Teacher, Traveler, Trailblazer: Sister Marcia Welsh

Sr. Marcia WelshUnlike many women called to become a nun in the 20th century, Sister Marcia Welsh wasn’t drawn to vowed religious life right after high school. First she received her college education, enjoyed a successful career teaching, and had a very active social life that included a tour of Europe with a friend. Yet the entire time, she was a model of faith and lived the Gospel in many ways that inspired and comforted others.
An exemplary student at Youngstown College, Sister Marcia was asked before graduating to teach college math courses to GIs returning from World War II. “I was almost a different person in the classroom. I felt like an actress,” she reflected in a 2002 interview by her nephew, Tom Welsh. “I thought, ‘I should go to Hollywood,’ because I really acted the role of being in charge of this class, when technically, I didn’t feel old enough to be in charge.”
But she was a good instructor, and the college called on her teach from 1946-56. She also taught math at Walsh College in Canton, and was on the faculty of Ursuline High School for two decades.
Her college years weren’t all work and no play, though. Sister Marcia was a member of the Alpha Theta Delta sorority and forged friendships that lasted her lifetime. “I met Sister Marcia during my first college days,” remembers Theresa “Tess” Trucksis Hickey, Sister Marcia’s good friend. “I knew no one. I was lonely. Sister Marcia became my friend, always kind, caring and helpful.” Mrs. Hickey and fellow sorority sisters the late Dr. Gratia Murphy and Mary Dingledy Fecych kept close ties Sister Marcia over the years.
During her young adult life, Sister Marcia was already a leader in the Catholic community, volunteering on campus with students looking to deepen their faith. “I knew her from 1950–1954 at the [Youngstown College] Newman Club,” says Sister Charlotte Italiano, then a student and now director of the Ursuline Preschool and Kindergarten. “She was very much a spiritual leader. She was a very, very, very active person. She was a very important person in our lives there.”
Sister Charlotte, who entered the Ursuline Sisters in 1955, the year prior to Sister Marcia, remembers that Sister Marcia’s example impressed many people. “She was a very active woman and ahead of her time, teaching at college in an all-man’s world, being a very involved woman leader. It was great.”
Sister Marcia’s academic record is impressive, having earned a baccalaureate with five minors and a master’s degree before entering the convent; after becoming an Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, she earned another master’s degree and completed more than 170 hours of post-graduate work at various universities to strengthen her ministry work. As both a student and an educator, Sister Marcia was recognized for excellence with numerous awards.
Despite having academic and career success as a young adult, as well as great relationships with family and friends, Sister Marcia’s heart wasn’t filled, so in her early 30s, Sister Marcia was led by her faith to another vocation.
“When I first thought of going to the convent, it was because a relative of mine had thought of a vocation in terms of missionary work with the Maryknollers,” Sister Marcia reflected in her 2002 interview. “And then, I met a young woman who was entering the Ursuline Sisters, and she told the Diocesan director of vocations that I was thinking about convent; and so, I was invited to come and talk about it. And it was even surprising to me. I said, ‘Yes, I should look at this.’ I’ve been very glad that I did, ever since.”
In her 44 years of active ministry, Sister Marcia not only taught high school and college math, she served as In-Service Director at Windsor Nursing Home and as Pastoral Minister at St. Aloysius Parish in East Liverpool. During the 1990s, Sister Marcia lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for SOME (So Others Might Eat), first as a volunteer coordinator and then as a Senior Center Coordinator. “The first couple of years I was there, I educated myself in Washington,” Sister Marcia said in her 2002 interview. “I took part in a lot more peace activities…I educated myself politically.”
When she returned to Youngstown in 1998, she began a decade of ministry in Social Justice, especially working as a chaplain for jails and prisons in northeast Ohio, a ministry inspired by her time in and connections from Washington. “I had been arrested twice while I was there [for picketing outside the South African Embassy] and was inside the D.C. jail, one time for three days. And, you know, just that little experience made me think, ‘Gee, there should be more going on down there than just warehousing….’ Then, I went to a national meeting of C.U.R.E. [Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants]…. It’s people who are in prison ministry, and it especially dealt with people who want restorative justice rather than just revenge or warehousing. They want rehabilitation and restoration.
“So, then, when I got home, I looked into it, and gradually, I worked into prison ministry,” Sister Marcia recounted in her 2002 interview. At that time, she was visiting four prisons and one jail every week, speaking with both women and men. Sister Marcia said that while she taught the inmates ideas and widened their understanding, she also learned from them.
St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline order, always counseled hospitality and resilience. Sister Marcia Welsh embraced both these in her daily life. And she did her best to influence others in her mission and ministry – especially her family.
“She always shared with us her causes, the things she thought were important on a broad society scale and encouraged us to get involved — whether it was about nuclear disarmament or capital punishment — to work to try to make society better,” says Kevin Welsh, Sister Marcia’s youngest nephew. “Even from being a young kid, I can remember things from being involved in a march about nukes, or how she would talk about her ministry in later years with the folks in the prisons — trying to help those who faced an uphill struggle and not many on their side.”
Passionate about peace, courageous in her fight for Social Justice, leading by example in her love of the Lord, learning, her Ursuline Sisters community, family and friends, Sister Marcia Welsh passed away Oct. 9, 2013. From the time of her retirement from full-time ministry in 2008 until her death, Sister Marcia remained active in service at the Motherhouse, most recently praying for the needs for the Church and the world.
“What we will miss are Marcia’s educational skills, her love of politics and encouragement to respond to injustices, her advocacy for those in prison and the poor,” states Sister Nancy Dawson, General Superior of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown. “I am sure there were never enough mailboxes in Congress to accommodate her letters on behalf of the poor.”
Read Sister Nancy’s full reflection on the life of Sister Marcia.

