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Sister Mary Imelda Coulup

Sister Mary Imelda Coulup

“Always be joyful; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks; this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Test everything and hold no to what is good. May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may your spirit, life and body be kept blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word of God.”

—– A reading from the first letter to the Thessalonians, Chapter 5, verses 16-23

It would seem that Sister Mary Imelda Coulup took this passage from Saint Paul to heart, for she was all of her life happy, prayerful, kind, gracious, and full of gratitude, said Sister Lawrence Ann Liston in commentary written by Sister Janet Gilligan for Sister Mary Imelda Coulup, who died Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 98 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 78 years.

And after 98 years of life and 78 years of generous service to the people of God, Sister Mary Imelda was ready for the coming of the Lord. She did indeed for all things give thanks – for her ability to work, the care given her as her health failed, Notre Dame’s football victories, and her loving family.

Mary Elizabeth Coulup was born to John and Clara Duesterberg Coulup on August 28, 1918, in Vincennes, Indiana. She was the second of their five children: Catherine, Mary Elizabeth, Helen, Rita, and John. Mary’s friends remembered her as something of a tomboy, and the son of her best friend Norma relates how, years later, when his mother got together with the “girls,” it was “as if they were little kids again, laughing and giggling and telling stories about when they were growing up in Vincennes.”

Mary Elizabeth attended Saint John’s Elementary School in Vincennes and graduated from Saint Rose Academy in Vincennes in 1937. She had always wanted to teach young children and to dedicate her life to God, so she entered the Sisters of Providence on February 2, 1939. Her father drove her to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods; those who knew her well will not be surprised to learn that they stopped in several towns on the way to enjoy a glass of beer for fear it would be her last one. It was not.

Sister Mary Imelda Coulup enjoys the 175th anniversary Mass of the founding of the Sisters of Providence in 2015.

Sister Mary Imelda made her first profession of vows in 1941 and her final profession in 1947. She received a Bachelor of Science in Education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1956 and a Master’s degree in Education from Indiana State University in 1970. From 1941 to 1994, for 53 years, she fulfilled her dream of teaching young children. In Chicago, Indiana, and Maryland, she taught primary grades for 20 years and intermediate grades for 33 years. She was a loved and respected teacher; one student remembers her as his “favorite teacher of all time.”

Sister Mary Imelda Coulup

Teacher for 53 years in schools in Indiana, Illinois and Maryland

In Indiana: St. Ann, Indianapolis (1945-46); Holy Cross, Indianapolis (1946-47); St. John the Baptist, Newburgh (1948-50, 1953-59); St. Ann, Terre Haute (1951-52); St. Margaret Mary, Terre Haute (1962-67); St. Leonard, West Terre Haute (1967-68); St. Catherine, Indianapolis (1968-76); St. Ann, New Castle (1976-82); Our Lady of the Greenwood, Greenwood (1982-96).

In Illinois: St. Mark, Chicago (1941-45); St. Genevieve, Chicago (1951, 1952-53).

In Maryland: Ascension, Halethorpe (1947-48); Holy Redeemer, College Park (1959-62).

In addition to her teaching skill, Mary Imelda had many passions. She reveled in exercise, riding a bike long distances with her friend Sister Ann Paula and walking a mile a day. In 1978, she won a trophy in New Castle, Indiana, for being the oldest bike rider in a Ride-a-Bike fundraiser for disabled children. She loved to drive, sometimes rather fast, and was a driver for the sisters after she retired. She loved peppermints and hamburgers and onion rings.

And she retained her life-long love of beer. This seems to have its roots in family tradition, for her cousin recalls that his grandfather and Mary’s father used to make beer in their basement. Their mother then delivered it to various relatives, hauling it around in a little wagon. And some 50 years ago, her cousin’s mother would bring the sisters at Sister Mary Imelda’s convent six-packs of beer disguised in brown paper bags. Sister Ann Paula recalls enjoying a beer with Sister Mary Imelda one evening, who observed that it did not taste as good as the ones she used to have to keep cool in the toilet tank. In her last years in Health Care, she still enjoyed an occasional glass of beer.

