Sister Marietta Wethington, OSU: Dec. 12, 1938-May 26, 2022

Sister Marietta Wethington, 83, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph, died May 26, 2022, at Mount Saint Joseph, in her 67th year of religious life. She was a native of Clementsville, Ky.

Sister Marietta was gifted with a deep prayerfulness and hospitality that she shared easily with others. She loved teaching children to read, and in later years, helping adults to deepen their faith, especially Ursuline Associates. She shared her spirituality each month with readers of “Reflective Moments with Saint Angela Merici.”

She graduated from Mount Saint Joseph Academy, Maple Mount, Ky., in 1955. She earned a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Brescia College (now University), Owensboro, Ky., in 1967, and a master of arts degree from Xavier University, Cincinnati.   

She was a teacher in Kentucky at Immaculate School (1957-64) and St. Pius X School (1971-75) in Owensboro, St. Columba School (1964-67) and St. James School (1967-69) in Louisville, St. Paul School, Princeton (1969-71), St. Joseph School, Bowling Green (1975-79), as well as one year at St. Angela Merici School in Florissant, Mo. (1979-80). She was a pastoral associate at Holy Spirit Church in Jamestown, Ky. (1993-2000).

She was elected three times as a councilor on the Ursuline Leadership Council (1984-92, 2000-2004), and served in Motherhouse ministry as director of activities (1980-81), local superior (1981-84), director of formation (1984-92), director of postulants (2000-2010), director of the contact program (2003-2010) and director of ongoing formation (2000-2006). She was co-director (2004-07) and then director of formation for Ursuline Partnerships (2007-11, 2013-14), assistant director of pastoral care (2010-11) and retreat/spiritual director for the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center (2011-14). She was a spiritual director and founding member of the Spiritual Direction Training Program at the Retreat Center, serving as a team member from 2004-2014. 

Survivors include the members of her religious community; siblings Pauline Goebel, Frank Wethington and Richard Wethington, all of Louisville; and nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, Andrew Francis and Sarah Odelia Wethington; and her siblings Linda Pennington, Anna Geraldine Pennington, Robert Irvin Wethington, and Michaela Elizabeth Edwards.

The funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, June 2, at Mount Saint Joseph, where visitation will begin Wednesday at 4 p.m., with a wake service following at 6:30 p.m.

Glenn Funeral Home and Crematory, Owensboro, is in charge of arrangements.

Gifts in memory of Sister Marietta may take the form of donations to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, 8001 Cummings Road, Maple Mount, KY 42356.

SPEAKING IN REMEMBRANCE: Sister Marietta Wethington, OSU

June 1, 2022

By Sister Cheryl Clemons, OSU

Psalm 84 begins with these lines:

My soul longs and yearns for the courts of the Most High;

my heart and lips sing for joy to you, the living God.

These psalm verses—and others like it such as Psalm 42’s “Like the deer that longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, O God”—are as good as any to sum up the CENTER of Sister Marietta’s life as I knew her. In Christian hope and trust in God’s mercy, we pray that, like the psalm’s sparrow who found a nesting place in the Jerusalem Temple, Sister Marietta has entered into the courts of God’s dwelling place and all her longings are now satisfied.

To you, her dear family: her sister Po, her brothers Frank and Rick, and brother-in-law Chester, and to her beloved nieces and nephews as well as great nephews Chase and Crew—whose newest pictures she loved to share with us! — on behalf of the Community, I offer you our love and promise of prayer and support.

To Sister Marietta’s surviving classmates, Sisters Margaret Marie Greenwell, Francis Louise Johnson, Catherine Marie Lauterwasser, and Jane Falke, I also extend the community’s sympathy. And to all of us here and joining us via livestream – Ursuline sisters, associates, and friends of Sister Marietta, I offer sympathy and prayer in our shared grief at the loss of one of our wise and gentle elders.

On behalf of the community, I’d also like to thank the staff of St. Joseph Villa as well as the kitchen and housekeeping staff, all of whom cared for Sister Marietta so faithfully and so wonderfully since she came to the Villa in 2014. We are so grateful for all that you do for every one of us at the Mount! Thank you.

