December 6, 2006
Interviewer: Pat Worley, SCN
I am Ann Kernen. I am originally from the capital city of Kentucky, Frankfort. My mother and father were both born and raised in Frankfort. Actually, I had a very happy home life. I am the last and fifth child in my family. My mother was deep-seated in her faith having been raised in the Catholic tradition. My father was Protestant. Later on, when I was a junior in high school he did convert to Catholicism.
I spent twelve years in the parochial school system at Good Shepherd School in Frankfort. I had some very happy times there and very good teachers. The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth taught at Good Shepherd. I am sure that coupled with the fact that my mother had three sisters in the SCN community influenced my vocation. Her sisters’ names were Sister Mary Carmelia Taylor, Sister Edward Elizabeth Taylor, and Sister Leonard Frances Taylor. They are all deceased at the present. The call to religious life came early in my life. I can remember Mother Ann Sebastian coming to the classroom door…they always used to single out my sister, Sister Mary Joyce, who is fifteen months older than I but is right next to me in the family… whenever Mother came to the school they would always knock on our classroom door and ask the teacher to bring us to the door. I remember one time Mother Ann Sebastian came when I was in the second grade. She asked all those who would like to be Sisters to raise their hands. I did not raise my hand and Mother asked me what I would like to be and I said, “I noticed you had a Band-Aid on your thumb and I would like to be a nurse”. Well, I did not become a nurse. Early on, the call to religious life was rooted in my second grade. I can remember in the fifth grade, Sister Floriana Cunningham was my teacher. I loved her dearly. She was an older teacher and was very strict. It was then I really wanted to be a nun like Sister Floriana. Needless to say, during the grade school and high school that thought or desire got pushed out of the way. When I was a sophomore in high school, Sister Celine Maria Hawk was my Latin teacher. I thought so highly of her and I confided in her. She is the one who helped me get ready to go to the community.
I have had many different missions. I have loved every one of them. I had a two and a half year novitiate. I was sent to Somerset, Kentucky two days after I made first vows. I was to teach kindergarten and piano lessons. That was quite an experience because my musical career was actually begun in grade school and I had a couple of years of piano lessons and that was about it. I did teach piano and at the end of the year we had a recital. Sister Daniel Elizabeth Mueller (later Sister Hilda) had been teaching kindergarten and piano lessons and choir so she had a recital going and I had to take over that recital. By the way, Sister Daniel Elizabeth stayed on and she opened up a little school in a very rural area called Cracker’s Neck, Kentucky. She used to go out there. I think it was an experimental venture. I think it only lasted a couple of months. There was only one family out there. So the mission didn’t last, but I lasted. They told me not to take my trunk as I would only be there from March to June when the school closed for the summer. I got the first thin letter and ended up staying in Somerset for ten years. I loved it very much.
I have lots of special memories of my ministries. In Somerset there were only three of us there after Sister Daniel Elizabeth left. Sister Mary Bennet Cecil and Sister Mary Louise Hils and I made up that three for my first six years. Needless to say, we lived off the road and every holiday Thanksgiving, Christmas, Sister Mary would say, “Mother wants us to go over to London, Kentucky and be with more Sisters. Many times I used to long just to stay and do some things at home. Anyway, I enjoyed the Sisters in London and later on I went to London as Chaplain and Director of Missions at Marymount Hospital. I had some early days and some later days in London.
After Somerset, Kentucky I got a thin letter telling me to go to Columbus, Ohio. I taught the fifth grade and had the choir and music lessons. I was there for four years. By the way, Sister Mary Bennett ended up being my superior in Columbus. After Columbus I went to St. Lawrence in Louisville and taught junior high. I have happy memories of all those missions. After three years I was also asked to be superior at St. Lawrence and Sister Liz Barry was the principal. That was the first time they had dual responsibility like that. That was quite interesting. There were about a thousand students at St. Lawrence at that time. That was back in the late sixties.
After teaching in elementary school for seventeen years I went to Spalding College and I got my first degree in education at age thirty-nine. In the summers when everyone else was studying I was trying to learn piano pieces that I would teach to the students the next September. I was a little long in getting my first degree. From there, I went to Michigan State University and got a Masters in college student personnel and guidance. I loved that time. I guess that was the first time I felt quite independent. It was a beautiful campus and I had a great time. Those were some significant events.
