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.