Mother Assumpta (Part 1 of 2)

The article below is an excerpt taken from “And The Truth Shall Set You Free,” a weekly podcast series hosted by Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP. The producer of the series was GoLEDigital, a digital community created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

For the Audio Presentation of this article, click here:

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Today is the delight of delights. I get to bring you Mother Assumpta, our Mother Superior. We have known each other most of our lives. Even when I entered the convent as a postulant, Mother Assumpta was my novice mistress and postulant directress, and then even before that she had my earthly sister, Sr. Mary Teresa, two years before me. Most of my life you have been my superior.

Mother Assumpta:
Sr. Joseph Andrew, don’t tell people how old I am! Good grief.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Well, they think I’m a spring chick, so they would think that you are too.

Mother Assumpta:
Oh, yeah? Okay, good.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Mother, previously, I have shared with listeners a brief summary of my vocation. This included growing up and the beautiful family that God put me into, and how necessary they were to form and help me then and now. Could you share a little of your story with us about your beautiful family?

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Mother Assumpta:
I was thinking not long ago that I was probably raised in the best of times. My father was from Poplar Bluff, Missouri and his mother was a Catholic. She died when he was nine years old, and although my father’s father was not Catholic, he still raised all five boys as Catholics. And they all remained good Catholics. So it’s just a mystery to me. My grandfather needs a halo in Heaven.
My father said his life was like The Bells of St. Mary’s. He said that a priest would take them into church for Catechism on Sunday afternoon and a sister would take the girls. He couldn’t wait until it was over because the priest would then take him to a baseball game. The mystery is, in my opinion, that he was one of the best Catholics I have ever known in my life, and he had hardly any formal education.
There is a footnote in one of the documents – I think it quotes Saint Augustine – that says, “God will give you the gift of wisdom in proportion of your love for the Catholic faith.” My father had the gift of wisdom, that’s all there was to it. The faith was number one. It was black and white. There was no gray matter whatsoever. Despite all of my education, I think he could run circles around me as far as the faith is concerned.
My mother, who was from Little Rock, Arkansas, was a convert. His last name was Long. My mother’s maiden name was Legg, L-E-G-G. So the wedding announcement was for the Long-Legg marriage, and we lived on Short Street. That made quite a story.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
That is beautiful. So where were you raised?

Mother Assumpta:
I was raised in Jackson, Tennessee. At that time it was a small town, but when I go back now it’s grown into a large city. The neighborhood was wonderful. There were so many children. All of my friends were Baptist through Church of Christ. Wonderful people. We are still friends.
And it was a great time to grow up. We played all the time. There was a park near our house. Parents could not do it today, but in those days we would stay for hours at the park just playing. We had a wonderful experience growing up. We did not have a car, and I think that’s why we were so healthy. We could walk to school. We could walk to church. We could walk to town. My father was a real hard-working blue collar man. He was the machinist at the railroad. He walked to work. He always had the 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. shift, so we had wonderful southern cooking at noon from my mother. Oh, I miss it.
We always walked everywhere, but once in a while, like if it was raining, we would catch the bus. And it stopped right in front of our house. We didn’t think it was a strange neighborhood, but I look back now and think it was a little odd for today’s standards. In the wintertime, people would come to our house and say, “Could I stand in your living room and watch for the bus?” We always agreed. So when it turned the corner they would go out and catch the bus. We thought that was the most normal thing.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Sure, stand in our living room and wait for the bus. What a beautiful age. What kind of a school did you go to?
Mother Assumpta:
We went to a Catholic school. The Dominican Sisters had a little Saint Mary’s school. And my fondest memories of the school are actually religious – the May processions, 40-hours devotions, just that wonderful upbringing.
It was interesting because my father knew that he could never do anything monetarily for the church. I mean, we certainly didn’t have it. There were six of us, two boys and four girls, and he said, “There is one thing I will do. I will give all of my children a Catholic education.” Now, that was not simple because it meant that he would have to send us to a boarding high school. I do not know how my parents did it. I mean really, financially, I do not know. I’ll never understand except sacrifice.
All of the girls went to Saint Cecilia, the boarding school in Nashville, Tennessee. The boys went to Saint Vernier’s, to the Benedictines in Cullman, Alabama. Since my father worked for the railroad, we had passes on the train. So we were all given a total Catholic education at great sacrifice to my parents. I will never be more grateful.
I was thinking that my childhood was like the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. It always reminds me of that neighborhood. We had our own Boo Radley. I kid you not. I kid you not. As children, there was a big house around the block. It had an upstairs and a porch and there were trees. It was always dark. You never saw anybody. We actually believed that a man lived in there that was half-human and half-monster.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Did you run past it like Scout did?

