The Legacy of Mother Catherine Spalding

Posted by Addie Woods

October 30, 2021

The Legacy of Mother Catherine Spalding

By Kay Glunk, SCN

Part of the Toolbox for Prayer series

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“An important legacy in Kentucky will soon be preserved as a statue is raised of Mother Catherine Spalding, a woman known for her pioneer spirit, named by the Louisville Courier-Journal as the one woman among 16 “most influential people in Louisville Jefferson County history.” Her statue will be the first of a woman in a public venue in the history of the Commonwealth. The acknowledgement of her impact is long overdue, but soon Catherine Spalding will grace the public corridor on Fifth Street in front of the Cathedral of the Assumption.”

Catherine Spalding: A legacy worth preserving
Dolores Delahanty, Special to The Courier-Journal,
September 24, 2014

Have you ever wondered what makes someone memorable, worthy of
admiration? Why would someone be considered important enough to be the first woman to have a statue placed on public streets in Louisville, Kentucky? Why have other women followed in her footsteps for over 200 years expanding out to three continents of the world? Surely, it must be more than physical attributes, wealth, athleticism, power and all those things that seem to attract even fleeting attention in today’s world. If one examines the life history of Catherine Spalding, reads the letters she wrote, studies what others wrote of her – all speak of a certain “magnetism” that drew people to put their trust in her. She had a special “Charisma” and for Catherine it was the Charism of Charity. She accepted the call and gift God had given her and
was drawn to a life of charity marked with deep prayer and a personal
relationship with God that spilled over into action-oriented service. Catherine’s mission was to accomplish the Will of God as it was made know to her in her daily life.

It is possible that Catherine was drawn to the Charism of Charity because of her own early life experiences. Born into a large extended family in Charles County Maryland, Dec 23, 1793, Catherine and her immediate family left the comfort of family and friends to move to Nelson County, Kentucky when Catherine is four.

Shortly after their move, Catherine’s sister Ann was born, her mother died, her father quickly remarried, then deserted the family due to the burden of many financial obligations. Catherine and Ann were sent to live with her Aunt Elizabeth and Thomas Elder and their ten children. Later, Catherine moved with her sister into the home of her cousin Clementina Elder Clark and her husband Richard. The challenges of these early years, led Catherine to put her faith in God, to value relationships with others and to be open to the changing circumstances of life.

In December of 1812, Father David, the parish priest at St. Thomas Catholic
Church, initiated the beginnings for a religious community of women which
became known as the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. The first two women to join were Teresa Carrico and Betsy Wells. Catherine joined them on January 21, 1813. Three others came, and when it was time to select a leader for the group, Catherine was chosen. Trusting in God, Catherine set about with determination to face each event along the way. Her life became a blend of prayer, work, and sharing with her sisters as they reached out to those around them. Her love of God flowed out to all she encountered. In Catherine and her sisters, people encountered a spirit of prayerfulness and a welcoming presence.

Catherine died on March 20, 1858 at the age of 65 having expended her life in loving service for others. Catherine Spalding’s statue now stands on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral on 5th Street in Louisville.
“Her love of God flowed out to all she encountered.”
Catherine was quick to identify the needs of others and creatively sought ways to respond. It wasn’t long before she established Nazareth Academy to educate young women in Bardstown and Presentation Academy in Louisville. Moving about the streets of Louisville, Catherine encountered the many orphans arriving from travel on the river. Catherine gathered them and brought them to live with the Sisters. Seeing the demand for more space, Catherine sought the assistance of women throughout city to help her raise funds to build an orphanage. When cholera hit the city, Catherine and her Sisters went to the homes of the ill to provide care for the sick and the dying, and eventually established St. Joseph’s Infirmary.

Catherine was an astute business woman, listening attentively to the ideas of
others. She valued collaboration, and willingly reached out to others from all
walks of life to engage them in her vision for education, health care and social
service. With faith and confidence in the Providence of God, she willing took risks for the benefit of others, challenged the status quo to effect change. She was known to offer a welcoming smile, a kind spirit and a generous heart to all she encountered.

An important aspect of Catherine’s ministry was the welfare and development of her Sisters. She led by example, offered a stabilizing influence and an inspirational presence in the life of the community. Catherine encouraged her sisters to strengthen their spiritual life, to develop their individual gifts, and to share their life and talents to in ministry meeting the needs of the poor, the sick and the uneducated … to be witnesses of the Charity and Love of God wherever they were and whatever task they were to undertake.

