Sister Marie Kevin Tighe
“Nothing therefore can come between us and the love of Christ … neither death or life, neither angels nor principalities, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.”
Reading: Romans 8:28-39 (selected verses)
I feel that I should begin this commentary about Sister Marie Kevin’s nearly 90-year long life’s journey with a disclaimer. What was I thinking (?!) when I said yes to her request to write it? Is it not rather presumptuous on my part to think I could begin to capture in one short, commentary such a long, productive life full of loving relationships and nearly 69 years of active ministry. It took her three years to write her memoirs, for heaven’s sake, entitled “Arch, Steeples and Dome,” and that book only covered 34 years of her faith journey in the Vatican Council II era. However, here’s the attempt, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, who died May 19, 2014, at age 89. She was a Sister of Providence for 72 years.
Anna Therese (not only her mother’s name, but yes, almost identical with Mother Theodore Guerin’s baptismal name, whose cause would become her passion in later years), was born Aug. 23, 1924, in New Albany, Ind., to Edward and Anna Buche Tighe.
She grew up in the shadows of Holy Trinity Church – the first of the steeples – where she had her one brother, Paul Edward, who died in infancy, and her five older sisters – Prisca, Edith, Alice, Mary and Ruth – were baptized and where their parents modeled a deep and practical faith life. All the girls received eight years of elementary education at Holy Trinity.
It was there in eighth-grade, that the seed of Marie Kevin’s religious vocation to the Sisters of Providence was planted. She recounts the story in her book: It was Valentine’s Day and several of the boys left the playground during lunch hour (a forbidden act!) to go downtown to buy candy for their girlfriends. After recess, there was quite a hubbub in the classroom. When Sister Viola Marie appeared in the doorway, immediately quieting the class by her very presence, she quickly assess the situation and simply said, ‘Ain’t love grand!” As Marie Kevin recounted the story, “I saw exemplified the Providence charism of showing, ‘love, mercy and justice.’” Echoes of Mother Theodore’s admonition of “Love the children first.”
She began high school at Presentation Academy in Louisville, but transferred to Providence Juniorate at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods the beginning of her junior year. Thus began her love affair with Saint Mary’s, in the shadow and light of the second steeple of her journey – the Church of the Immaculate Conception. It was here that she attended daily Mass as a candidate, and after entering the Congregation Jan. 7, 1942, here that she pronounced her first and final vows Aug. 15, in 1944 and 1949 respectively, and here that she gathered for multiple community and public celebrations through the years.
She earned bachelors and master’s degrees in social studies and secondary administration, respectively; the first from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and the second from Indiana State University. She held a master’s degree in spirituality from Saint Louis University.
Beginning in 1944 and for the next 24 years, she was an elementary and secondary teacher and principal in several Catholic schools in Indiana and two in Chicago, always in the shadow and light of a parish Church steeple. Her teaching career gave way to four years of Congregational service, from 1968-72, as regional/provincial counselor in St. Gabriel Region/Province in Peru and Indianapolis.
In 1980, her ministry changed. She found herself in the shadow and light of the twin steeples of St. Meinrad Archabbey Church. She spent the next four years as spiritual director and instructor in the seminary, thus again influencing the Church after Vatican Council II.
In 1984, she accepted a position as director of the Office of Pastoral Councils for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which became an eight-year assignment, through 1992. During this period, she moved around a cluster of parish steeples in the 39 counties comprising the archdiocese. One of the priests of the archdiocese wrote us a few days ago, “Marie Kevin was a wonderful example of the life that Jesus wants us to live. Her energy in serving was fantastic to witness. I saw total spirituality in all her work.” Indeed. The headline introducing the article about Marie Kevin in the Wednesday, May 21, 2014, issue of the Tribune Star called her a “Spiritual Force.”
In what Marie Kevin calls her Lighthouse Interlude in her book, she recounts a four-year period of ill health from 1992-96. She said of the period: It marked for me “one of the strongest signs of God’s providential action in my life.”
Her next ministry assignment was her appointment in 1996 as Vice Postulator/Promoter of Mother Theodore’s Cause and in 2006, as director of the shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. Her passion and energy around Mother Theodore’s beatification and canonization are well known to all in this church. The symbol she chose to recount those years was the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
She ended this ministry at age 82 and spent the next three years writing her memoirs, finally slowing down a bit when she moved to Lourdes Hall in 2009.
Children gravitated to her, says a friend. “Every time she came to our school, first-grader Zach would get in trouble. He would see her heading for the principal’s office, and without asking the teacher, he would dart out of the room, run up to her and give her a big hug, saying, ‘I just wanted to tell you the kids really like it when you come to our school.’”
That love played itself out in her support of family members and at-first strangers, with whom she soon forged a strong bond. This story was related, ‘She was always going out of her way to welcome and care for others. A WED graduate of SMWC told the board of trustees the story of her journey in the WED program. Her participation in the WED program cost her her marriage – her husband could not accept it.
She had a tearful visit with the director of the program who assured the student that we had sisters who prayed for the students, especially in hard times. She sent the student to Marie Kevin, who greeted her outside West tile hall door with open arms. The student said that ‘Marie Kevin loved me through my studies.’”
Loving, supportive – let’s also say she was “direct,” and one whose persistence was akin to the widow’s in Jesus’ parable who finally wore down the judge. She took it upon herself to give the postulator of the cause a pep talk now and then. On one occasion, having delivered full documentation of a case for a possible miracle, she told Dr. Ambrosi, ‘Now don’t let the next generation find this unopened on a shelf; get to it.” And he did as we all know.
Oftentimes, Marie Kevin’s mind seemed to be way ahead of her feet. We all know the propensity to fall. This is evidently not a recent phenomenon. The story is told that as a young sister, she fell in the middle of a downtown street in Chicago and the superior instructed the others to “just keep walking as if you don’t know her.”
Marie Kevin’s passion and persistence for the corporate renewal process never died down. Every five years, when the Sisters of Providence had a General Chapter, the general superior and her council almost came to expect that Marie Kevin would want to talk to them about the process that was going to be used. She was always concerned that the community was on the right track.
Marie Kevin was also a woman of compassion and extraordinary kindness. She was able to feel with those who were struggling with health issues, with emotional challenges, with loss or with life’s disappointments. It was incredible how she was able not only to establish relationships, but also to maintain them.
One of our Providence Associates said of her, ‘My entire Providence journey can be traced back to Marie Kevin. She lit the fire of Providence that now burns in my heart.”
I suspect that Marie Kevin lit many a fire in her nearly 90 years – in the hearts of family members, her sisters and all who call her friend.
A sister visiting her in these final days told Marie Kevin, “I wish Mother Theodore would help you. You helped her so much,” to which
Marie Kevin replied, “But she’s busy managing this whole place.” Let us all take heart then that Mother Theodore now has someone at her right hand who, with extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment, will assist her in the managing!
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Marie Kevin Tighe was Thursday, May 22, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Please share your memories of Sister Marie Kevin in the comments section below.
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