According to Sister Marietta’s own autobiography, she was born at home in Casey County, Kentucky, on a “cold and snowy” 12th of December,1938. Odelia Wethington gave birth to her oldest child, assisted by the local doctor and a midwife, before her husband Frank got home from WPA road-building work that day. The couple named their firstborn for both their mothers: Mary and Etta, but the family always called their daughter Mary. A little over a month later, baby Mary was baptized in St. Bernard Church, Clementsville, where she also received other sacraments. Eventually the family grew to include Anna Geraldine (known as Ger or Gerry), Linda Louise (Lynn), Andrew Francis, Jr. (Frank), Wilma Pauline (Po), Robert Irvin (Rob), Richard Anthony (Rick), and Michaela Elizabeth (Kay). In Sister Marietta’s own words, “Our parents loved and cherished each other, loved and cherished us, and taught us to love and cherish each other.”

In her autobiography Sister Marietta described an almost idyllic childhood with her family, playing active games in the yard and swimming in the creek, helping with the vegetable garden, canning and freezing, dishwashing, canning meat on hog-killing day, and doing laundry in a wringer washer and an outside clothesline.

She wrote about her mom preparing wonderful breakfasts of biscuits and gravy, along with the homemade butter that Sister Marietta said she herself loved to churn. They also had homemade oatmeal – and Sister Marietta never could bring herself to like the newer and easier instant packages. The family had lots of milk from their own cows, and Sister Marietta learned to milk one of them called Old Red; those of us who ate with Sister Marietta know she continued to drink milk with meals all her life. She recorded almost no details of material “stuff” like toys or clothes or kitchen gadgets – in fact in her earliest years the family had no running water or electricity, but the pages of what she wrote overflow with the joy and contentment of a life immersed in love.

Sister Marietta attended a one-room public school known as Sulphur Run. The teacher was her dad’s sister, Aunt Lucille, who read to the children every day after lunch, a practice that Sister Marietta copied when she became a teacher with her own classroom. Sister Marietta wrote that “Daddy would let me read to him” as she sat on the arm of his rocking chair. She learned about her faith on Saturday mornings at St. Bernard’s parish from the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.

After attending the Ursuline-staffed St. Bernard High School in Clementsville for three years, in September 1954 Sister Marietta entered the Mount Saint Joseph Ursulines as a postulant and completed her senior year at the Academy; As was the custom in those days, Sister Marietta completed initial formation and was sent out on mission before receiving her baccalaureate degree, which means she had to go to summer school or Saturday classes. While teaching at Immaculate in Owensboro and St. Columba in Louisville, she finished coursework and graduated from Brescia College in 1967 with a degree in Elementary Education and a Reading Specialist Certification. Six years later she completed a Master’s in Education from Xavier University in Cincinnati. In her various mission assignments, she taught elementary school in Owensboro, Louisville, Princeton, Bowling Green, and Florissant, Mo.

 From 1993–2000 she was pastoral associate of Holy Spirit Parish in Jamestown, Ky, where she worked in both the parish and wider community. In addition to church work in children’s and adult faith formation, she served on the boards of the Russell County Habitat for Humanity and God’s Food Closet pantry; was the only female and Catholic officer of the Russell County Ministerial Association; ministered as a hospital chaplain, nursing home worship leader, and leader of religious services for lake campers during the summer; and was a Hospice volunteer. Such service helped her earn a 1999 CITIZEN OF THE YEAR award from the Lake Cumberland Branch of the National Association of Social Workers “for her excellent caretaking of the peoples of the Lakes area and her unflagging example of outstanding citizenship.” The public tributes Sister Marietta received after announcing she was leaving Jamestown were awe-inspiring to read; in her ministry she represented the Ursulines in outstanding and impressive ways that touched the lives of countless people, but I dare say that in her humility, most of us never knew all the things she did there or how much she was appreciated.

Sister Marietta served in internal community ministry at the Mount in numerous positions, including Director of Activities for the retired sisters, Local Superior, and Leadership Council member (three terms). She held various formation positions in the community, participated in several spiritual direction workshops, and after eight years as a Council member, thoroughly enjoyed a sabbatical year at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, where she studied theology and spirituality, integrating both into a practicum on Directed Retreats/Spiritual Direction. Here, as happened wherever she went, Sister Marietta made a whole new set of friends. She later deepened her spirituality training in at the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson. Based on her professional training and practical experience of being a sought-after spiritual director, Sister Marietta joined Sisters, Ann McGrew and Elaine Burke as they established the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center’s Spiritual Direction Training Program in 2004.