Catherine believed that God is truly present everywhere – in each person, in each circumstance of life she encountered. Through prayer and reflection she would discern, what is the loving thing to do here, right now? Then with confidence and faith she would daringly utilize all the various means at her disposal to accomplish the task that was before her and always with a gentle spirit and a loving heart.

Catherine died on March 20, 1858 at the age of 65 having expended her life in
loving service for others. Catherine Spalding’s statue now stands on the sidewalk in front of the Cathedral on 5th Street in Louisville.

For reflection:

What of Catherine’s life speaks to me? Inspires me? Challenges me?

How can I begin to respond to situations in my life by discerning what is the loving thing to do here, right now?

Where is God leading me in response to my reflection on Catherine’s life?

Kay Glunk, SCN, has served as a teacher, Hospital Chaplain, Director of Religious Education, RCIA, Youth Ministry, as a Parish Pastoral Minister and in Congregational Leadership, She is currently serving in Pastoral ministry to the Sisters at the Motherhouse. Sister Kay has a great love for the study of the Vincentian Charism and Spirituality.
Want to read more from the Toolbox for Prayer series? Click the links below.

The Rhythm of Contemplation

Rhythm is known as the repeated patterns of movement or sound while contemplation is known as deep reflective thoughts that form who we are as a person. We each have a rhythm of life and how we contemplate. The rhythm of who we are flows out of us every day. As I stop to contemplate, I have come to realize that my way of contemplation is a rhythm of loving.

Two Wings of My Prayer Life

As an Indian Christian Religious, the two wings of my prayer life are Biblical and Indian Spirituality. At home, we had everyday family prayer which included Rosary and reading from the Bible. I was responsible to conduct it. It was a vocal prayer that did not touch my heart though there was devotion to do it. After coming to the Congregation too, prayer was mostly a recitation of psalms and singing of songs. Though I was faithful to it there was not much impact on my life. Prayer was like an activity I had to do but I did not enjoy it or experience anything in my heart.

Feast of St. Vincent de Paul

The Central Leadership Team of SCNs Sangeeta, Jackulin and Adeline wish every Sister of Charity of Nazareth and Associate a very happy St. Vincent de Paul Feast Day.

Using Prose as a Stepping Stone into my Prayer Time with God

I often use my prose that I produce as a creative writer, as a stepping-stone into my prayer time with God.

Creating a Toolbox for Prayer

Vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” It is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques rediscovered 2500 years ago by Gotama the Buddha, and is the essence of what he practiced and taught.

Dance as Prayer

Dance was always a part of my life growing up. I am from German heritage so polkas, along with the chicken dance, conga lines, the hokey pokey were a big part of our family celebrations. Our joy and enjoyment was expressed with our whole being – mind, heart and body. I loved it!

But, I never thought of dance as prayer until the novitiate. Our novice director, Sister Mary Pauletta, had a Sister friend from another community who visited her when I was a first-year novice. This was in the post Vatican II days when lots of new ideas were emerging. The Sister friend introduced us to liturgical dance. She choreographed several dances to psalm songs and many of us participated. Though her name is long lost in my memory, I will never forget the gift she gave me by introducing body as well as mind and heart to my way of praying. I loved it!

Creating a Toolbox for Prayer

Window Gazing on Travel’ emerged as a free form of prayer for me ever since I was introduced to contemplative Spirituality within the SCN Congregation.

A Journey with Prophets

The novices were delighted to attend the class of Sister Jane Karakunnel on scriptures, especially on prophets and the Gospel of John from July 11 to Aug. 4, 2022

Heart Meditation

This Toolbox for Prayer post is a video from Sister Chris Kunze. Sister Chris provides the opportunity to reflect on the idea that there is no greater gift you can offer, that the energy of an open heart. An open heart has the qualities of unconditional love, a healing presence, innate harmony, and compassion. Opening our hearts to these qualities allows for joy filled service to be possible. 

Latest issue of ‘The Journey’

The second volume of The Journey Magazine for 2022 will be hitting mailboxes soon and is available to read online.


  1. Maria Brocato

    This is a beautiful reflection on our dear Catherine.. Asking what the most loving thing to do is the most important question I can think of.

  2. Elizabeth Field

    Loved your reflection, Sr. Kay! Thank you!


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