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"Just Try to Get Along with Everybody" Sister Mansueta Martineau

In 1914, Charlie Chaplin made his silver-screen debut; the cornerstone of the Lincoln Memorial was laid in Washington, DC; a political assassination sparked the First World War, and Sister Mansueta Martineau was born in Piercefield, New York. It was a very small town, Sister recalls, and says with a shiver, "and so cold!"

Sister says, "When I was about seven, my dad lost his job—it was the Depression—and we moved to Tennessee, to be near my mother's family in Johnson City. My dad took up barbering."

Sister Mansueta started in the public school there, but that was not by choice. She says, "There were only 40 Catholics in Johnson City when we moved there, but we had a big family [Mansueta is one of nine children], so that made an impact. There was a little wooden chapel there that my grandfather built. It was called St. Mary's and that's where everyone went until we got a church."

When she was old enough for high school, Sister Mansueta went to St. Camillus Academy in Corbin. "My mother didn't want me to go to public school once I was high school age," Sister says. "There were a lot of scandals. So she protected me by sending me to St. Camillus."

She attended St. Camillus for four years and the impact of the Sisters of Divine Providence teaching there was tremendous. "They were very, very wonderful to me. I decided I wanted to be a Sister like them," Mansueta says. Her mother was thrilled: "Oh, she prayed for it! My father was a little bit reluctant, but what could he say? And my brothers and sisters thought I would do well in the convent. They all thought I was special."

"I went to the convent when I was 17. And it was seven years before I was able to visit home again." Family wouldn't remain distant for long, though. Two of Mansueta's sisters, Josephine and Amabilis, followed her into the convent.

One of the advantages of starting at the convent so long ago is that Sister Mansueta knew Mother Lucy, one of the three pioneer Sisters who established the CDP presence in Kentucky in 1889. "She was the one who gave me the name Mansueta," Sister remembers. "I had never heard of the name! I grew up with the name Virginia."

Mother Lucy said the name meant "mildness, goodness, gentleness—all those good things," Sister Mansueta says, "so I had something to live up to. I think she thought I would be needing help with those qualities."

Mother Lucy was also the inspiration—if that's the right word—behind Sister Mansueta's long career as a teacher. "When I entered, I was willing to do just about anything except teach," Mansueta says. "But Mother Lucy said, 'You will teach.' I taught for 40 years and never regretted it."

Mother Lucy was certain that Mansueta was meant for the classroom.

At first, Sister Mansueta taught elementary grades (four grades in one classroom!), but as she grew older, so did her students. That suited her just fine: "I liked teaching junior high," she says. "I could relate well with kids that age. Little kids are..." she struggles to find the right word, and then laughs and says, with certainty, "difficult." She started her teaching career in Newport, Kentucky, but also taught in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Providence, Rhode Island. "I scattered around New England for a couple years," she says, then quickly amends, "it was more than 20 years."

Sister Mansueta's ready wit has made her a favorite with local media. Her longstanding support for the Reds garnered her an appearance on a local news channel for Opening Day in 2016. Thomas More University (which was Villa Madonna Academy in Mansueta's day) profiled her for an anniversary celebration.

Though Sister Mansueta doesn't follow the Reds as enthusiastically as she once did, she'll still listen to a game on the radio from time to time.

The number of years Sister Mansueta has marked might be less impressive than the degree to which she has enjoyed each one. "God has blessed me with a long life, and I've always been happy where I was, and I always got along with the Sisters. They put up with me, " she says, laughing.

Sister Mansueta on her 100th birthday.

Reaching 105 (Mansueta's birthday is March 3) is no small milestone, but 2019 also marks her 85th year as a Sister of Divine Providence—a truly notable achievement. Her advice for those entering religious life today? "First of all, try to like the Sisters where you are—especially those in charge," she advises through a mischievous smile.

Her last bit of advice works for us all:

"Just try to get along with everybody."

Created By
Kathleen Carroll
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