Sister Marceline Mattingly
The Gospel passage (John 21:3-14) we just listened to was specially chosen by Marceline, for this reason. She said, “I found Jesus to be so human in this passage because he waited for the apostles on the shore. Initially, when things are hard in our lives, it takes a while to realize that it is indeed Jesus acting in our lives. Indeed, ‘it is the Lord!’” As this commentary unfolds, it will reveal the many ways Jesus acted in this remarkable woman’s life, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Marceline Mattingly, who passed away on Sunday morning, April 24, at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was 106 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 89 years.
Sister Ann continued: Elizabeth Lee (Betty) Mattingly was born November 23, 1915, in Henderson County, Kentucky, to Richard and Julia Hall Mattingly on her grandfather’s farm. She was the eldest of seven children. Her family consisted of two girls and two boys until Betty was in seventh grade, then along came “the three little kids” as the family referred to them. She was preceded in death by her sisters Anne, Fran and Mary and her brothers, Holy Cross Brother Paul, C.S.C., and Richard. One “little kid,” Jerry, survives. After Julia’s first husband died, she married Charles Fox, whom Marceline described as “just a wonderful, wonderful man.”
Her life of adventure, as many already know, started very early, with her storied baptism. Being a devout Catholic family, her mother felt that time was running out for her baptism, so it was decided her grandfather would cross the creek, swollen due to heavy rains, which also washed out the bridge. A plank bridge was the only way across and it could hold only one horse and its rider. A sling was fashioned for the baby. The grandfather held the reins of the horse with one hand and supported the baby with the other. Must have been a harrowing ride indeed, but perhaps a fit omen for the “ride” that was Marceline’s life!
Betty attended several grade schools in Kentucky, another in Evansville where she also went two years to Reitz Memorial high school. At 15, the little girl who liked adventures, headed to Indianapolis on the bus for two years of high school at St. Agnes Academy in Indianapolis, a boarding school at that time, graduating in 1933, the same year she entered the Sisters of Providence. She was only one credit short for graduation, so the sisters gave her the option of entering in February and graduating in June. She took it, because “I had a feeling if I went home in June and waited until February to enter, I would never do it.”
Before entering, she also considered the several communities of sisters she had come to know during her education years: Ursulines, Benedictines, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. She chose the SPs “because they seemed to have more fun than those other sisters did,” and then, she quickly added, “of course, my motives changed quite a bit before I finally made it” … “from the day I entered,” she said, “it was all curiosity and learning.”
Betty received the religious name of Marceline. She felt that having been in boarding school, she knew a lot more about the sisters than her other band members. At their instructions as postulants, they were informed that sisters didn’t do certain things and Marceline thought to herself, “Oh yeah, they do, I know that!” Marceline professed first vows in 1935 and made her final profession in 1941, both on August 15. It’s somewhat mind-boggling that she was a Sister of Providence for 89 years!
She received her bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s degree in biology from the University of Notre Dame. Marceline started out teaching fourth grade and the next years seventh or eighth, for a total of 18 years in elementary school. She went on to teach high school and a few years in college, teaching nearly 50 years in all, summing up the teaching career with the words, “I loved every place I taught.”
Marceline was known as an excellent teacher at whatever level. She twice received the honor of outstanding science teach from the National Biology Teachers Association. She also noted, “Another honor was offered which included a trip to Denver, but I was told by the General Superior to decline this one because I had been honored enough!” She was part of a committee of teachers involved with the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study to develop a “new biology” text for high school students, working alongside the publishing company. This led to her being invited by the National Science Foundation for several summers to teach instructors of biology at Howard University.
Ever the learner, Marceline asked to prepare for a new ministry as pastoral associate by attending a spirituality program at Seattle University in Washington. It was there that she met and later became a lifelong friend to Sister Liz Gress. When they could no longer travel together, Liz would call Marcie every day.
Marceline had something of an internship in a parish in Seattle and loved every aspect of it. She wanted to stay, but her Holy Cross brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and her mother asked Marceline to minister closer to home so she could drive her to South Bend as needed. Of course, Marceline did exactly that and ended up ministering for six years at St. Mary Parish in New Albany, Indiana.
Returning to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Marceline, at age 74, was hardly ready for retirement. She dusted off her teaching skills and was soon volunteering as an instructor at the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Learning Resource Center, tutoring adults as well as grade and high school students in need of some additional help beyond the classroom.
She “retired” (again) in 2001 and her ministry for the next 20 years became a volunteer/visitor in Providence Health Care. She had the gift of presence and was able to just “be” with people, from her dear friend Sister Mary Louise O’Connor to a resident she was meeting for the first time, for whom she might become an advocate, obtaining for her a favorite candy bar or treat.
