Sister Nancy Mathias
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Sr. Nancy Mathias

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Date of Profession:
August 19, 1964

Sister Mary Scholastica, an Ursuline and her high school English teacher.

Reading, quilting, sewing, and gardening

Best thing about being a sister:
Having Jesus as the center of her life.

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“I eloped with Jesus.” 

She was a teenager in love and her grandparents disapproved.

So when she turned 18, Nancy Mathias decided she was old enough to seize control of her destiny. She packed a trunk and boarded a Greyhound bus for a new life as an Ursuline sister.

“I eloped,” she recalls. “I eloped with Jesus.”

Ever since she had been a first-grader at St. Joseph’s School in Tiffin, O., Nancy Mathias had wanted to be like the Ursuline Sisters who taught her. “I fell in love with [them],” she says. “I think there was just an aura of prayer and goodness about them.”

She wanted to go to the community’s prep school – a boarding school for aspiring sisters – but her grandparents, who had raised her, said no.

After high school, she went to the Ursulines’ Mary Manse College in Toledo, O.,  during the summer to get enough credits to teach second grade back home in Tiffin. “Again,” she recalls, “the call to become a woman religious was so strong in me and my grandparents said absolutely not.”

So at the end of the first semester in 1959, she left for school as she always did one Monday morning, but got on a Greyhound bound for Toledo.

When she called her grandmother from the Ursuline Convent to tell her what she had done, the older woman said, “Well, I have to finish baking my apple pie” and hung up the phone. “I never talked to her again for three years because she’d have nothing to do with me,” Sister Nancy says.

Over the next few years, her grandparents grew more accepting of her decision and eventually came to Toledo for her first profession. “After that, there was never any more difficulty,” she says.

Since becoming an Ursuline, Sister Nancy has taught in three elementary schools, served as principal of one, and worked in the Toledo Diocese school office as an elementary consultant. She also has served as superior of her community and is now secretary-leader for catechesis and lifelong formation and vicar for religious, acting as the liaison between the bishop and the religious men and women of the diocese.

In addition, she chairs the board of the diocesan Mission of Accompaniment in Zimbabwe and has visited the African nation five times.

When she’s not working, Sister Nancy enjoys reading fiction, biographies, and spiritual and self-help books; tending her flower and vegetable garden, making quilts, and sewing her own clothes.

In her nearly 50 years as an Ursuline, she has seen religious life go through many changes. For one, when she entered her community, she wore a full habit. Later, the community adopted a modified habit and then went to contemporary dress in the early 1970s.

Prayer also was more structured with everyone required to be in the chapel at 5:30 a.m. for a half hour of meditation, followed by Mass and scheduled times for morning and evening prayer, afternoon chapel, and spiritual reading.

Today, Sister Nancy lives alone, but she still rises early – around 5:15 a.m. – to pray and reflect on the day’s scripture for about an hour. In the evenings, she prays and does spiritual reading for 30 minutes to an hour. And, she tries to pray the Rosary daily.

“Without the time in prayer,” she says, “life doesn’t work. It’s like if I don’t settle down to pray in the morning or the evening, the day doesn’t work well because that’s what gives me my strength – my time with my beloved.”

Although Sister Nancy weathered the changes in religious life that saw many sisters leave her community, she did go through a time of questioning in her early 40s. “I think I looked around and thought, oh, maybe I would like to get married and have a child . . . I guess I just was a little attracted about having my own family and house and all of that, but it was a pretty shallow reason for leaving.”

Good counsel and prayer helped resolve her doubts and she came to see that she was where she needed to be. “[Jesus] called me and there wasn’t any other choice for me in my mind. What could be better?”

Today, she can say with confidence that she has found fulfillment in religious life. “There isn’t anything else I could ask for . . . My life has been fulfilled by the love of Jesus and my relationship with Him.”


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