Stephany Nelson is at home in the classroom

There’s a picture of a brown-haired first-grader pinned to a bulletin board in Stephany Nelson’s classroom. It’s not a picture of a former student – it’s Stephany’s first-grade picture from Kendall, Fla.

This is Stephany in the first grade in Kendall, Fla. She keeps the picture posted near her desk to help her remember what it means to be in first grade.

“I did not have a good experience, I struggled in first grade,” she said. “My picture is to remind myself what it means to be in first grade.”

Stephany just completed her sixth year of teaching first grade at St. Joseph Catholic School in Bowling Green, Ky. It was her first year of teaching since she became a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. When the school year began, she thought it might be her last at St. Joseph, because she expected to enter the novitiate at Maple Mount, which would require her to spend her time in study and community with the Ursulines.

Illness in the fall of 2014 prohibited her from attending the classes she needs to complete her master’s degree as a reading specialist. Then in January her mother had two heart attacks and open heart surgery. Stephany knows it will be best to complete the two classes she needs for her master’s before entering the novitiate, so her entrance is more likely next summer.

Jan Lange, principal at St. Joseph, said sometimes she has to tell Stephany, “It’s OK to take a step back and give yourself more time.”

“Selfishly, I was very relieved I get to keep her for the next year,” Lange said. “I’m giving her a leave of absence. Whoever I hire will know it may only be for a year.”

The physical and emotional struggles of the past year have not fazed Stephany’s decision to become an Ursuline Sister. She studies the heritage of the community and the early pioneers with Sister Mary Henning, director of postulants.

Stephany has a list of class photos from all the classes she’s taught at St. Joseph, since her first year in 2009-2010. Her first students were in the sixth grade this year.

“I told Sister Mary, ‘Sometimes I feel like Job,’” Stephany said. “God asks, ‘Are you going to trust me?’ God gives me trials for a reason,” Stephany said.

She is no stranger to trials, but looking back now, she can see how God has led her to the present, she said.

“I had a rough home life from third grade on,” she said. “I can look back now and see the hand of God protecting me. My dad was my parent. My mom was just around. It got better when I moved with my dad, but he made some bad decisions, so when I was 16 I moved in with some friends. At 17, I was on my own.”

After a long while at their desks, Stephany gets her students up for some stretching.

She was a kindergarten aide at a Christian school, then earned a church music degree from Florida Baptist Theological College (which is now the Baptist College of Florida).

“I had a relationship with Jesus, but no direction,” she said. “I went for a music evangelization degree in Louisville, but they dropped the program before I got there.”

She got a job at a Family Christian Stores in Louisville, and taught preschool in Indiana two days a week, plus K-6 music one day a week. “I loved what I did, but I didn’t like teaching music,” she said.

Out of her comfort zone in a big city, Stephany eventually moved west to Bowling Green to work in the Family Christians Stores there. She worked part-time at Family Christian Stores and part time at Merry Maids in Bowling Green until she began working full-time at Merry Maids as sales and quality manager.

“I inspected after the girls cleaned and handled complaints,” she said.

Her boss at Merry Maids was going to a koinonia, a type of retreat held at a parish, in this instance Holy Spirit Church in Bowling Green. Though Stephany wasn’t Catholic, she was allowed to come.

“Father Jerry Riney helped me understand what was going on,” Stephany said. She started attending Mass and in 2005 became a Catholic.

“I’ve had so much growth spiritually in the last 10 years,” she said. “I trust what God is doing.


  1. C.J. Olinger

    Such an inspiring story! Thank you, Stephany, for sharing and for saying YES to God so many times. Our community is blessed to have you!

  2. Blaine Nelson

    Stephany I couldn’t be more proud if anything than to call you my sister. You have always followed your heart, and look where it has taken you. The fact that so many people will be touched by your love and kindness is a wonderful thing. Love you, Blaine

  3. Cheryl Huber

    Stephany, your story and witness of being called to religious life as a Ursuline Sister is a gift for you from God. You are so deserving and will offer your gifts and talents to others. I will keep you in pray during your studies and continue time of teaching.

  4. Anna Marie Greenwell

    What an awesome life experience you have had, that has lead you to the catholic church. God truly works in an amazing way in all our lives.
    May God Bless you in your Lords work..may he Bless and Keep you in His care!!!

  5. Barbara Crews

    Stephany I really enjoyed reading your story. I feel so blessed Blair had you as a teacher. She truly loves you. I will continue to pray for you as you continue your journey. Have a wonderful summer. Barbara

  6. Ruth

    Stephany . . . thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s good to get to know you better. I love everything you say and do as a first-grade teacher. My first-grade teacher inspired me to want to be just like her . . . and I did teach first grade . . . for three years, and I loved it. You are obviously inspiring your first-graders too! It’s always good to be with you at the Mount. There’s always a room waiting for you in PVH. Blessings on you and your wonderful ministry. Ruth Gehres, OSU

  7. Janie Brasher

    Stephany you are an amazing woman. I feel so privileged to have had you teach our granddaughter Emily Brasher in RCIC about the teachings of the Catholic Church. May God continue to bless your journey in the life of an Ursline Sister.
    In Christ

  8. Marietta Wethington,OSU

    Your story is wonderful. Thanks for sharing. I, too, taught first grade for many years. One of my favorite ministries. Isn’t it delightful to see the sparkle in their eyes when they learn something new and when they discover the joy of reading.
    Thank you for sharing your life with us. I hope you enjoy being an Ursuline Sister as much as I do.
    God bless you as you continue your journey. My prayers are with you.

  9. S.Rosemary Keough

    Enjoyed your story, Stephany! God is surely guiding you. I’m so glad you are a part of US! Love, SRK

  10. Brother Gabriel Monarch, O.H.

    Stephany…I so remember my being in the first grade at Sts. Joseph and Paul Parish in Owensboro….1949…those wonderful Ursulines Sisters brings back my eight years in grade school…memories I could write a book…my first cousin is Sister Jacinta Powers, OSU…just wanted to let you know that I will contact our Vatican Community and have a Mass said for your intentions and will have a seven day candle lit for you in St. Peter’s in one of the side chapels…Stephanie you will get your Masters and your entrance into the Novitiate will be a reality soon…God love and bless you…Brother Gabriel Monarch, O.H.

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