Sister Martha Buser, OSU - SHMS ’45 & SHA ‘49

You spent many years on the Ursuline campus as student, educator and a Sister. Can you share some of the changes that have taken place that make you most proud as an alumna and an Ursuline? Can you share a bit about why you chose your vocation and what it has meant to you in your lifetime? 

I am proud of the ways the schools have grown. The building where I went to grade school is no longer there; it is one of the few buildings that we have dismantled in our history, and it was near the current Brescia Hall. I recall when Brescia was built, and I remember not wanting the building to go up because it was where we played! But the buildings have all been used for so many great purposes; one was a dorm for Ursuline College, another for college classrooms.  Where the Model School is now, was the Academy building when I attended SHA.I spent four years in that building. Overall, I am impressed and so pleased with how the campus has evolved.  What was recently done with the Motherhouse is remarkable to me. To see all the updates made on the inside makes me very happy, and I am so pleased with how well they have taken care to upgrade and repurpose the space for the schools’ administration.   

The auditorium (Ursuline Arts Center) has been enhanced, though it is very much the same building I remember, with more comfortable seating, the addition of the atrium, etc. I think the broad variety of productions really lends itself to the changes that have been incorporated. And the amphitheater!  It is just beautiful, and it makes me proud to show it to people. On 9/11/01 – the day our country was attacked – we had an all-campus prayer service in the amphitheater/front grounds of campus. It was such a moving experience that I will never forget. It is wonderful how the schools utilize the space as they do, on the grounds that face Lexington Road. When I was a student here, we did not use the space in such a way. It makes me so proud to see how students, faculty, administrators from our entire campus have come to know that space as one that we frequently use whether to come together as a campus or teachers take their students outside to enjoy the space and outdoors. We have used our facilities so well on this campus. I am extremely impressed with the educational changes at the schools, too. I recently was in the classrooms at the Model School and saw the modern settings for students. It is just amazing.  


Tell me more about your calling to become an Ursuline. 

I started at Sacred Heart Model School in the 2nd grade, and I loved my teachers.  Sister George Marie, Sister Bernice, to name a few.  Sister Bernice won me over because she was so dear and spent a lot of time with us. I figured that she was very old, she was always cold, and I later found out that she was only 35 when she taught me! She was a very good teacher. So many of the teachers I had were so wonderful.  

The Model School was named as such because it was used as a model for other schools.  The people who came and saw the schools each year were either novices or teachers in training.  They would come to observe, I really enjoyed watching them come through. We closed the college in the late 1960s, which really the adjusted the whole look and feel of our campus, and the kinds of activities that would take place.  

Back to the Sisters; often some of them would say, “perhaps God is calling you to become an Ursuline”.  I did not really see myself there at the time. For a while, I thought I would become a Carmelite.  Then, I learned about Trinitarians and thought that may be for me.  Ultimately, I realized that the Ursulines had a prayerful/contemplative life, yet they did missionary work as well. I was really drawn to prayer; it took me a while to realize that I would become an Ursuline.  I graduated from SHA in 1949, then in September I entered the convent to begin my formation, and I enjoyed it quite a lot.  I went to teach, and I was sent to a parish where they needed an organist. They knew I played piano, and they instructed me to play the organ! I made a real show of playing the organ, I was terrible. We had an archdiocesan teacher’s meeting, and while that was going on, I was called to the Motherhouse to meet with the Reverend Mother at the time. She told me I was to play the organ for benediction the following day. I did not know what I was doing but managed to turn on the organ. Benediction began, and the organ was so loud it was overwhelming the Chapel. The next thing I knew, the music teacher was sitting next to me, and she got me through it. I was relieved when I was asked to no longer play the organ at Mass! 

When I completed my formation, I went on to work toward my bachelor’s degree at Creighton University in Omaha, NE while also teaching. Then, the Reverend Mother sent me to Pittsburgh, where a teacher was needed to start a newspaper. I went to Pittsburgh to teach high school and began my master’s studies at Duquesne University. That was a good experience; I keep in touch with some of my students from Pittsburgh! I returned to Louisville to teach at SHA in the mid-70s.  Shortly after that, I was called to be the novice director of the Ursulines of Louisville. 

I was with the formation group for five years; during that time, I learned a lot about St. Angela Merici – our foundress – because it was my job to educate the novices on her life. It really was a serendipitous thing, because so much new information was coming out about St. Angela Merici at that time; much was being written about her by women who had done their contemporary research on her. During that time, we were part of an intercommunity novitiate.  Novices from Cincinnati and Louisville that would come together to discuss our foundations. I began to be asked to give talks on St. Angela throughout the region, then beyond. The first group I presented to were the Ursulines in Cincinnati. That same year, Ursulines from Canada and New York invited me to come and run a workshop in Italy; I declined. One of the sisters here – Sister Concetta – asked if I had been contacted by the New York Ursulines to go to Italy, and I told her yes and that I had declined. She shared that I owed it to the community to fulfill this request, and so I went! The invitations to talk with other groups continued.  I eventually visited and gave talks at each Ursuline community in the United States and in Canada, Europe and South Africa. I met so many wonderful women throughout those years. South Africa was a place that I loved so much, and I spent 6 weeks there. This was on the cusp of the collapse of Apartheid, so a very tense time in history. The Sisters were so kind and loving. I keep up with a few of them to this day.   