One of Sister Marietta’s great joys was serving in the Ursuline Partnerships office, where she both inspired other team members with her love of St. Angela and was herself nourished by the support and faith of her colleagues in the Mission Advancement and Communications departments. As most of you know, she continued to serve in this area up until her death by writing monthly “Reflective Moments with Angela” for the community’s website, writings that continued to inspire readers through her sharing of the fruits of her contemplative prayer and loving presence.

Such external details – information – about Sister Marietta’s life help us know her to some degree. However, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” While I believe that at least part of what was essential in Sister Marietta WAS visible to the eye in her beautiful, welcoming, open smile, I’d like to share a few insights into Sister Marietta’s HEART that I have experienced. I was privileged to live with Sister Marietta for a number of years, and the heart of the woman I came to know was rooted and centered in Jesus; her longing for union with God was deep and permeated everything she was and did – she truly DID long to live in the courts of her God. Loving Jesus as she did, she could accept and love those with whom she interacted. A gentle but nonetheless powerful serenity flowed out from her heart and invited others to listen…to BE. She spent time in Centering Prayer, in quiet contemplation, in Scriptural prayer and spiritual reading, and she loved the liturgy.

Flowing from and connected to her love for Jesus was Sister Marietta’s  love for St. Angela. For those of us privileged to experience her in this way, Sister Marietta EMBODIED St. Angela as she periodically dressed up as our founder and spoke Angela’s words to us. She and I shared leadership in facilitating two community elections for the Ursulines of Toledo and in the 2007 North American Ursuline Convocation in Louisville. In these instances, Sister Marietta’s embodiment of St. Angela moved Ursuline sisters and associates and helped them feel closer to our mother founder. For me, it wasn’t just the dress or the words…it was her SPIRIT. When she prayerfully took on this role, in some small way she BECAME St. Angela, or at least what I imagine Angela to be. She embodied Angela…gentle, compassionate, humble…a contemplative presence in the heart of the world.

Yet Sister Marietta wasn’t all prayer and contemplative quiet! She loved Jeopardy and playing cards with friends, she worked Sudoku puzzles to keep her brain sharp, and she loved creating things, whether Christmas ornaments out of her dad’s old shirts or prayer services, flower arrangements or a wonderful meal. She was a balanced holistic person who loved all aspects of her life.

Sister Marietta’s file included many tributes from others which I don’t have time to share tonight – I’m sure some of you will echo those tributes and stories as soon as I finish talking. These range from a thank-you letter from a former second-grade student to a Baptist pastor in Jamestown to her colleagues in the Mission Advancement Office to Louisville Archbishop Kelly’s written tribute to her: “All that you have touched is honored by God.” As former Ursuline Communications Director Jerry Birge wrote, “For over a half century she has made love visible….”

I’d like to close with some of Sister Marietta’s own words, words that further reveal her heart to us. Addressing the people of Jamestown as she was leaving that ministry, she said, “I came here 7 years ago not knowing much about parish ministry but knowing a lot about ‘people’ ministry and the importance of relationships. I had had absolutely no experience as a parish minister but again, I had had a lot of experience as a ‘people’ minister. And I found that people are the same everywhere: in families, in a religious community, in retreat settings, and in a small parish in southern Ky. TOGETHER we have done some very good things….Together—you, God, and I…”

In her just published Reflective Moments for Easter, Sister Marietta posthumously challenged us: “We know Jesus is risen when we see Christians loving each other. In St. John’s gospel he tells us, ‘This is how they will know you are my disciples if you love one another.’ Do people know you are a follower of Jesus?”

We who knew her can definitively say that YES, we know Sister Marietta was a faithful follower of Jesus. We know that because of her compassionate and generous love for the people in her life, and because she longed and yearned for God until the very end. Like Psalm 84’s sparrow, we hope in faith that she has now found a permanent nesting place in the heart of her beloved Jesus in heaven. Thank you, Marietta, for the gift you have been to so many of us!