Tracing the Bowling Family
It’s not uncommon to find Sisters of Loretto who are biologically related to each other, usually as sisters, cousins, or aunts and nieces. Heritage Center staff may find these connections through our own records or by doing some genealogy sleuthing. Lately, I’ve been using FindAGrave.com to match up Sisters with the cemetery records for their parents, siblings, and other relatives. It came as quite a surprise when tracing some of the Sisters of Loretto from the Bowling family to uncover not just one or two family connections, but 31 related Sisters of Loretto!
This extensive family tree begins with Thomas Bowling (1763-1838), who was born in Maryland and migrated to Kentucky with his first wife, Ann Nevitt (1758-1804). The records for the earlier years of his family are a bit murky. Thomas and Ann were the parents of Sr. Betsy Bowling (1794-1831) of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. The Loretto personnel files also list them as the parents of Srs. Rufina and Euphrasia Bowling, twins who joined the Sisters of Loretto in 1821. However, Loretto records say that the twins were born around 1807, which is after the death of Ann Nevitt and even after the death of Thomas’ second wife, Ann Nancy Green (c. 1763–c. 1805).
Thomas remarried again, to Eleanor (Ellen) Brown (1774-1837). Like Thomas, all three of his wives were part of the Maryland to Kentucky Catholic migration in the late 18th century. Ellen Brown was the widow of John B. Hutchins, Sr., with whom she had at least four children. One of these, John B. Hutchins, Jr., became a Catholic priest. He served as chaplain at the Loretto Motherhouse alongside Rev. Francis Wuyts from 1871 to 1879. Ellen and John Sr.’s daughter Julianna had five daughters who joined the Sisters of Loretto in the mid-19th century.
Thomas Bowling and Ellen Brown had five children themselves. As I discovered through looking at FindAGrave family records, six of Thomas and Ellen’s granddaughters also became Sisters of Loretto. The direct descendants of Thomas and Ellen also include nine great-granddaughters and nine great-great-granddaughters who joined the Sisters of Loretto. In every case, these women remained in the congregation for their entire lives.
Most of Thomas Bowling’s descendants remained in the Kentucky Holy Land. The epicenter for the family seems to be New Haven in Nelson County; many descendants are buried in St. Catherine’s Cemetery in New Haven even if they did not live most of their lives there. Most of the Bowling women who became Sisters of Loretto grew up either in the area around New Haven or in other communities in Nelson and Marion Counties. Many attended St. Catherine’s School in New Haven, which was staffed by Sisters of Loretto from 1868 to 1919.
Some of the Bowling relatives may have timed their entry into Loretto together. For instance, cousins Sr. Albina Bowling and Sr. Theophila Thompson joined Loretto on the same day in 1874. Though Srs. Albina and Theophila were six years apart in age, they both grew up in New Haven, KY. Cousins Sr. Flavian Hagan and Sr. Sylvester (Bessie) Bowling were born less than a month apart in 1878, both attended Loretto Academy (Nerinx) for one year (though possibly not at the same time), and entered the Loretto congregation on the same day in 1898. Their second cousin Sr. Iveta Thompson, also born in 1878, entered Loretto eight months later.
It’s probably not surprising, with so many Sisters in the family, that they came from pious families. Sr. Mary Victor Bowling said of her upbringing, “I grew up in a very religious town and very religious home and we prayed all the time. I learned everything in chant from the time that I was able to do anything in Latin all the way through Vespers and everything. We had all of that at home.”1 Mary Victor credited her mother with getting her to the convent, after Mary Victor heard God’s voice calling her to Loretto at the same time her mother was praying in church. Mary Victor joined three of her blood sisters in becoming a Sister of Loretto.
Beginning in the 1820s and continuing to the present day, the span of Bowling family women at Loretto covers almost the entire history of the congregation. This Loretto genealogy reflects the roots of the community in the migration of Catholic Marylanders to Kentucky. It is just one demonstration how the first Catholic families in the Kentucky Holy Land gave rise to a multitude of descendants, many of whom continue to reside in or maintain close ties to this region. The number of Sisters from this extended family also shows the embeddedness of Catholic faith: not only did 31 of the descendants of Thomas Bowling and Ellen Brown become Sisters of Loretto, but even more joined other religious orders or entered the priesthood. They have all left their mark in the work they have done, from domestic and religious duties to teaching across the United States.
The 31 descendants listed by the date they entered the Sisters of Loretto:
1821 Rufina Bowling (c. 1807-1872)
Euphrasia Bowling (c. 1807-1830)
1840 Febronia (Mary Jane) Cissell (c. 1824-1842)
1849 Febronia (Mary Ann) Cissell (1828-1888)
1867 Prudentia Cissell (1846-1873) – April
Ambrosia Cissell (1838-1913) – August
1870 Claudia McCauley (1852-1904)
1871 Sidonia McCauley (1854-1941) – February
Flora McCauley (1847-1926) – May
1874 Albina Bowling (1845-1901)
Theophila Thompson (1851-1934)
1876 Parmena Cissell (1847-1905)
1878 Florentia Bowling (1853-1929)
1880 Florence Mahoney (1865-1900)
1890 Annunciata Bowling (1872-1952)
1898 Flavian Hagan (1878-1954) – April
Sylvester (Bessie) Bowling (1878-1914) – April
Iveta Thompson (1878-1960) – December
1899 Euthalia Sims (1881-1941)
1902 Albina Howard (1881-1932)
1915 Cordula Bowling (1889-1947)
Sylvester (Altha) Bowling (1894-1981)
1916 Eva Bowling (1881-1973)
1918 Clemencia Bowling (1898-1940)
1922 Bernadette Bowling (1902-1991)
1924 Mary Martin Bowling (1906-2004)
1925 Hortense Sims (1903-1981)
1926 Mary Regis Bowling (1904-1982)
1930 Mary Victor Bowling (1908-1994)
1932 Ann Benedict Bowling (1902-2004)
1952 still-living Sister of Loretto
1 Oral history interview with Sr. P.J. Manion, SL, 3/25/1992, Sr. Mary Victor Bowling personnel file, Loretto Heritage Center Archives.