Sister Dorothy Wolsiffer became Marcie’s dear friend rather late in life and Dorothy spent a lot of time with Marcie. She would dial the phone for Marcie’s MANY phone calls. If Dorothy got tired first, usually the case, she would just have to leave. She also recalled: “If you accompanied Marcie anywhere, you had to be prepared to stop many times en route, so she could greet people she knew or total strangers for that matter. Even returning to her room from Bingo could be a lengthy excursion because Marcie stopped and chatted with other residents.”
Dorothy added, “Everyone marveled at her age, which was even more remarkable given that she had no vision in her left eye and no hearing in her right ear. Yet, she always engaged with other people and never shirked being with others. She read the newspaper daily and Day-by-Day and the health care news page distributed to health care residents at the noon meal.”
And speaking of meals, Marcie at 106, still had her favorite: Catfish dinner at Red Lobster; Bob Evans biscuits and gravy and The Pie Company’s chocolate pie. She also relished black cows, cappuccino … and cream of wheat, prepared for her daily by Dorothy as a midafternoon snack.
Through her years in Lourdes and in Guerin Park, many nurses, LPNs, and aides cared for Marcie. Carla especially remembers Marcie as a woman of great wisdom – on many fronts, but especially in the spiritual realm. She counseled a young woman beginning her nursing career, emphasizing the importance of a good work ethic, and said to her, “And honey, I don’t think you are there yet.” To those already working, she shared the importance of staying fit, reminding them that “working itself is not enough; you need a daily fitness routine.”
Marcie was her own best advocate, insisting she get her daily walk in and until COVID, going daily with her good companion Sister Theresa Clare Carr to the exercise room in Providence basement – still riding the exercise bike and kicking her legs in the air from her prone position on the mat well into her hundreds.
Marcie companioned Mary Weber and her husband Gary Meister when they became Providence Associates. Mary and Marcie hit it off immediately and Mary referred to Marcie as her soul friend. Mary had many memories to share and I chose two as somewhat typical. “Sometimes, Marcie would catch a ride to Indianapolis to stay with us. The first night she stayed over, we were relaxing in our night clothes, and she said, ‘Let’s have a hot toddy.’ So, we did, giggling and sipping on our comforting hot drink.
“Marcie loved life and relished it! Being a botanist, she treasured the gifts of nature and delighted in naming flowers, plants and trees. One time we took her on a trip with us to Charleston, South Carolina. While there we went to John’s Island to see a live oak tree said to be between 400-500 years old. Marcie quietly and reverently walked up to the huge ancient tree, laid both hands on it and whispered to it – thanking it! For my husband and me it was a sacred moment with her.”
Perhaps her niece, Priscilla (who was Praddy to Marcie, while Marcie was Aunt Betty to the family) most beautifully summed up the life of the Marceline we all knew. She wrote, “Aunt Betty was full of love for God, for her vocation, for family, friends, neighbors, students, colleagues and life. She never met a stranger. She handled whatever life gave her with dignity and strength. She was amazing. She always had a smile, a word of comfort, advice and understanding, hopefulness, and a prayer.”
Praddy’s youngest daughter put Marceline’s death in perspective: “Aunt Betty gave her life to God; she prepared for this moment all her life and now she will be with him for eternity.”
Marceline now knows that throughout her 106 years of life, “It was indeed the Lord!”
A memorial service for Sister Marceline took place on Monday, May 23, at 11 a.m., EDT, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Sister Marceline donated her body to science. When the Indiana University Medical Center returns her cremains to the Congregation, a committal service will take place, but this could take several months.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Marceline to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Marceline in the comment section below.
Sister Marceline Mattingly
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Francis Xavier, Wilmette (1935-38); Teacher, St. Genevieve, Chicago (1946-48); Teacher, St. Andrew, Chicago (1948-49); Teacher, St. Leo, Chicago (1949-53); Teacher, Providence High School, Chicago (1955-56).
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Anthony, Indianapolis (1938-40); Teacher, St. Mary, Richmond (1940-41); Teacher, St. Jude, Fort Wayne (1941-42); Teacher, St. Philip Neri, Indianapolis (1942-46); Teacher, Central Catholic High School, Fort Wayne (1953-55); Teacher, Central Catholic High School, Fort Wayne (1956-60); Teacher, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1966-68); Teacher/Superior, Our Lady of Providence High School, Clarksville (1968-69); Teacher, Our Lady of Providence High School, Clarksville (1969-70); Pastoral Associate, St. Mary Parish, New Albany (1983-89); Assistant Activity Director, Retirement Community, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1989-91); Instructor, Learning Resource Center, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1991-93); 1994-2001); Volunteer for Providence Health Care, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2001-2020); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2020-2022).
In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, Immaculata (1960-66); Teacher, Immaculata (1970-82).
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