Remembrance of the Life of Sister Rose (formerly Sister John Martin) Colley SL
Rose Colley has left us several accounts of her life and work, each account a valuable glimpse into the dedication and choices of a woman religious in the second half of the 20th century. No doubt much of Rose’s autobiography will appear in print eventually. For this occasion, it seems only right to focus on her life with family and Loretto, for we are the ones who will miss her most. Here is Rose’s introduction to herself:
“On the cold night of Jan. 15, 1928, Mary Agnes Geist Colley made her first trip to a hospital and gave birth to her sixth child, Rose Theresa Colley. Her husband, my father, William Hubert Colley, was with her. … An interesting thing about names: … When I came along, Mom wanted to name me for St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.” On my birth certificate they had named me Francis Therese but family legend tells me that the children didn’t like the Frances so they put names in a hat and drew out Rose. And as Rose Therese I was baptized.”
There were altogether 10 children, seven older and two younger than Rose. All appear in the following little story except Margaret who was married: “Soon after we moved into [the house our father built in 1938], Patrick was born and the following Spring we were invaded by Scarlet Fever. Ags got it first, then on the day we were supposed to come out of quarantine, I got it. Same thing happened to Seth. Hube and Bert were both away at school, Dot went to live with Elizabeth, and John had to clean out the chicken coop and sleep out there so he could help with the chores and still go to school. Before Seth came out of quarantine, he came down with Strep Throat and died. He was 4.
“We were members of Holy Name Parish on Woodland Street in Nashville, Tenn. When my sister Bert finished eighth grade and enrolled at [the Dominican Sisters’] St. Cecilia Academy, the rest of the girls also went there. I was in the fourth grade; there were about six girls in the class and we were in the room with the third grade. We [continued] at the Academy [until] I was starting 10th grade and Ags the 11th. She asked if she could go somewhere else to school. Because the family had lived in El Paso for a couple of years in 1923-24 — just a couple of blocks from the just-being built Loretto Academy — Dad wrote to see if we could go there to school. And we did. …In August of 1941 Mom and Dad took us on the train to El Paso.
“The year went fairly well. … The Sisters were very good to us. Sister Margaret Loyola was the principal. Ags was especially fond of Sister Martha Marie Bradfish and stayed in touch with her for many years. Sisters Rose Clare and Theresa Clare were in charge of the grade school boarders and, as I always claimed to be named after them, I spent much time with them, and also with Sister Jean Patrice Golden with whom I had a lifelong friendship. The next summer, back in Nashville, Ags decided to return to St. Cecilia, and I returned to El Paso.
“During retreat my senior year I finally became convinced that I should enter Loretto. I wrote home about it and my father was very upset and asked me to postpone my decision, which I did. [After graduation in 1945] I worked for the advertising department of a department store and then I [took Ags’ place as] Office Manager for Acuff-Rose Publishing Company. My boss was Fred Rose, a composer of Country Music and partner with Roy Acuff.
“On my 18th birthday, Dad sat me down and said that although it was not what he wanted for me, I was free to do whatever I wanted with my life. This was one of his greatest gifts to me, because it helped me to see that I had to be responsible for my decisions. I wrote to Mother Edwarda immediately and arranged to enter in the fall of 1946. In June I took some vacation time and went to El Paso to see Sister Jean Patrice so she could help me get my novitiate clothes together.
“When I came home and went back to work I came to think that since things were going so well I would postpone going to the convent and so wrote to Mother Edwarda to that effect. I also wrote Jean Patrice and she asked me to come to Kansas City where she had been transferred. I went for a weekend and … her words of wisdom for me were ‘Whatever you do is fine with me, but make a decision and do it now. Don’t try to straddle the fence.’ So after much more thought, I decided. Mother and Daddy drove me to Loretto on Sunday Oct. 27, 1946 — two days late because I had to finish my two-week notice to Acuff-Rose.”
In the company of a large class of creative and energetic young women, Rose received the habit on April 25, 1947, and with it the name Sister John Martin. She made her first vows two years later and her final vows Aug. 15, 1952.
Rose’s full autobiography, too lengthy for this remembrance, gives inspiring details of Loretto contributions in areas of racial justice and church renewal. In her work choices, Rose embodied the values, the determination, the compassion and creativity of so many Loretto sisters who applied their considerable educational skills to the problems of society and the needs of individuals and groups who were addressing those problems. On the occasion of her 50th Jubilee, Rose summarized her work:
“In this, my 50th year as a Sister of Loretto, I am a mediator, facilitator, trainer in mediation and conflict management, and sometimes manager of Just Solutions, a full service mediation center in Louisville, Ky. I am also a feminist, a democrat, and probably what some would call a knee-jerk liberal. How in the world did I get here from a Nashville, Tenn., semi-rural eighth child in a family of 10 who went off to El Paso, Texas, for the 10th, 11th and 12th grades?
“A lot of the answer is probably in that last sentence. I fell in love with some Sisters of Loretto and decided to join them.
“[I went to the novitiate and then spent] 12 years teaching elementary school in [Missouri] — Cape Girardeau and St. Louis. [While in St. Louis] I graduated from Webster College and completed the master’s in education at St. Louis University. In 1961 I landed as principal at Christ the King in Louisville, just as the white exodus from the West End was beginning. By the time I left Christ the King to become Supervisor of Schools, the enrollment had dropped from over 600 to just over 300 and I was heavily involved and committed to the struggle for open housing in the West End. As a Catholic School Supervisor I was able to carry out this commitment to civil rights in numerous ways, including hiring Sister Ceciliana Skees as director of the Catholic schools Head Start program. In 1970 I went to work for the University of Louisville as Field Coordinator for the Teacher Corps program.
“Teacher Corps involved a lot of team work and conflict management and when it was over I made my way to a Loretto Staff position in 1975, moving to Denver, and beginning my traveling career. Working with Loretto Co-member Susanne Terry introduced me to mediation and led to increasing my facilitating and training skills. For about 10 years, I made my living as a consultant and facilitator to many religious communities throughout the United States, with a couple of opportunities to work with international communities in England and Rome, and then to do some training in Zimbabwe and Ghana.
“In 1986 I returned to Louisville, and in 1991 found the Council on Peacemaking which had just begun the first non-profit mediation center in Louisville. I was fortunate to be hired as the director of the mediation program, [hired Sister Theresa Coyle as assistant] and worked there for [almost 20] years.
“My faith journey has been shaped by these works, moving me out, again, beyond the Catholic ghetto (there wasn’t one in my childhood) and increasing my appreciation for all people of faith. I have relied on Loretto for the nourishment of my spiritual life. Loretto gives me the strength to live by my convictions, and my friends encourage and inspire me to keep on keeping on.”
– By Eleanor Craig SL
Leave a Comment