But perhaps her greatest passion was her die-hard love of Notre Dame football. She often attended home games and when she left Our Lady of the Greenwood, she was presented with a football signed by Coach Lou Holtz. It was her most prized possession. In her last years, her room in Mother Theodore Hall attested to her passion for Notre Dame football, with Notre Dame sheets, a Notre Dame rug, and a Notre Dame wastebasket.

Mary Imelda remained close to her family throughout her life. Her sister Helen died young, and another sister, Catherine, raised Helen’s children along with her own. Mary Imelda helped when she could, spending summers with Catherine and one summer helping to paint her house. Her brother and sisters all preceded her in death. But the family lives on in her many nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, all who respect and revere Sister Mary Imelda.

She is remembered by the members of her community as hard working, always interested in the well-being of the house she lived in, wise, a real friend, funny, pleasant, direct, appreciative, gentle, selfless, soft spoken, simple, without frills, always smiling. She was also deeply spiritual, a prayerful person who took to heart the scriptural mandate to pray constantly.

Her last teaching assignment was Our Lady of the Greenwood in Greenwood, Indiana. As she prepared to retire in 1994, she said, “God has blessed me with good health. That has been important for me to carry on His work in teaching.” A news article from the time quotes Mary Imelda saying that if she had taught her students one thing over the years, she hoped it was “to make them realize God loves them, and to bring them closer to God.” The writer goes on to say, “And if the love her students show for her is any example of their love for God, she’s certainly done her job.”

She was admired not only for her teaching, but also for her humility, her love of sports, and her grilled cheese sandwiches. She rarely missed flipping cheese sandwiches at church functions.

“She’s just one of those rare souls that lives her life for the Lord and other people,” said school principal Kathy Fleming. “She’s always taken a back seat to everyone else.”

When she retired in 1994, each class at Our Lady of the Greenwood School designed a square for a quilt to keep her warm in her retirement. However, rather than huddling under a quilt in her later years, she worked in the transportation department as a driver at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for 10 years. When she could no longer drive and had to move from Owens Hall to Lourdes, she worked in the Printery and Mission Advancement offices in Owens Hall. She prided herself on her ability to continue working, and as long as she was able, used her walker to travel from Lourdes to Owens. When her health failed in 2015, she moved to Mother Theodore Hall. There, she occupied herself by playing cards and using her walker to do laps around the halls.

At the age of 98, after 78 years as a Sister of Providence, Sister Mary Imelda, having held on to what was good, having been always joyful, prayerful, and thankful, was ready for the coming of her Lord Jesus Christ. She was taken to join those who had gone before her, no doubt hoping there was some job waiting for her in the afterlife, smiling at the God of peace, and saying “thank you.”

Funeral services for Sister Mary Imelda took place on Sunday, July1 6, and Monday, July 17, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

A Wake took place at 2:30 p.m., on Sunday, July 16, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.

Mass of Christian Burial took place at 11 a.m., on Monday, July 17.

Contributions in memory of Sister Mary Imelda may be made to the Sisters of Providence.

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  1. Miriam Thralls Vermillion on July 15, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Sister Mary Imelda use to live on the same floor in Lourdes Hall as my mother. I will always remember her beautiful spirit and spunky attitude.She loved to joke around, and I looked forward to our encounter s. One of my favorite memories will be our foot races in the halls of Providence.

  2. Nicole Kramer on July 18, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Wrote this when I heard of her passing. Lived in Owens Hall with her in 2005-2006:
    Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace,
    blur by while I drive,
    didn’t get a chance to make it home for a visit,
    so I cry.

    Coming to the end of the last song,
    “And adoring bend a knee / while we own the mystery”
    the shining jewel in any benediction,
    but your adoration is just beginning.

    You taught me how to sit with change,
    that the best answer is always grace,
    it’s not so much about being right,
    as it is about being love.

    For the longest time a visit home
    has been put off by life’s demands,
    while more and more of you fall asleep.
    But your hearts watch over the house built by a Saint,
    a Mother, a friend,
    leaning with all this heavy weight on Providence,
    I know I am well-supported.

    Rest in peace, Sister Mary Imelda.

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