I was asked to be formation director of novices and was in that position for four years. Before I did that I went to Aquinas Institute of Theology in the Formation Directors’ Program. That was February 1971-1972. I came to Nazareth in 1972 and worked with the novices for four years. In 1976 I was asked to be Sister Emiliana’s associate. She was a Provincial at that time. That was a change-over. Shew as finishing up a year so I asked if I could have a sabbatical. I wanted some quiet time. I had a hermitage off our auditorium here at Nazareth. I had a little room fixed up. Sister Emiliana was such a dear friend and she had been sick. She tried to work things out. Stipulations from superiors at that time were that I could only have a year because I was wanting to be a hermit for life. I was given some options and one of them was to be here at Nazareth in a quiet place and do some apostolic work. We fixed up the Costume Room off the auditorium and I was over there longer than one year. That was such a special, beautiful time. David Thylo— at that time was a hermit and came over and visited one time and blessed the hermitage. For the apostolic work Sister Emiliana fixed it up so that I could do something right here on campus. I worked with our senile Sisters on the third floor of our infirmary. I would go over and play bingo with them or have singing. I forget how many hours a week I was to do that. It wasn’t a significant amount. I really did have a year of quiet. I lived over in that little room for three years.
Some of our Sisters had a House of Prayer on 2 West. All that has changed now with the renovation. During that year of prayer I had a strong desire to go to Nepal. We had just opened our mission in Nepal. Sister Jean Kulangara, our Sister from India, Anne Marie Thayilchirayil and Joel Urumpil had gone to Nepal to open our mission. That was in 1978. I got permission to go to Nepal but first I had to go to India for orientation and to meet the Sisters and know their ministries. That was all such a special time Sister Teresa Rose Nabholz had come over from India for a visit so I went back with her in January of 1980. We stopped by the Holy Land en route and spent ten days there. We did our own touring and that was wonderful. Teresa Rose and I went into Nepal before we went to India. I will never forget the approach to that country. The pilot of the plane told us so we could see the gorgeous snow-capped Himalayas.
Sister Joel and a Jesuit, Leo Cachat welcomed us at the airport and presented us with beautiful malas. Leo drove us to St. Mary’s where we were shown great hospitality by some German Sisters. IBMV Sisters they were called. They were so gracious and it wasn’t just at that time but over and over again. They made the SCNs feel so much at home. They were not native to Nepal but later on did have some vocations from Nepal. Most of them were from Germany but spoke English. They were so beautiful. They had a girls’ school there. Nepal did not open up to outsiders until about twenty-five years before we came there. At first, outsiders could only come in if education was the prime motive. That is how the Jesuits had a school there for the boys and the German Sisters for the girls. At the time I was in Nepal there were only four thousand Christians in the whole country of four million. Of those four thousand Christians not too many were Catholic. They were mainly Hindus and Buddhists. They were the religions of the country. The beauty of the country and the happiness of the people just never ceased to captivate me. We visited the village where Jean, Joel, and Anne Marie were in Bodagari, which is outside Kathmandu, the capitol of Nepal. They lived in that village and were present to the villagers. When I came, Joel and I moved into the city, Kathmandu. The first time we were going out to Bodagari to see our Sisters the people came out of their homes, smiled, and all would greet us with a gesture which means I greet the spirit within you. I later remembered seeing the small children going along with their school books and with one hand full of books and the other hand raised would say___________________. That was just a real thrill.
Teresa Rose and I went to India after our visit to Nepal. I was in India about three months and visited some of our Sisters. I didn’t go to the South of India but got to see a number of the missions. I returned to Nepal in May of 1980 and, once again, Joel was at the airport. Sister Alfreda Crantz was also at the airport. She was on the Tom Dooley Foundation Program which I think was an eighteen month mission. She was at the hospital in Kathmandu. The Jesuits and Maryknollers could not have been more supportive and helpful to us. The Jesuits had Mass in a little upstairs room for just a few Catholics. Joel and I would go to Mass and at certain seasons of the year I could see the snow-peaked Himalayas on the distant horizon. I would think of the psalm, “I will go up to the mountains of the Lord”.
