Sister Rose Karen was the 13th – and last – child born to Damien and Catherine Johnson. She followed a somewhat similar path as her big sister Theresa to Mount Saint Joseph. She, too, was Ursuline taught for eight years at Saint Lawrence Grade School. She, however, began her high school studies at Knottsville High School. After attending Knottsville High for two and a half years she received her call to religious life. She remembers it well. “I was coming home one Sunday after Mass,” she recalls, “and the thought just came to me to become an Ursuline sister – it just popped in my head – be an Ursuline! I told my Mom. Our house had burned and we were getting ready to move into the new house, and 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.”
After finishing her junior year and all of her senior year at Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Rose Karen attended and graduated from Brescia College. In 1960 she began a tenure of 28 years in education, teaching primary grades in Louisville. Her educational career included teaching in the Louisville and Owensboro dioceses with brief stints in Indiana, Missouri and at Mount Saint Joseph, and six years serving as school principal.
She left education in 1995 to come to Greenville and Central City to be a Catholic witness and to serve as a pastoral associate at Saint Joseph Parish in Central City. “Coming here to the ‘bible belt’ strengthened me to reach out to other faiths,” says Sister Rose Karen. “I have attended revivals and Thanksgiving services, have led prayers at sunrise service on Easter morning, and have given a talk at the Holy Week Ecumenical Service.”
Saint Joseph in Central City is the only Catholic church and parish in Muhlenberg County. As pastoral associate, Sister Rose Karen began to minister from the Saint Joseph Catholic Center, located in house in a pleasant Greenville subdivision. She says, “On Wednesday mornings we have Mass in our chapel (located in what was the dining room of the house) followed by a potluck brunch. On First Fridays we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for the community in our chapel.”
After five years of ministering on her own, Sister Rose Karen was joined by her sister, Sister Rose Theresa, in 2000 and they have been familiar fixtures in Muhlenberg County ever since.
“We have a lot of fun together,” says Sister Rose Karen. “We enjoy each other. There are days she’ll go in one direction and I’ll go in another. But it’s usually both of us.”
Father Ben Luther first met the Johnson sisters when he became pastor at Saint Joseph Parish in June of 2001.
“I found them to be very zealous and hardworking,” he recalls. “They visited a lot of our sick and elderly and kept up with taking Communion to our shut-ins. I didn’t know them at all when I came here, but I learned of them quickly. They are both indispensable in my books having them here.” He continued, “They have a lot of contacts with Baptist friends who have them into their homes to pray together. Doing this they spread a lot of good will throughout the county. Sister Rose Karen belongs to the Ministerial Association and goes to their monthly meetings. That way the ministers of eight to ten difference churches in the area – mostly Baptist – have gotten to know her and to see the many things she does in the area.”