Companion in Mission

The following reflection was written by Mary Ann,a  Companion in Mission

When I was in elementary school, I remember my PSR (CCD) teacher once saying that faith is not something that you can pick up when you go to mass on Sunday and then forget about the rest of the week.  While I had found occasional ways of integrating my faith into the course of a week, I was still locked into the routine of distinguishing Sunday from the days when I did not attend mass.  As a part of the faith community at the Motherhouse, however, the routine of a faith-filled life gives me the feel that every day is a Sunday, and time itself seems to take on a different rhythm.

When I reached the one-week mark of my stay, I had a hard time trying to conceptualize the amount of time I’d spent here.  In some aspects, I couldn’t believe that a full week had passed.  Between spending time with the sisters, fulfilling the commitments of my internship, and taking time for personal reflection, I lost track of the time slipping away beneath me.  In other aspects, I felt as though I had been here much longer than a week.  I was surprised by how quickly I fell into the routine and became familiar with the sisters and staff at the Motherhouse and the other volunteers and students I worked with off-site.
I enjoy the group of children that I work with at Potter’s Wheel on Tuesday and Wednesday and at Villa Maria on Thursday.  When I first met the children on a Thursday morning, I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the new faces in the room and all of the names I would have to learn.  I walked over to a group of them, knelt down at their level, and began talking to them.  I asked them their names and ages and told them a little about myself, and at that point, one girl came up to me and said, “I want to help you.”  There wasn’t any particular task at hand, but it was good to be reminded of that sense of cooperation between the kids and the counselors.  They all had stories they wanted to share with me, and between the initial drop-off and the van ride to Villa Maria, I did my best to just listen.  By the end of the day, another one of the girls gave me a kiss on the cheek.
Since I have such a passion for the natural world, I have enjoyed watching that same passion emerge within the kids at GROW Camp.  On the second Thursday at GROW Camp, we spent the morning visiting the various farm animals.  The sheep weren’t outside when we first sat down outside of their gate, but they began filtering out when they heard our voices.  One of the staff members suggested that we sing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for the sheep, so I joined along in their chorus.  As soon as we finished the song—as if on cue—the little white lamb hopped out of the barn and stood by its mother.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I came for my first Tuesday at Potter’s Wheel.  At Grow Camp, I was their counselor, but here, I’d be their teacher.  On the first day, I had the challenge of trying to figure out their skill levels, so the lessons I had prepared didn’t go as smoothly as planned.  The older children carried out the lesson well, but I hadn’t adapted it well enough to the younger children.  I faced the same challenge when I went to the Beatitude House apartments later that afternoon.  I hadn’t quite adapted my lesson plans to their level, and when they thanked me at the end, I wondered whether I had actually taught them anything and whether I deserved their appreciation.
I ended the day feeling discouraged, but when I came back to the Motherhouse, Tessa the cat came running over to greet me.  I don’t know how she knew I needed some animal therapy, but I was grateful for her affection.  We spent some time sitting on the bench (she even put her front two paws on my legs for a little while), and by then I was ready to put the day behind me and start the next day fresh.
Wednesday did, in fact, go much more smoothly.  One of the mothers came to teach the children Spanish, and I enjoyed learning along with them.  At the end of the day, we gave the children time to read, which was a good way to unwind after a busy—and hot—day.  One of the boys came over to read to me, and even though he’d struggled with some of the other activities, I was impressed by his ability to read.  He insisted on reading one book after another, and he always made sure to pause at the end of each page to make sure that I had seen the picture, which he must have learned from one of his teachers.  I enjoyed being able to lose myself in the moment and share his passion for reading, but I felt bad cutting him when we reached the end of the class.