I was in Nepal about a year and a half and then I got sick and had to be sent back. At the time I was there the Jesuits were opening up a counseling center at their Alumni Association. Gene Watrin, SJ, was the director of that program. I don’t remember meeting any Catholic young men but the ones at the Counseling Center were probably nineteen year old Buddhist and Hindu young men. Our days varied. We went to Mass in the morning. Joel was visiting homes and I was starting the counseling center. It wouldn’t’ be open yet when I got there but meetings were going on and these young men would come over. One of the Jesuits got sick and I was asked to take his Comparative Religions course. They did do some teaching for these young men. All classes were in English in Kathmandu. That Alumni Counseling Center did have some classes even before the center opened. I pinch-hit with this class for two weeks. I was so happy when I was given the textbook because it was the Christmas Story. It was Catholicism. These young men had never heard the Christmas Story because they did not have scripture. Obviously, there were many questions. In one class one of the men camp up and said, “You know, I don’t worship the same god that you do but I worship the supreme being”. I think a lot of barriers have been broken.
I took language courses from United Mission of Nepal. That was a protestant group and they taught Nepali. Before leaving the States I had taken a three months course at the University of Wisconsin in Nepali. It was hard to find a school that would teach that language.
Let me tell you some of the things that would happen in a day. Every day was different. The Bishop’s representative, Tom Gaffney, SJ, came over and blessed our little apartment in Dobigat which means “house of the washer”. There were about forty priests and religious who came. In July of 1980 four of Mother Teresa’s Sisters arrived in Nepal. That was another religious group. Now there were five religious communities in the Kathmandu Valley. In August, Bishop Benedict J. Osta, SJ, came to our apartment and had a two hour visit with us. He was such a good listener. He asked us to just call him Ben. We felt very much at home with him.
In September of 1980, Mother Teresa paid her first visit to Nepal because she wanted to visit her four Sisters who had just come four months previously. She was granted an audience with the Queen. At that time Nepal had a King and a Queen. She also gave a talk at the Embassy. Several days later she came to the United Mission at Nepal headquarters where I was taking language courses. Joel and I were waiting outside with the four Missionaries of Charity to wait for Mother Teresa. As a result, we did meet Mother Teresa with her Sisters. We didn’t get a seat inside the building because all the seats were taken. We were allowed to sit on the floor directly in front of Mother Teresa. I was very glad because Mother Teresa had a very soft voice. I felt at the time that I was in the presence of someone very close to God.
January of 1981, one of the Maryknoll Fathers, Father Adam Gudalefsky, Sister Jean, and I took a fourteen hour bus ride to Dharan which is a place in Nepal. We had been asked to look into the possibility of future SCN presence. We presently have a mission in Dharan (2006). The people were so beautiful and treated us royally. We stayed there for six days. We were convinced that it would be an ideal place for SCNs to minister. A little later in January of 1981, Joel, Sister Deepti Ponnembal (a novice staying with us), and I were invited by the St. Mary Sisters to go with them to the Chinese border for a picnic. We looked over a ridge and there was Tibet. That was quite an experience. That made us more and more aware that Nepal is indeed the roof of the world.
In April of 1981, the Bishop of Darjeeling, Bishop Eric Benjamin, visited Kathmandu and he came to our little apartment for a short visit. We were really impressed with him. He certainly was a man of the people. He would rather walk than ride. He greeted people by name since many people were from Darjeeling. He even remembered the location in Darjeeling where they lived even this one family whose home he had visited seven years ago. We were well supported by the religious, priests, and bishops.
In May of 1981, I had to leave Kathmandu because I became ill but the Nepali people certainly left a deep impression on me and to this day remain very dear to my heart. Whenever Sister Shalini (D’Souza) gets any kind of information from the Sisters in Nepal she will forward it to me. When I was in Nepal we had running water occasionally and electricity from six to nine in the evening.
I kept a journal and one of the last paragraphs I wrote was that the Nepali people are beautiful both physically and in their positive attitude. They have much to teach us.
