didn’t cause them any trouble,” Sister Mary Agnes said.

From 1960-64 she taught at St. Alphonsus School, which is across the highway from Mount Saint Joseph. She lived at the Motherhouse, which meant she had a lot of extra jobs, including cleaning the leadership offices. One of her eighth-grade students was Ursuline Sister Judith Nell Riney.

“She was one of the best and most memorable teachers I ever had,” said Sister Judith Nell. “She just related to students well, she could talk to anybody at any level. She made you want to learn.”

In 1964, Sister Mary Agnes became principal of the two-room St. Ann School in tiny Howardstown, Ky., near New Haven. She taught four grades and did the principal’s work. She lived with two other sisters who taught in Hodgenville, Sister Nan Ruby and Sister Mary Evelyn Duvall.

Prior to her arrival, the area was a hotbed for moonshiners after the distilleries closed. “The man who took the moonshine to Louisville would always take the nuns, because no one would stop a car full of nuns,” she said.

During her days in Howardstown was when changes were occurring after Vatican II, and Sister Mary Agnes’ rebellious nature started showing.

“We saw the other sisters modifying their habits,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “Sister Mary Evelyn and I cut off our habits. We took a picture and sent it to the assistant superior to show to the council,” she said, because they were afraid to send it to Mother Superior Joseph Marian Logsdon.

“The mother superior was not impressed,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “We used them around the house to do our work.”

Sister Mary Evelyn recalls cutting off the habits was Sister Mary Agnes’ idea. “She said to me, ‘I wonder what our habits would like if we cut them off short?’ I’m short and she’s tall, so I got one of my old habits and had her try it on. We liked the way it looked,” Sister Mary Evelyn said. “We were watching ‘P.T. 109’ and we cut off our habits.”

Sisters Joan and Mary Agnes stop for a photo by the alter inside St. Anthony’s Church in Axtel, Ky.

The sisters had access to bicycles in Howardstown, something else the mother superior frowned upon. “Our superior came to visit and we didn’t know she was coming,” Sister Mary Evelyn said. “We hid our bikes behind the neighbor’s house.”

“We’d ride up and down the highway on our bikes,” Sister Mary Agnes said. “Nuns out in their habits riding bikes … oh dear. How did they keep me?”

Sister Mary Agnes was one of the sisters who helped Sister Mary Evelyn celebrate her silver jubilee in Howardstown, and had an interesting way of making sure the party room didn’t get discovered early.

“I got up one morning and they told me the stove had blown up, that I couldn’t go into the community room,” Sister Mary Evelyn said. When she entered, “My knees buckled I was so surprised.”

Sister Mary Agnes moved on to St. Charles High School in Lebanon, Ky., a public school in the country where most of the students were Catholic. “I was in good shape then, I walked to school every day,” she said.

She came back to Daviess County, Ky., in 1969 to teach at Whitesville Trinity High School, where she first lived with fellow teacher Sister Joan and four other sisters.

“Sister Joseph Marian allowed us to be a dialogue group,” Sister Joan said. “I was supposed to be the house supervisor.”

“I’d forgot you were supposed to be my superior,” Sister Mary Agnes added. “That would have been bad.”