Worker for God
By Fran Capodanno, SCNA Candidate
Edited by Evelyn Fugazzi, SCN
Mary Alma, one of the five children of Charles J. and Mary Frances Donahue Wheeler, lived on the family farm near St. Thomas in Nelson County. Her early memories include horseback riding, particularly on a very gentle white horse that seemed to understand his precious load.
Inspired by Sister Mary Rita Knight who taught her at St. Thomas School and by the simplicity of life of the SCNs, Mary Alma began to feel an attraction to religious life. Mary Alma recalls that Sister sometimes had a hole in her stocking causing the students to tease her but that Sister never let that upset her. Her guidance helped not only Mary Alma, but Sisters Margaret Thompson, Theodora Thornsberry, Kathleen Rogers and Mary Victorine Rogers become SCNs.
At 17 Mary Alma entered the SCN Community and professed vows as Sister Mary Justin in 1930. The attraction to a life of simplicity and service to others have been a pattern of her life. Sister Mary Justin, small but ‘mighty’ in the kitchen and dining rooms of St. Vincent Academy for eight years and St. Bernard in Corning, OH for two years. Parents and former student in Owensboro, Ky. feel a particular closeness to Sister Mary Justin, Food Services Manager, at St. Frances Academy, later Owensboro Catholic High School (with enrollments as high as 1300)—for a combined total of 43 years!
When asked what has kept her going, Sister replied, “I live for Christ. Without Him I am nothing.” She often expressed her faith to students by saying, “I am working for God.” She recalls the young priests teaching at SFA and OCHS. She knew the favorite snack of most–hot yeast rolls, butter and jelly. She knew which ones needed only an ear and a kind word of encouragement more than the cheese soufflé just lifted from the oven. Years later, one priest stopped by to see her. He said, “Sister, you saved my vocation in those days.”
Sister Mary Justin thinks of herself, not as a 95-year-old lady, but as an older lady young at heart. While she does experience physical limitations and pain, she chooses to emphasize the positive aspects of her life at Nazareth Home. She enjoys her room and she wants everyone to know that she is “fully satisfied.” One of the most joyful occasions for her it to go to the Motherhouse for a visit including Mass and dinner.
This year the Community honors Sister Mary Justin for 75 years as a Sister of Charity of Nazareth. That kind of attention makes her feel “funny.” She is obviously a woman who serves God and others with great humility and simplicity.
When it was time for me to leave, Sister Mary Justin prayed with me and blessed my work. I departed with gratitude for the opportunity to meet this 75-year SCN Jubilarian.