Mother Assumpta:
We did. It was so scary but so much fun. Of course, he didn’t turn up. We never saw a Boo Radley, but we really believed that as children. It was just great life – a wonderful time. My mother came into the church and was a wonderful Catholic. So it was great.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Mother, you had mentioned that growing up in the south, most of your friends and, certainly, the kids in the neighborhood that you all played with in the park were not Catholic, but Christians of various denominations. How did your Catholic faith and their Christian faith meld together? Did these topics come up in discussion?

Mother Assumpta:
Right. You know what is wonderful? As I got older, we would date or go out. And our house was an open door. I mean, kids in and out all the time. It was just open door because there were six of us. There was denominational prejudice, but I discovered that when you love people, you transcend prejudice. There was absolutely no prejudice among us because we loved one another. We were the best of friends.
In those days, we agreed on morality. Now, you can’t say that today. But we agreed on morality. We certainly had theological differences. But it was so funny because we always had holidays on holy days. I was just so proud of being a Catholic. In the summer, they would have vacation Bible school. They would come home with cute little bracelets and things they’d made. But I was never jealous of that, because I was so happy being a Catholic. I was so proud. I loved to go see the big crucifix in our church. I just loved everything Catholic. I loved the processions. Everything.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Now, in my family, we would spend every Sunday with my very Southern Baptist grandparents. After mass, we would grab a bite to eat back home. Then, we would head out and spend the day with them. We knew we had to leave at a certain time, because they had to get to their Sunday evening devotions. And we knew we couldn’t go over there on Wednesday because they would be gone for their Wednesday evening devotions. Do you remember those things in the south?

Mother Assumpta:
Near our house there was a Baptist church that our friends attended. Across the street from the Baptist church, there was a wall. My sister Martha was two years older than I, and we were very close. On Sunday night, she and I would sit on the wall waiting for our friends to get out of Baptist church. We thought, “Oh, no. They are going to sing another song.” And they would sing these songs, “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” and “Oh, Rugged Cross.”
When they got out, we would get together and walk down downtown to get a slushie. It was just so much fun. I had a lot of experiences with the Church of Christ and the Baptist Church – we still are good friends. I must have been 12 years old, I guess, when I went to boarding school. So I missed those high school years, but it was always fun to come back in the summertime and to be with your friends.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
I had the privilege of knowing your parents, and you had the privilege of knowing mine. I have mentioned the importance of selfless parents nurturing a vocation. Tell us a little bit more about some of the sacrifices that you grew up quietly watching. In particular, can you tell us about your mother?

Mother Assumpta:
My mother was an orphan. She had very little education, but she was very smart. I wonder how my parents would have been if they had gotten an education because they were both very, very smart. She loved being a mom and loved keeping house. We always had lovely clothes because she made them.
I remember seeing her love, her fidelity to being a very good mother. When she was making my postulant outfit, I was just having such a good time, and I thought, “This is the last summer. I need to live it up while I can.” She would say, “Would you please try this on–“. And I would say, “Mother, I just don’t have time. I don’t have time to try it on.” So I must have been a pain in the neck.
She was just faithful and everything was about her family, her children, and sacrifice. She sacrificed everything for us, and it was just beautiful to see that. They both were the greatest witnesses to me. It is not as if they were ostentatious about their faith. I mean, because my father worked from 3:00 to 11:00, we didn’t say the family rosary together. Once in a while, I would say it with my mother when we were in boarding school. But our faith was just lived. It was not ostentatious, except when things got a little crazy after Vatican II. As I say, for my father, it was black and white, and he read a lot. So he was very informed in general and about the faith. He said, “I give you all a Catholic education and you don’t know a thing.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
So he had that inside him, the beautiful blend of being who you are before God, but never betraying truth and the necessity of truth. We, as Dominicans, are always seeking Veritas. Mother, I would like to begin wrapping this up with one story of your mom when she was older. She could no longer really take care of her house, but she was living in her own home. Sr. John Dominic and I had the privilege of going with you to help her. We were painting and waxing and doing everything we could within the short amount of time that we had. Your mom was sitting there in the chair. She was watching us and smiling and thanking us. At one point, we said, “Well, we’re finished.” She says, “No. Right over there you missed.” And she pointed.

Mother Assumpta:
That’s my mother.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
I think you kind of take after your mom in seeing some of those details.
Mother Assumpta:
That’s true. I agree. I do take after my mother.

Sr. Joseph Andrew:
Well, Mother, we really want to thank you. This has been so delightful. We couldn’t wait to get you in here. You are such an incredible daughter of the Church and have led so many other daughters of the Church. So many of those daughters out there will be following in time to come.

Mother Assumpta:
Thank you for having me.

Stay tuned – part two of this article will be released next week.

About:

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP is a Foundress and Vocations Director for the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Her podcast “And The Truth Shall Set You Free” can be downloaded every Friday at 1:00 p.m. EST from iTunes. The podcast can be seen on YouTube at GoLEDigital.

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