The political situation in Nepal was nothing at the time I was there. The Maoists have come in now. Presently, the situation is somewhat improved. In the 1980s Nepal had the only monarchy in the world at that time and the country was at peace. So much has happened since I was there. The King, Queen, and their family were murdered by Maoists. The King’s brother came in to power and he hasn’t been a very good king. Nepal was so closed in and foreigners were not welcomed. If government officials discovered that someone had converted to Catholicism they got a sentence of seven years and were cut off from the rest of the people. It is not quite like that now.
There was a young nineteen year old Nepali woman. Uma Daley was her name. She got burned while cooking and oil spilled over on her and she was dreadfully burned. She eventually died a few days after. The people cooked with bare essentials. The Jesuits started sitting with her and we joined. I was with her in her little hovel when she died. I was holding her hand. I did not learn the Nepali language except just enough to buy vegetables at the market. She didn’t know much English but she knew some. I prayed with her and she asked me to pray with her in Nepali and I only knew one prayer. She knew the word Jesus. I remember holding her hand and I told her to just say Jesus. She said that over and over. That was a significant event in my life.
My sickness was a totally unexpected event in my life. I lost a lot of weight. I didn’t have many symptoms and it was thought I had an aortic aneurism. To have to leave Nepal because of this was disappointing. I was told I would have to return to the States. The doctor asked me how long I intended to stay in Nepal and when I told him five years he told me I would have to go home right away. The doctor was Norwegian.
I went down to our hospital in Mokama and the doctors there diagnosed me with the same thing. That was a very difficult time for me.
It was discovered that I really did not have an aortic aneurism; it was a lot simpler. I found that out when I got to the States. When I left Nepal and went down to Mokama before leaving for home our Sisters were so beautiful. I remember one evening they had a prayer service for me because they all knew I had to leave because of sickness. I was in the middle of the circle they had formed. Novices and Sisters prayed over me and I felt the strength of healing. I never really felt sick. That was a beautiful experience in leaving India. When I got on the plane in Delhi the sadness overtook me. When I arrived in the States I stayed with my sister in Louisville while I was going back and forth trying to get doctors and hospital appointments. The Bishop of India was visiting in the United States and he looked me up and came over to my sister’s house and once again I was blessed. I felt that healing again. All of this had an impact on me spiritually. I did get to go back to India for the Golden Jubilee celebration. Sister Ann Murphy and I traveled together to the Golden Jubilee celebration and spent a week in Nepal. She had spent some time in Nepal after I left there.
After I left India and returned to the States I had a few months of respite and then I was asked to consider one of two options either helping in our communications with the SCNews with Sister Reenie Daugherty or to assist at Nazareth Home as coordinator. For about a year I chose to be coordinator at Nazareth Home until Sister Betty Vannuchhi came on full time. I lived in the Nazareth Apartments with Sister Margaret Albert Charlton. That was quite an interesting time. She was an interesting person to say the least. That was a good experience to be with our retired Sisters. I appreciated that.
From there, I went to St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky as Chaplain. I lived with Sister Mary Finneran and a CDP Sister on Bob-o-link. I loved that time as Chaplain. I had taken a unit of CPE out in California after I finished my formation directors program. While I was working as Chaplain at St. Joseph’s in Lexington I did an extended course at the University of Kentucky of CPE and that also was a big experience.
I went to Belize in 1984 and I lived with Liz Miles who is a Springfield Dominican and she and I went to San Ignacio. Actually she was only there a year with me and she was elected superior of the Dominicans. I was in Caio with different Sisters from 1982 until 1986 as director of the lay ministry program. I then spent two years in Belize City working as director of lay ministry and at the Mercy Spiritual Life Center. I did some programs in spirituality and spiritual direction.
