By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
OTTUMWA — At one time, the Congregation of the Humility of Mary had an active presence in the Ottumwa community. They owned a hospital and a college and taught in grade schools in the area.
Although the motherhouse has moved from the central Iowa community and the hospital and college have since been sold, the sisters’ impact there has not been forgotten. The weekend before Memorial Day each year, local Catholic Daughters of the Americas adorn the gravestones of deceased sisters at Ottumwa’s Mount Olivet Cemetery with flowers.
“There are probably over 100 Sisters buried there,” said Sister Kayleen Heffron, CHM, chaplain of Catholic Daughters of America Court No. 43 in Ottumwa. Sr. Heffron is one of three Sisters of Humility serving the Ottumwa area; most of the Iowa sisters now live in the Des Moines or Davenport area, she said.
Many of the gravestones, she added, honor sisters who died in the early to late 1900s. Some other sisters who died after that timeframe have chosen to be buried there as well.
Members of St. Patrick Parish and St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa count themselves members of Catholic Daughters of America Court No. 43. One member is a parishioner of St. Mary Parish in Oskaloosa. The Court’s regent, Jane Thomas, said the Catholic Daughters have decorated the gravestones at Mount Olivet for years. “It’s one of our annual service projects … I know it means a lot to the sisters. It means a lot to me because it’s a community project, something we can do to support them.”
Last year, many sisters returned to Ottumwa for the 150th anniversary of their congregation’s establishment in Iowa, which coincided with the two weeks in which the Memorial Day flowers are displayed each year. Thomas said the Court received many letters from sisters who had been to the cemetery. “They commented on how beautiful the flowers looked and how much they appreciated it.”
This year’s decorating took place May 23. About a dozen Catholic Daughters volunteered, as did a few of their grandchildren. Sr. Heffron and the volunteers prayed the rosary after decorating the graves.
Sr. Heffron said it is meaningful to her to see the Catholic Daughters honor the sisters each year at the cemetery. “I would like to express gratitude for all Catholic Daughters who help with the project, or any others who visit their deceased relatives buried there.”