Ursuline Sister Julienne Guy’s family came to Columbia at the beginning of her senior year of high school. She had no idea that the move would end up changing her whole life.
She attended Ursuline High School, and the example of the sisters who taught there led her to join the order.
That was 64 years ago. Now, at age 85, Sister Julienne is preparing to retire, and she will wind up her ministry in the city where the seeds of her vocation were sown and where she has spent more than 33 years of her religious life.
“I’m going to miss all the people here and I have so many good memories,” she said. “I’ve just realized it was time to move on and start something new.”
For the past 12 years, she has been in charge of senior life ministry at St. Joseph Church on Devine Street, just a few blocks from where her family lived all those years ago. Her last day at the parish will be June 30.
Her other assignments in Columbia included three years teaching at St. Peter School, two stints as principal at St. Joseph School from 1969 to 1976 and again in 2004, and six years working as a vice-principal and religion teacher at Cardinal Newman School. While living in the capital city, she also served as vocations director for the Ursulines of Louisville and spent time volunteering at the St. Thomas More Center at the University of South Carolina.
Sister Julienne was born in Atlanta, but her family moved around the Southeast because of her father’s job with Arrow Shirts. He moved to the Midlands in the late 1940s to help establish a shirt factory downtown.
“My parents wanted me back in Catholic school, so I enrolled at Ursuline High,” she said. “When I saw what the Ursuline sisters had, their example, I knew it was something I wanted. My whole life changed.”
During her senior year, she started praying the rosary and attending daily Mass, and got to know more of the Ursuline sisters because she took piano lessons at the convent. She hadn’t firmly decided on a vocation, but when she won a scholarship to Ursuline College in Louisville, her path seemed clear. She entered the community in January of her freshman year and professed her final vows in 1951.
Teaching was a major part of the Ursuline charism, and Sister Julienne embraced it wholeheartedly. She received a master’s degree in history and education from Creighton University in Iowa, and then began a long career in Catholic education.
In addition to her work in South Carolina, she also taught at Catholic junior high schools, and served as principal and in Catholic school offices in Louisville and Ohio from 1976 through 1990.
She returned to Columbia in 1990 to work at Cardinal Newman, and only left one more time to spend a sabbatical year studying at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley in 1996.
Sister Julienne said she loved her years as a teacher, but also finds joy in her most recent work in senior ministry. At St. Joseph, she has helped to start a respite care program, led Bible study and bridge sessions, and took senior citizens on trips to sites around South Carolina and the Southeast.
“I have nothing but good memories,” she said. “I love teaching, I love senior ministry, I love the people I’ve met here and the church here at St. Joseph.”
She said she will especially miss hearing the choir sing at liturgies and making her weekly visits to the sick.
As usual, Sister Julienne already has a plan for her future. She will live at the Ursuline Motherhouse in Louisville and help in the community’s archives.
Judith Felix, a long-time parishioner at St. Joseph, first met Sister Julienne 45 years ago when she was enrolling her oldest daughters in the first grade. They became friends over the years and now work together on the senior ministry team.
Felix said she has always been impressed by the sister’s example of calm leadership.
“She was always very soft spoken but very firm, she never raised her voice,” Felix said. “I think it’s amazing how she has always been able to very quietly resolve conflicts. It’s made her so easy to work with because you always knew exactly where she was coming from.”
She described Sister Julienne as one of the rare people who can relate equally well to small children, teenagers and senior citizens.
“When she speaks, there is an inner voice that reaches out to you,” Felix said. “She’s a remarkable person and our world here at St. Joseph is going to be poorer without her.”