Home » Obituaries » Remembrance of the Life of Mary Judith Brown SL

Remembrance of the Life of Mary Judith Brown SL

Posted on August 4, 2015, by Loretto Community

Mary Judith Brown SL
Oct. 30, 1922 – Aug. 4, 2015

Frances Marie Brown, the eldest of four, was born Oct. 30, 1922 in Elwood, Ind. Her siblings were Howard, Herb, and Sue. Her father, Harold E. Brown, originally of Muncie, Ind., worked nights in a steel mill where he “drew wire.” Frances’ mother, Marie Agnes Harris Brown, was from Elwood. She was a telephone operator and homemaker. Frances wrote that she knew her parents first met on Valentine’s Day.

The Browns moved to Pueblo, Colo., in time for Frances to begin elementary school. There the family experienced the extreme poverty of the Depression years in the dust bowl. In later years, Judith described some family traditions for her niece: “When I was in elementary school in Pueblo, it was our custom to sit at the dinner table after a big Sunday meal and listen to my parents talk about ‘… years ago.’… I loved hearing the story of my having been dressed up in white ruffles on an organdy dress helping my father change the crankcase oil. I dunked my little white dog into the heavy black oil then hugged him to myself! … My dad thought the episode funny; my mother saw no humor even years later.

“The day I realized I could read was like turning on a light bulb. … In high school I worked my way through Loretto Academy in Santa Fe. I was a minority there, one of three Anglos. I was co-editor of ‘Loretto Echos,’ the school’s newspaper. … As editor, I was sent to La Fonda to interview Rita Hayworth, but she was too intoxicated to keep the appointment. [On graduation] in 1941 I won a journalism scholarship to Loretto Heights College.”

After two years at the Heights, Frances Brown wrote to Reverend Mother Edwarda, repeating a desire she had expressed a year earlier to enter Loretto and stating that she had a job which would allow her to pay the dowry. “These years spent with the Sisters of Loretto [in Santa Fe and at the Heights] have determined me to become a member of the community if I am accepted.”

Following her time as a postulant, Frances was received into the novitiate on April 25, 1944, donning the habit and the name Sister Mary Judith by which she would be known the rest of her life. On April 25 two years later she pronounced her first vows, and on Aug. 15, 1949, she made final vows. Meanwhile, Mary Judith began a 40-year teaching career, going first to St. Michael School, St. Louis, then St. Patrick School, Bisbee, Ariz. In 1953, she completed her undergraduate degree at the Heights, in sociology, history and education. Ten years later Mary Judith completed a master’s degree at Creighton University in education.

“Teaching was a thrill I enjoyed since third grade when I taught my dolls after school. … Even though I disliked the restraints of school, I always wanted to teach. I have taught every elementary grade except kindergarten and first. My favorite grade was fifth, but I loved seventh and eighth graders. Officially, I taught school for almost 40 years … [and continued to tutor individuals after that]. … My early philosophy included Jesus’ words, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to Me!’ I tried to keep that in mind while teaching all types and kinds of children. Fortunately, by the grace of God, I never struck a child in my very long experience teaching school. That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to.” In all, Judith taught in St. Louis, Bisbee, Colorado Springs, Highwood and Rock Falls, Ill., and several schools in Denver, including St. Mary’s Academy.

Perhaps Sister Mary Judith’s most renowned classroom accomplishment was her very successful and long-term work inspiring both boys and girls to be interested in words. Even eighth grade boys looked forward to being in Judith’s English class. They would meet her during the Christmas holidays to prepare for the Colorado/Wyoming Scripps Howard Spelling Bee. During various years she sent three winners of the Colorado/Wyoming spelling bee to the national spelling bee in Washington D.C. In 1984 the parents of champion speller Scott Womack arranged to have Charles Schulz create an original drawing of Snoopy, the very special mascot in Judith’s classroom. Schulz’ cartoon has the caption, “I can spell Rorschach and logophile and arachibutyrophobia, but I can’t spell how WONDERFUL Sister Judith is!”

At the age of 62, Mary Judith changed her work and her place of residence. With Sister Genevieve Cavanaugh, she signed a contract with the Denver Archdiocesan Housing Committee to co-administer St. Anthony Manor in Casper, Wyo., a HUD subsidized apartment complex for low-income senior citizens. From 1984 to 2001, Judith and Genevieve worked at St. Anthony’s as administrators and then in a ministry of caring. Even after they retired, the two remained in Casper, the only Loretto Sisters in Wyoming.

In 2010 Judith retired to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary, where she and Genevieve entertained both friends and newcomers at meals with their stimulating, quick witted repartee and wide-ranging conversation. Sister Mary Judith died quietly on August 4, 2015, in the 72nd year of her commitment as a Sister of Loretto.

(Remembrance by Eleanor Craig SL)


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