An Ursuline sister of Mount Saint Joseph walks through the Mount Saint Joseph Cemetery in this undated photograph. COURTESY OF MSJ ARCHIVES
A Halloween tale from the Mount Saint Joseph Archives
BY EDWARD WILSON, ARCHIVES
It’s October and you know what that means; this month we celebrate a holiday that many proudly claim as their favorite. I’m not referring to the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, although that’s undoubtedly a hands-down top five. I am of course talking about Halloween. Few holidays are as rife with lore and unmistakable imagery. For several years I have thought about doing this exact article. I finally decided to do it after I recently had a conversation with one of our priests about a local church that is rumored to have been visited by the spirit of one of its former monsignors. So, get your favorite pumpkin shaped candy because I am going to recount a seasonally appropriate tale from our very own diocese.
This is a story that I imagine few are familiar with. It comes from the archives of Mount Saint Joseph. Fr. Paul Joseph Volk is the saintly founder of the Mount. He was born and raised in the town of Hünfeld (in what is now Germany). After moving to America and establishing the Mount, he invited his beloved mother Elizabeth to come spend her remaining years with him. She accepted and became a staple of the Mount until her death in 1884.
After her passing, several people began reporting strange happenings in the Mount Saint Joseph Chapel. According to an article in the Sept. 21, 1969 issue of the Messenger-Inquirer, Mrs. Francis Brandt Markowitcz reported that her mother, Mrs. Mary Bell Alvey and several others heard Mrs. Volk’s footsteps in the old chapel soon after she was laid to rest. Her footsteps were described as being a very discernable heavy step followed by a soft pat. This would not be the end of the occurrences, however.
After the reported footsteps the story only grew. In addition to the footsteps, it was reported that Mrs. Volk was actually seen after her passing. This also took place in the chapel where she was seen sitting in her regular spot in the pew. In addition to this, when asked, Fr. Volk reportedly acknowledged the sightings and confirmed that his mother was a saint and there was no reason that she wouldn’t appear among them.
Did any of this actually happen? Did Fr. Volk actually confirm, deny or even hear of the matter? Being that the Messenger-Inquirer article was published 50 years after his death, it is doubtful. But tales such as these are signs of a happy and well-developed community and that community’s unique culture. Mount Saint Joseph Academy was a school for young women; I imagine that the tale was a favorite for the academy girls to whisper about, especially around the Halloween season. For any Owensboro Catholic High School graduates, this could bring the story of the Sister of Charity on the top floor of OCHS to mind. However, for those of you unfamiliar with that tale, it is perhaps one for another October.
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 [email protected].
Originally printed in the October 2023 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.