Centenarian sisters have seen a lot

Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, have four members over 100

Sr. Evelyn Hurley lives on the assisted-living floor of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth motherhouse, but she doesn't really need to.

She gets around fine, makes the 45-minute trip up from Nazareth, Kentucky, to Louisville every weekend to visit the sisters in the congregation's nursing home, and recently flew by herself to Boston for a jam-packed three weeks with family.

Hurley, who is 103, chose to live on the assisted-living floor because she wants to make sure the older sisters are well taken care of, especially Sr. John Ann Kulina and Sr. Alice Teresa Wood, who are each 101 years old.

"I'm just amazed at the things I have seen," Hurley said. "I remember the street lamp lighter coming around every night because we didn't have electricity. We had gas, but we had a meter that you had to put a quarter in every time you wanted to use it."

Born March 7, 1915, Hurley spent most of her years in Boston, teaching until she was 80. She remembers every student, including where they sat in her classroom, and spends most of her day at her desk, writing letters to former students and friends and family.

"I used to crochet, but I don't have time for that now," she said. As for her weekend nursing home visits, she quips: "Of course I don't drive. I quit that when I was 99."

The sisters Hurley helps look after, Kulina and Wood, do their best to keep up with her.

Until just a few weeks ago, when she had a pacemaker put in, Kulina was the sacristan in the motherhouse chapel.

"I had to keep Father moving," Kulina said.

Kulina's parents emigrated from Czechoslovakia in 1908, and Anna Marie Kulina was born April 13, 1917, one of eight children. Times were hard for the Slovak-speaking family but got much harder when Kulina's mother died, leaving the 15-year-old Anna Marie to take care of her siblings to avoid going to the orphanage. Then her father was injured while mining coal and developed black lung disease.

"I had no problems — they were good children," Kulina said. "They respected me because I was their 'mom.' … I made sure they were educated because I didn't want them to go in the mines."

Kulina learned to cook, clean and sew, becoming so adept at sewing that she not only remade worn-out clothes into new ones for the younger children, but also sewed dresses and wedding gowns.

When all her siblings were raised, Kulina joined the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in 1945, taking the name John Ann in honor of her parents. She put her cooking skills to work in the kitchens on the motherhouse campus, which at that time were home to the sisters, Nazareth College and Academy, the infirmary, the novitiate and a large working farm.

"God was so good to me I wanted to give back," Kulina said.

Wood was born Oct. 11, 1916, the eighth of nine children. While the older children had duties in the house, the younger children had to work on the farm in Maryland, raising tobacco and corn. That lack of housekeeping experience would come back to haunt her when she was assigned to work in the kitchens with Kulina: She had to carry a cookbook with her to know what she was doing.

She had grown up in a family that loved to play cards, but she didn't get to play much during those years in the kitchens.

"We didn't have much time for anything else," Wood said. "When we got finished at night, the sisters were all playing cards, but we were so tired we went right to bed."

Since retiring from a career overseeing housekeeping and food service in 2000, Wood now has time to play cards again and does so almost every day, usually a game called "Hand and Foot." But she spends most of her time crocheting and knitting, making items that she gives away or sells to raise money for the congregation's disaster recovery team.

And what does she think of being alive for more than a century?

"Well, I'll be glad when it's all over," she said, laughing.

Sharing Hurley's March 7 birthday is Sr. Mary Clement Pavlik, who is 102. Pavlik lives at the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth's second motherhouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but chose not to be interviewed.

Hurley said age means it takes longer for her to do things, but she doesn't get frustrated.

"Well, ask my friends — maybe they don't think things are going so well for me," she said, laughing.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. His email address is dstockman@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]