Unlike many women called to become a nun in the 20th century, Sister Marcia Welsh wasn’t drawn to vowed religious life right after high school. First she received her college education, enjoyed a successful career teaching, and had a very active social life that included a tour of Europe with a friend. Yet the entire time, she was a model of faith and lived the Gospel in many ways that inspired and comforted others.
An exemplary student at Youngstown College, Sister Marcia was asked before graduating to teach college math courses to GIs returning from World War II. “I was almost a different person in the classroom. I felt like an actress,” she reflected in a 2002 interview by her nephew, Tom Welsh. “I thought, ‘I should go to Hollywood,’ because I really acted the role of being in charge of this class, when technically, I didn’t feel old enough to be in charge.”
But she was a good instructor, and the college called on her teach from 1946-56. She also taught math at Walsh College in Canton, and was on the faculty of Ursuline High School for two decades.
Her college years weren’t all work and no play, though. Sister Marcia was a member of the Alpha Theta Delta sorority and forged friendships that lasted her lifetime. “I met Sister Marcia during my first college days,” remembers Theresa “Tess” Trucksis Hickey, Sister Marcia’s good friend. “I knew no one. I was lonely. Sister Marcia became my friend, always kind, caring and helpful.” Mrs. Hickey and fellow sorority sisters the late Dr. Gratia Murphy and Mary Dingledy Fecych kept close ties Sister Marcia over the years.
During her young adult life, Sister Marcia was already a leader in the Catholic community, volunteering on campus with students looking to deepen their faith. “I knew her from 1950–1954 at the [Youngstown College] Newman Club,” says Sister Charlotte Italiano, then a student and now director of the Ursuline Preschool and Kindergarten. “She was very much a spiritual leader. She was a very, very, very active person. She was a very important person in our lives there.”
Sister Charlotte, who entered the Ursuline Sisters in 1955, the year prior to Sister Marcia, remembers that Sister Marcia’s example impressed many people. “She was a very active woman and ahead of her time, teaching at college in an all-man’s world, being a very involved woman leader. It was great.”
Sister Marcia’s academic record is impressive, having earned a baccalaureate with five minors and a master’s degree before entering the convent; after becoming an Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, she earned another master’s degree and completed more than 170 hours of post-graduate work at various universities to strengthen her ministry work. As both a student and an educator, Sister Marcia was recognized for excellence with numerous awards.
Despite having academic and career success as a young adult, as well as great relationships with family and friends, Sister Marcia’s heart wasn’t filled, so in her early 30s, Sister Marcia was led by her faith to another vocation.
“When I first thought of going to the convent, it was because a relative of mine had thought of a vocation in terms of missionary work with the Maryknollers,” Sister Marcia reflected in her 2002 interview. “And then, I met a young woman who was entering the Ursuline Sisters, and she told the Diocesan director of vocations that I was thinking about convent; and so, I was invited to come and talk about it. And it was even surprising to me. I said, ‘Yes, I should look at this.’ I’ve been very glad that I did, ever since.”
In her 44 years of active ministry, Sister Marcia not only taught high school and college math, she served as In-Service Director at Windsor Nursing Home and as Pastoral Minister at St. Aloysius Parish in East Liverpool. During the 1990s, Sister Marcia lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for SOME (So Others Might Eat), first as a volunteer coordinator and then as a Senior Center Coordinator. “The first couple of years I was there, I educated myself in Washington,” Sister Marcia said in her 2002 interview. “I took part in a lot more peace activities…I educated myself politically.”
When she returned to Youngstown in 1998, she began a decade of ministry in Social Justice, especially working as a chaplain for jails and prisons in northeast Ohio, a ministry inspired by her time in and connections from Washington. “I had been arrested twice while I was there [for picketing outside the South African Embassy] and was inside the D.C. jail, one time for three days. And, you know, just that little experience made me think, ‘Gee, there should be more going on down there than just warehousing….’ Then, I went to a national meeting of C.U.R.E. [Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants]…. It’s people who are in prison ministry, and it especially dealt with people who want restorative justice rather than just revenge or warehousing. They want rehabilitation and restoration.
“So, then, when I got home, I looked into it, and gradually, I worked into prison ministry,” Sister Marcia recounted in her 2002 interview. At that time, she was visiting four prisons and one jail every week, speaking with both women and men. Sister Marcia said that while she taught the inmates ideas and widened their understanding, she also learned from them.
St. Angela Merici, founder of the Ursuline order, always counseled hospitality and resilience. Sister Marcia Welsh embraced both these in her daily life. And she did her best to influence others in her mission and ministry – especially her family.
“She always shared with us her causes, the things she thought were important on a broad society scale and encouraged us to get involved — whether it was about nuclear disarmament or capital punishment — to work to try to make society better,” says Kevin Welsh, Sister Marcia’s youngest nephew. “Even from being a young kid, I can remember things from being involved in a march about nukes, or how she would talk about her ministry in later years with the folks in the prisons — trying to help those who faced an uphill struggle and not many on their side.”
Passionate about peace, courageous in her fight for Social Justice, leading by example in her love of the Lord, learning, her Ursuline Sisters community, family and friends, Sister Marcia Welsh passed away Oct. 9, 2013. From the time of her retirement from full-time ministry in 2008 until her death, Sister Marcia remained active in service at the Motherhouse, most recently praying for the needs for the Church and the world.
“What we will miss are Marcia’s educational skills, her love of politics and encouragement to respond to injustices, her advocacy for those in prison and the poor,” states Sister Nancy Dawson, General Superior of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown. “I am sure there were never enough mailboxes in Congress to accommodate her letters on behalf of the poor.”
Read Sister Nancy’s full reflection on the life of Sister Marcia.