After all the travel, I decided it was time for me to come home, that perhaps I’d retire.  Then, the Community said they’d like for me to start the Angela Prayer Center, so I did. I that for a few years, then Archbishop Kelly said he’d like for me to be the director of the Permanent Diaconate program. I did that for about ten years and then the Archbishop allowed me some time to write, and I wrote two books on St. Angela. I had much help in writing/transcribing talks to inform the book.  Sister Colette really helped me with the second book; she was my classmate. Sister Jean Anne also helped me a lot with that book. I have tried to retire a few times, but I am also a spiritual director. I spent summers with the Jesuits in Ohio to train for this work, and I continue to work with individuals, but I no longer travel. I have had a full, and interesting life! I also have many family members who have graduated from Sacred Heart Academy; my nieces and great-nieces are so special to me.   


Last year you celebrated your 70th jubilee! Can you share a bit about your view of how society has changed – for better or worse – since you began your faith journey? What are some of the ways that we can redirect our society to be a more loving, accepting one?   

The last part of your question has been the main question we have asked since Jesus’ time.  He taught us to put our life where our values are and to put your treasure in God. That puts everything else into perspective. My experience with the world is that there are so many holy people around. I really do have much so much hope in our future. I think that the thing people can do is to connect with/find a spiritual director who knows what he or she is doing and go for it – let them guide you. I want to see what will happen to our Church; something big is going to happen – for the better. We may finally shake off the remnants of the Holy Roman Empire and be who we really are.  


What do you view as some areas of great opportunity at Sacred Heart Schools as we enter a new phase of leadership in the schools, and within the Ursuline leadership as well? Do you have a vision of what you would like our schools to look like 10, 25, 50 years from now? 

I’d like the schools to keep doing what they are doing; keep that up. Be open to change. I think the schools are in capable hands and are doing remarkable work. The Sisters are also doing remarkable things. We are only 45-strong, but we do pray. We are serious about that.  People used to say to me, “What grade do you teach?” Now, they say “Please pray for me.”  

Your knowledge and love of St. Angela Merici is well known among many on our campus, but can you share a bit about your journey in coming to better know St. Angela? What inspired you to write the books about her and how are those tools used today, to educate our SHA students? 

She is a very contemporary figure. She could be the woman who lives down the street from any of us today, and she was a happy and kind woman. She taught people to be kind to one another, to be patient, not to talk about one another negatively, and to let the gossip go. St. Angela encourages us to love one another and be a beacon so that other people want to be GOOD. My vision for teaching would be that we have fewer large groups of students, but far more teachers, who can guide a small number of individuals. It’s not necessarily realistic today, but it is my vision! Many of the women in my family who went to SHA, are also teachers. I think it’s in our DNA – the consideration for the individual. St. Angela came at a time when the concept of the individual was becoming more prominent. She taught us to love individually – unconditionally – you must love people for who they are. Education could move in that direction for it to be even more effective. 


What is your proudest moment?   

I’m not so much proud of what I have done, because I was directed sometimes, by others, to do what I did. I was taught public speaking from the second grade on; the Sisters taught me to write; I had great professors at Creighton who changed my whole way of looking at things. Most of what I give to people is because of what I have received, and I’m just passing that along.   

When I was in South Africa, I wasn’t sure what it would be like to be the only white person in the room. When I arrived, the whole community – 25 of them – greeted me at the airport. They met me there and broke out into song and dance! We called it the “Soweto Shuffle”. There was one couple in particular – I came to know them quite well – who invited me to dinner at their home. The husband was from a line of chieftains in the community, and he said I’m going to cook for you – we had pork chops and bread and wine. To your question about my proudest moment, they gave me the most pleasing compliment I’ve ever received.  They said, “You’re just like us. Your skin is white, but you’re just like us.” They hurt like we do, experience happiness like we do, they care about their children and families; we are truly one humankind.   


How do you recommend that laypersons and alumnae continue to live out the Ursuline mission and St. Angela’s charism? How do we inspire our students to know her, to understand her great wisdom and the risks she took for God? 

Continue to teach the charism of St. Angela in the schools. We should remind our students to not take life so seriously; lighten up a bit, be happy. We all know who’s in charge here-God. St. Angela was a happy person, and we are good so we should be, too. 


If you could share one message with our alumnae sisters and students at SHA, what might that be? 

Believe in how good you are. Be your best self. Do not be influenced by how others may characterize you, be happy in who you are.  Teachers have a powerful position to be able to bring out the good in children, perhaps even when others may not be focused on it.  We need more of that. 

I would also remind them to spread the joy of God, the beauty of God.   

A final thought - I love being old. If I can continue to hold the love in my heart that God has given me, I will be pleased. I never want to become a grouchy, older person. Be happy because you are good. One of the people I work with as a spiritual guide tells me that each day he wakes up and says to himself “I am alive, and I am loved.” That is a really great way to start your day. You can’t go wrong with that.