Pictured are the first five Passionist nuns to come to Owensboro in 1946: Sr. Mary Cecilia, Mother Mary Agnes, Sr. Jeanne Marie, Sr. Mary Bernadette and Sr. Mary Frances. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES
How and why the Passionist nuns found their way to the Diocese of Owensboro
BY EDWARD WILSON, ARCHIVES
On May 3, 1946, Bishop Francis Ridgley Cotton – the first bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro – received an unexpected letter. The author of the letter was Mother Mary Agnes of the Mother of God, a Passionist nun located in Scranton, Pa. Mother Mary Agnes wrote inquiring about the possibility of Owensboro being the home of a new monastery for Passionist nuns. The strange thing is that the letter was completely unsolicited. Bishop Cotton had not reached out to the Passionists. It, no doubt, seemed to him that the hand of God was at work here.
The bishop felt a great weight on his shoulders. He was unsure how to respond. He greatly wanted a group of contemplative nuns for the diocese; this was not the question. What puzzled him was when to respond. The following week he was going on retreat with his priests. Should he wait to reply until after? After much prayer and floor pacing, the Lord instructed him.
Bishop Cotton sat down and immediately dictated a response. The letter begins, “Your letter of May 1st comes as a great surprise to me. I am wondering how you even knew there was an Owensboro Diocese.” The diocese had been in existence just nine years. So it was surprising that such a request would have come from so far away. He extended an invitation for Mother Mary Agnes to visit and discuss the possibilities. He informed her that he and his priests were going on retreat the next week and that May 12 would be the nearest possibility to meet.
Not one to waste time in matters of the Lord, Mother Mary Agnes set their meeting for May 12.
The morning of their meeting, Mother Mary Agnes and Sr. Mary Catherine received a “warm and gracious welcome” from Bishop Cotton. They were taken to the property on Benita Avenue that the bishop had in mind for the monastery. The nuns were then driven around town to see if they deemed another location more desirable. In the end, they agreed with the bishop, the property on Benita Avenue would serve wonderfully for the time being.
The decision was made and the Passionists chose to lay the new foundation in Owensboro. The formal establishment of the monastery took place on Oct. 7, 1946, with Mother Mary Agnes, Srs. Mary Bernadette, Mary Cecilia, Jeanne Marie and Francis Marie as its founding sisters.
So, why Owensboro? Providence and prayer truly led the Passionists here. After finding prospective locations out east undesirable, the Passionists sent about 21 letters to the south and midwest. It was determined that the first affirmative reply would be given first consideration. Bishop Cotton’s quick reply and southern hospitality assured Mother Mary Agnes that Kentucky was where God was leading them. May the faith of our Passionists inspire us. They follow Our Lord to the Cross and like adoring children follow him unquestioningly anywhere else.
Edward Wilson is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Archives and the Archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Comments and questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally printed in the May 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.