In 1990, I came back to the States and went to Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky as Chaplain and Vice President of Mission until 1995. I was the only Sister in London at that time. I lived alone. I liked the experience of living alone although I see one could become self-centered. I do value and cherish community. Sister Betty Shelton was working with the Appalachian Outreach Program and she would come every other week and spend a night. London is in Laurel County and Laurel County was one of her visiting places. After being at Marymount five years she persuaded me, and I thought it was timely, that I join her in the Appalachian Outreach Program out of St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington. I did that for about four years. I lived in Campton with Betty Shelton for a while and then Sister Bev Hoffman, who was a new Sister, came and she and I lived in Barbourville, Kentucky for a while and I traveled. I had about seven counties and used to go out to visit the patients who had been discharged from St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington. That program is still going and Sister Joan Wilson is presently (2006) working with that program. That also was a beautiful experience of being with rural poor of the United States. Missionary territory is right here at home under our own noses even right here in Nelson County. I think sometimes we tend to forget that we are missionaries right here in the United States also.
I was elected Associate Regional Superior of the southern region with Sister Marlene Lehmkuhl. Our office was here at Nazareth and I lived over in the Guest House with my sister, Sister Mary Joyce. That was the first time we had ever lived together since being in the community. That was nice. We are living together again right now. We have an apartment in O’Connell Hall. Presently I am working part-time as Chaplain at Flaget Hospital in Bardstown. Once again, it is such an experience working with the sick. Sometimes those who really have nothing…. I visited a patient yesterday at the hospital and I hesitated to go in. She was in the coronary care unit. The reason I hesitated was because her door was closed. Chaplains are asked to do a spiritual assessment on every patient. I checked with the nurse and she said it was alright for me to enter her room. As soon as I walked in the door the woman said, “God has sent you here”. I looked at her and I thought, “Thank God I didn’t let that closed door keep me away from her”. She said she was so depressed. She has had five surgeries just this past year. She said she didn’t’ know how much more she could handle. We talked and I mostly listened. She pulled out a newspaper clipping of three African American young men and a small African American boy in a photo. She pointed to the little boy and said he was her cousin. He was just shot dead last week. I listened and we prayed and she kept thanking me and I was very humbled. God leads us places that sometimes we just don’t know where we are being led. I gave her a rosary and she said she would like to have a purple one. I found a blue one that someone had given us for the patients. She said I had made her day. I persuaded her to talk to the doctor and tell him about her depression. She asked me if I would be back and I assured her that I would. Those are the little things that God puts in our way that we don’t expect. I thank God that at age seventy-five plus I am able to continue in a ministry and hope that, if it is God’s will, that I will be able to continue. Prayer is so important. I try to spend a day or two a month up at one of our cottages, Vincent Cottage or Casa Maria. I find that to be very helpful.
A Sister of Charity of Nazareth who influenced my vocation was Sister Floriana. I mentioned her earlier. There were two grades in the room when I was in the seventh and eighth grades. Sister Anna Teresa Moran was our teacher and she was quite old at that time. Her desk was up on a platform and she would fall asleep. We just thought that was a hoot. We misbehaved in her class and she was unaware of it. Our whole impression of her changed one day. She was a holy woman and she stood up and as soon as she stood up a three foot stick that was hanging over her desk fell and just missed her by inches. We thought that was God speaking to us about our behavior and we thought we had better watch out because she was a saint. We loved her. In high school Sister Celine Maria was such a dear woman. I just loved her. When I entered the novitiate I loved Sister Helen Frances Sheeran and confided in her and she was so supportive of everything I did and said. She was a very holy woman with both feet flat on the ground.
Lately, Sister Marilyn Spink, who recently died, she was my spiritual mentor for a number of years. She had her feet on the ground and we were able to communicate and talk about spiritual things. Presently I am walking with one of our Sisters here at Nazareth and I find that to be such a mutual thing for me to be able to listen and share and be able to walk with someone in their search for God. There are so many of our Sisters that I could think of who have been inspirations to me.
I have hope for the future of our SCN community. I know we are all getting older and diminishment is right there in front of us. When we count the number of sisters who have deceased this year we could become despondent but I have never felt that way. I feel that we are in God’s hands. I often tell the patients at the hospital that when we are older someone will put a belt around us and take us places we would rather not go. Obviously we are in a place right now where we would rather not go. Father Gary Young said last week, “It is not quantity but quality”. I look around and I see so many of our Sisters who are so dedicated and realize that we need to be realistic and be present to one another. I will always thank God that I am a member of this community.