Remembrance of the Life of Sister Elizabeth Ann (EA) Compton SL
The following is an autobiography of Sister Elizabeth Ann, dated July 14, 1998:
“I cannot believe that I am finally going to write my autobiography. Kate Misbauer, our new archivist, is urging all of us to do so. I will comply since next year I will be 50 years in the Community and 70 years old. How many more will be left? Mary Swain told me that as of now there are more people in the Community over the age of 100 than there are under the age of 50. I have had a good life but I do not desire to be one of the ones over the age of 100.
“I was the first child born of Catherine McNamee and Clark Matthis Compton. Dad was originally from Osage, Tenn., but came to St. Louis when he was quite young as he did not like the country. I give my father a great deal of credit as he started work here in a gas station, then drove trucks and transported cars. Eventually he owned his own care agency called Compton Motors. He sold Nash automobiles. After his stroke at the age of 55 he had to sell the agency. Dad lived to be 71. He was one of seven children born to Tommy Pillow and Yancy Compton. His family was very loving but very poor. All of his family were Baptists but Dad never claimed any religion. He was a good man and loved nature. Sometimes I think nature was his God. He certainly taught us a great love for it.
“Mother was the eldest of six children. Her father died when she was 12 and she had to quit school and go to work. One year she spent in an orphanage as her mother could not handle all the children, but her Uncle Joe came to live with them and help out as he could not Mother in an orphanage. Mother never forgot his act of kindness. Mother was the daughter of Anna Hastey and Bernard McNamee.
“When I was 2 my brother Dick was born and I loved him dearly. To this day we have never had an argument. Sometimes I do not think this was a good thing as it never taught me to argue. Dick married Therese Kekky and then had six children who now have their own children. I am quite fond and quite close to all my family.
“When I was 10 they promised me that God would give me whatever I wanted when I made my First Communion. Without telling anyone I asked for a baby sister. The next year, at the age of 40, Mother gave birth to my brother Tommy. I soon forgave God for sending me a brother instead of a sister, especially now when I have so many sisters. Tommy had kind of a rough time with marriages, but he is presently very happy, thank God. Ginny Coleman is his wife.
“I went to several grade schools — Our Lady of Sorrows for kindergarten, Blessed Sacrament for first and second, St. Ann’s, Normandy, for third, fourth, fifth and sixth, and St. Peter’s <Kirkwood, for seventh and eighth. St. Ann’s was undoubtedly my favorite. It was there that I was taught by Sister Mary Ann Girard. She knew that I could sing and asked my mother to take me to Sister Paula at Webster College. I began voice lessons at the age of 9 and singing was the greatest joy of my life. I sang lots and lots until I was 50 and then I did not like the way it sounded so I stopped. At the age of 60 I began storytelling but it will never replace my love for singing.
“For high school I went to Nerinx Hall and loved it. By this time we lived in Kirkwood so I took a street car to school. Even that was a joy. To feel the wind in my hair after a long day at school was always a refreshment. You cannot get the same feel driving in a car.
“My senior year our class took a trip to the Motherhouse. I was somewhat afraid to go for fear I would find out I had a vocation and I did not want one. Surprisingly I came home with a happy heart — I did not have a vocation.
“After Nerinx I received a voice scholarship to Webster College and began studies as a voice major. The middle of my freshman I realized I did have a vocation but was not able to get a health certificate and could not go to Loretto until after my sophomore year. My Father, not being Catholic could not really understand but he finally came around.
“I loved the novitiate and prayed that I would not become ill and have to leave. In those days I was not too strong physically but God must have wanted me for I was never ill.
“I was professed Dec. 8, 1951, and sent to Loretto Heights College for second semester. This was rather difficult as I was neither fish nor flesh — student or faculty. Sister Florence kept saying that I was a prime example of why we needed a House of Studies.
“That summer I was sent back to Webster to study and the following year went to Loretto Academy where I taught fifth grade in the morning at Our Lady of Good Counsel and music in the afternoon at the Academy. Actually I loved teaching the fifth grade and still remember some of the students.
“Every two weeks I would take the train to St. Louis for lessons with Sisters Paula and Adaline. The train left at four, my parents would meet me in Kirkwood and take me and my companion, which I had to have, to Webster. Of course we always stopped for a milk shake at Velvet Freeze. I never had trouble finding companions.
“The next morning I would take my lessons. Mother would pick us up at noon and take us to the train station. I had to be back Saturday evening in order to direct the choir on Sunday. It was never a hardship and I looked forward to those weekends.
“The next year I was changed to Webster for my senior year. I practice taught at Nerinx Hall, which was a joke as I taught all year and never had a supervising teacher. The following year I became full-time faculty at Nerinx where I remained for six years teaching music and religion. I also had a homeroom.
“In 1959 I became quite ill with what they thought was lupis or rheumatoid arthritis. At any rate I had to stop teaching for several months. I was changed to St. Mary’s Academy in Denver for health reasons. Mother Edwarda was superior there at the time. I do believe my best teaching years were at St. Mary’s. I made many good friends there.
“Much to my sorrow in 1969 I was changed to Loretto in Kansas City. By the time I left there in 1976 I taught music 5-12. I did love teaching and never had a moment’s regret that this was what I was chosen to do.
“In 1976 I felt it was time to return to St. Louis. My father had died in 1969 and Mother was getting older and needed my help. I lived at the White House in Webster, taught part-time music at Pius V School and worked part time at Lafayette with our older Sisters. The following year I worked full time at Pius. After four years I knew my teaching days were over as I was becoming impatient with the children and did not like myself.
“The next four years I spent on the staff working with Sisters Mariella and Joan Spero in Community Life.
“After this time I did some teaching at the Loretto School for Learning with Sister Helene and drove for the Sisters at 590.
“In 1989 I began working at the Cardinal Ritter Institute Adult Daycare. Most of the folks had Alzheimer’s, and I was activity director. This was a challenge but I enjoyed it for the next five years. Once again I knew I was due for a change. Sister Kathleen O’Malley CSJ was the director, but she was asked to become administrator at their Retirement Center — Nazareth Living Center. She felt a need for someone to work with assisted-living folks as most of the activities were geared to the frail elderly.
“So, that is what I have been doing for almost three years now. I plan bus trips, cultural, spiritual, educational, recreational programs and so far am enjoying it. I am there three days a week and the other two I do storytelling so I have the best of both worlds. God has been good to me. Loretto has been good to me.”
At about the time EA’s account ends, 1998, she had been doing the serious and fun work as a storyteller for several years. She was a member of the Gateway Storytellers and of the Missouri group MO-TELL, performing at festivals, school, libraries, churches and senior centers. Collected in her file are stories about learning to sing with the Ward method, about the pocket that was part of our habit; stories about getting older; a story about her stepping over the line at Fort Benning. There are stories about EA’s father’s home in Tennessee, about growing up in St. Louis and about bagging sand in the 1993 flood. In 1999 she was named one of the top 20 storytellers at the Storytellers Festival held at the St. Louis Arch.
In 2010 EA wrote for the apostolic visitation: “I live at the Loretto Center in St. Louis. Fortunately I am still able to drive so I am able to take Sisters to doctor’s appointments, etc. It is easy to keep busy and to help others in the house. I also volunteer at Cardinal Glennon Hospital, reading to the children once a week.
“I am taking a class to learn to use Orff instruments, which I have always wanted to do. Joining the Loretto congregation was the best decision I ever made. There have been a few ups and down, certainly, but nothing I could not handle. My life in Loretto has been so blessed; I would not trade it for any other vocation.”
— Additional material by Eleanor Craig SL