My time at the Motherhouse has also been filled with stories—that is, in the sisters’ willingness to share their stories with me.  After helping Sisters Gertrude and Germaine sort through their closets one morning, Sister Germaine invited me back to her room to give me a “tour of music land.”  She showed me the photo albums of her former piano students, and as I listened to her talk about them, I could feel the pride that she still had for her students.  Above all, she emphasized that she’s had a wonderful life, and if she could do it all over again, she would do it exactly the same, mistakes and all, “because that’s how you learn!”
The sisters have been understanding of me and my current position in life, and I am so grateful for their willingness to share their experience and wisdom with me.  As a recent college graduate, I have so many options and opportunities before me, but I’m not sure which path I want to take.  Sister Mary Ann shared with me her belief in the Spirit, and she talked about various moments in her life when she felt the Spirit working within her.  She stressed the importance of listening to God’s will, and she also told me about the importance of responding to the needs of the time, which is what the Ursuline Sisters have done in their own ministry.  Sister Julia and I had an opportunity to chat one Sunday afternoon.  As we sat on the bench out front, I admitted that I was still trying to figure out where my life was headed.  She reassured me that you can’t push it; all you can do is knock on doors and wait for God to open one for you.
I also had an opportunity to reflect on my future when I attended a Theology on Tap meeting with one of my fellow volunteers, Mary Rizzo.  The guest speaker for the evening was Bishop Murray, and he gave a wonderful talk about discernment.  I had never heard of that term before, but he defined it as a strategy of making any directional “life” choices where you not only consider what you want to do but also what God wants you to do.  I had never thought about it from that perspective, and since the question of “What do you want to do with your life?” has always felt so isolating and intimidating, I liked the idea of sharing part of the burden with a force greater than my own.  While I listened to the bishop’s words, I looked around the room at everyone who had come for this event.  They were all young adults facing decisions about college or careers, and it was comforting to know that they all had the same concerns and questions that I did.
Here at the Motherhouse, there is always someone to be with.  The sisters have introduced me to Handel’s ice-cream, and with the hot weather we’ve had this summer, it’s been a real treat.  Most evenings, Sister Dorothy and I enjoy going on bike rides and walks together, and she has even invited me to pray with her, which no one else has ever invited me to do.  Sister Julia and I have gotten together a few times and played Scrabble, which is one of my favorite games and I’m glad to have found a companion.  On my first Saturday morning here, Sister Norma invited me to go bird-watching with her and a group of adults at the Mill Creek Park.  I have found so many ways to connect with the sisters through our various shared passions, and I feel as though they have become my friends.
I hadn’t realized how deep the connection had become until I attended the funeral of Sister Marie-Helene.  It was my first chance to meet the sisters who live off site and be together with everyone, and as I walked into the chapel with them, I felt so moved by their sense of community.  I hadn’t expected to feel the loss as strongly as I did.  While Sister Marie-Helene was ill, I accompanied our Faith-Sharing prayer group to say the Our Father with her.  I had never had the opportunity to meet her personally, but though our one shared prayer, I met her spiritually, and I felt the pull of that bond deep within me during the service.
Even though my experience at the funeral moved me to tears, I shared many good laughs during my time here as well.  Sister Bridget has given me a nickname, Lady Long Legs, and she has taught me the nicknames she’s given to some of the other sisters as well.  As Sister Dorothy put it, Sister Bridget  has her own special language, and I feel honored to be a part of her vocabulary.  I love the feeling of walking through the halls and eating my meals at the Motherhouse because wherever I go, I pass smiling faces who greet me by name, or I hear a familiar voice call out, “Hey, Legs!

Monique Smith – A New Ursuline Associate

Monique states “The Ursulines are out in the world living the call of Christ”.  Monique lives her call as a teacher at Summit Academy Community School in Warren.  She is a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Youngstown where she was part of R.C.I.A.  She continues to serve in the parish in many areas. Monique enjoys time with her family. As an Associate, she continues to serve her Church and Community while strengthening her relationship with God.