Throwback Thursday: Remembering Sister Gaudentia Downey
It’s been written before, but arguably the most enjoyable time heading to Archives to research the Throwback Thursday blogs is to read the unbelievable history associated with the sisters.
This week, we examine the life of Sister Gaudentia Downey, another sister who had a life journey filled with twists and turns.
Born Jan. 21, 1900, in Denver, Mary Henrietta Downey would later be a Sister of Providence for 74 years.
Her father was born in Martin County, Indiana. He left Indiana and traveled west, eventually settling in Colorado. He fought in the Spanish-American War.
The family suffered a tragic loss early when Mary Henrietta’s younger brother passed away at the age of 2. Later, her younger sister passed away from injuries sustained from a house fire.
Immediately following the house fire incident, Mary Henrietta’s father wanted to have the remaining children baptized. On the day of the baptisms, Mary Henrietta’s mother left the homestead, leaving a letter stating she could not live with Catholics.
During her childhood, Mary Henrietta was raised by several different relatives. While she had been baptized Catholic, she was not allowed to practice as a Catholic.
During one instance of discipline, her uncle took her back to her father – who lived close to where the children were staying. During the visit, Mary Henrietta’s uncle told her father “Take your children to your own people or this one will be lost to God and man.”
Her father was granted a divorce and took the children by train back to Indiana, settling near Loogootee.
On Dec. 1, 1915, Mary Henrietta entered the Congregation and was given the name Sister Gaudentia. The Latin meaning of “Gaudentia” is joy.
Sister Gaudentia, or “Gaudy” as she was called by the other Sisters of Providence, began her ministry as an elementary school teacher in 1918 at St. Patrick in Fort Wayne. She continued teaching in elementary schools in Chicago, Indiana (including Indianapolis, Lafayette and New Castle), North Carolina and Los Angeles, officially retiring in 1973 after three years at St. John Holy Spirit in Indianapolis. In all, Sister Gaudentia taught for 52 years.
In 1973, she returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to begin a ministry as the Activity Room coordinator, before retiring from there in 1981. She continued ministering as a volunteer in the sisters’ infirmary and also ministered as a tutor for Cuban refugees before offering herself to the ministry of prayer in 1983.
In the commentary for her obituary, Sister Ann Casper noted that the sisters knew Sister Gaudentia as a “prayerful woman, patient, generous and caring; steadfast and joyful.” In fact, students at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College who had the opportunity to meet Sister Gaudentia often referred to her as “Sister Joy.”
Sister Gaudentia’s birth sister, Florence, also entered the Sisters of Providence in March 1918. She was given the name Sister Margaret Lucille and was a Sister of Providence for 70 years before passing away in 1988. In addition, her uncle entered the priesthood. Born in 1880, Monsignor James Michael Downey died in 1948. The Knights of Columbus Council 3660, based in Indianapolis, is named after him.