Aug. 28, 1928 — Nov. 18, 2017
Susan Catherine Howard was the youngest of seven children born to John Warner Howard and Mary Annette Madden Howard. Although born on the Howard farm near Springfield, Ky., Susan grew up in Lebanon, among her mother’s extended family. She was very close to her four sisters and two brothers, most of whom attended St. Augustine’s Grade School and High School, where they came to know the Sisters of Loretto very well.
Susan was not only taught by Loretto Sisters for 12 years at “St. A’s”, but also her older sister, Elizabeth Ann, having graduated from high school in 1940, had gone immediately to Loretto, taking the names of their father and mother and becoming “Sister Johnanna.” By 1947, when Susan graduated from high school, no one was surprised that Susan followed her sister to Loretto.
On Oct. 25, 1947, Susan became a postulant alongside young women from near and far, including some she would treasure as lifelong friends, Rosemary Keegan and Theresa Coyle. April 25, 1948, she received the habit and the name Sister William Mary, in honor of her favorite brother, Dr. Bill Howard. She made her first vows on April 25, 1950. On Aug. 15, 1953, Sister William Mary and classmates were the first to don the newly simplified veil, receiving it just in time for their final vow ceremony.
Between first and final vows Sister William Mary was missioned at St. Mary’s in Rockford, Ill., teaching first and second grades, not too far from her sister Johnanna, who was teaching at Highwood and then Sterling, Ill. The annals of Rockford, Sterling and Highwood note regular visits between the sister-Sisters and other members of the Howard family. Also supportive of Susan were her first two superiors, Sisters Magdalen Mary Skees and Athanasia Hamilton; until the day she died, Susan kept photographs of each of these two – a clear indication of the lasting positive impact of their kindness toward her.
Starting in 1953, Susan spent 10 summers completing her undergraduate degree at Loretto Heights College; she graduated in 1963 with a major in education. Following five years at her first mission, Susan went on to another 20 years of teaching primary grades in eight Loretto elementary schools in five states: Los Angeles; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Houston; El Paso and Freeport, Texas; Cape Girardeau, Mo.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Denver. In each place, Susan loved teaching young children.
Moving to Blessed Sacrament School in Denver in 1973, Susan again had the pleasure of living and teaching near her sister, Johnanna, who taught at the Rhodes Tutoring Center and Havern Center from 1973 to 1983. Susan herself acquired Certification in Child Development and for six years she taught very young children in the Denver Head Start Program. In 1982 Susan joined Johnanna in teaching at the Havern Center; although Johnanna retired the next year, Susan continued at Havern until 1987.
From the mid-1970s Susan had been experiencing unexplained pain and health problems, which surgery and rest did not relieve. She continued to teach and to enjoy young children, but by the mid-1980s Susan could no longer do classroom teaching. In 1987 she moved to Louisville, Ky., where she did part-time tutoring and where she could be near family and could visit Johnanna at the Motherhouse Infirmary. Susan herself retired to the Infirmary in 1995.
Sister Susan celebrated her golden Jubilee in April 1998. Photos in Susan’s possession reveal the simple joy of the occasion and the affection among the six novitiate classmates. Jane Marie Richardson wrote a song for the jubilarians that expressed well Susan’s life as a Sister of Loretto:
“Only one desire, only one hope, to be united in the love of God …
all that we are, all that we do, we offer to God …”