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Lorraine Kirker: ‘the early stage of a journey’

Sister Sue Paweski (left) is the companion of Lorraine Kirker.

1.) Share with us a little about yourself.

I live on Whidbey Island in Washington state. Whidbey is a long (about 52 miles in length) and narrow (about four miles at its widest) island north of Seattle. It is connected to the mainland by a bridge on the north and two ferries, one on the south end and the other on the central west side. I live in the central area of the island, about six miles south of the historic town of Coupeville and approximately 56 miles, plus ferry ride, from downtown Seattle. My husband, Dave, and I moved here in 2001, on to three-and-a-half acres of land we purchased in 1993 for our retirement.

Dave passed away in January of 2008 at the age of 66. We met in San Francisco when we were both on active duty with the U. S. Navy and were married for 35 years. Due to complications from a hereditary blood disease, I was never able to have children but between Dave’s family, both here on Whidbey as well as in Pennsylvania and Illinois, and numerous good friends I have loads of “family,” including two pre-teen grand nephews in Illinois I enjoy spoiling.

Dave was from western Pennsylvania and I’m from the Boston area. The Navy put us on the West Coast and we never considered changing that. Shortly after our marriage we were transferred from San Francisco to San Diego and remained in San Diego County until 1997 when Dave permanently retired. He retired first from the Navy in 1977 and his second retirement was from the aerospace industry. Between 1997 and 2001 we were full time RVers based in Southern California.

In 1976 I was medically retired from the Navy. In 1978 I voluntarily retired from the 9 to 5 job world. Over the years that followed, what started as a hobby in 1971 evolved into volunteer positions as well as professional activities.

I am a textile artist. My Mother was a professional seamstress so I’ve had a needle in my hand most of my life. But I began to do needlework as a serious activity shortly after my Navy retirement. This led me to become active in the Embroiderers’ Guild of America Inc. (EGA) as a founding member of the San Diego chapter. Over the years I served in most chapter offices, eventually becoming Director of the Pacific Southwestern Region of EGA and a member of the Guild’s national board of directors. EGA headquarters is in Louisville, Ky.

Along the way I received Guild certification as a canvas work (needlepoint) teacher and have taught classes throughout California as well as in other parts of the country. This also led to my becoming very computer literate as I used computer graphic programs to create class instructions and more. In the late 1990s I taught myself HTML code and developed and maintained a very large Web site for a southern California needlework shop, one of the first with an Internet presence.

Since my husband’s death I have moved into a new phase of my needlework journey. Now I create work for exhibition and sale. My work uses hand and machine embroidery as well as beadwork, paint and more on fabric. Often my work is inspired by my own photographs, primarily photos of the numerous rhododendrons I’ve planted around my property. Some of the photos I manipulate on the computer.

I’m a member of the Whidbey Island Surface Design Group and an island bead interest group. Additionally I belong to four small work groups that gather periodically to encourage each other’s individual artistic effort.

I am also active with our local library system and currently serve as chairman of Whidbey Reads 2010, a library supported one-book program.

At this point in my life I feel my ministry is found in my art. I am still discerning how to fully realize that as a Providence Associate.

I belong to a wonderful parish here on Whidbey Island, St. Hubert in Langley. The friends I’ve made at St. Hubert are a very important part of my island family. My small Faith Sharing group has been an invaluable blessing during the two years since Dave’s death.

2.) What is your connection to the Sisters of Providence?

I was born and grew up in Somerville, Mass., the only child of older parents who wanted me to have a good Catholic education. Providentially the pastor of our parish, St. Polycarp, was Father Thomas Garrity (later Monsignor). He was educated by the Sisters of Providence at St. Rose in Chelsea and had, I believe, two sisters and a cousin in the community. He invited the community to provide teachers for the weekend religious education classes for the public school students and later to staff the parish grade school. I was in the first first grade class when that school opened.

Though I had other religious communities of women in high school (Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston) and college (Congregation of the Holy Cross), I never lost contact with the Sisters of Providence. Since I was 6 years old, the community has always been an integral part of my life. In fact, I planned to enter after high school and had everything but my train ticket when I decided, over Labor Day weekend, that religious life was not the right path for me. Luckily for the community, Sisters Mary Alice Zander, Jane Marie Osterholt and others did enter that Sept. 17th of 1962.

My parents were not practicing Catholics but wanted me to have a strong religious foundation. That foundation was provided by the Sisters of Providence and I have been very aware over the years of how substantial was their imprint.

Through the years I stayed in contact with a number of my teachers and other sisters I’d met over time, including in California. During my last two trips to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods I’ve enjoyed visits with Sister Eugene Francis Keaveney. Sister prepared me for confirmation during the one year my class had a lay teacher.

3.) Why do you want to become a Providence Associate?

After Dave’s death I realized I wanted a deeper spiritual life. Part of my search for this new spirituality was considering becoming a Providence Associate but I had almost discounted the idea until I met Sister Susan Paweski.

4.) Did you know Sister Sue prior to her becoming your companion?

Sister Sue routinely contacts donors as part of her job with the Mission Advancement office. In late 2007 she called me. She talked with Dave, but she and I never made contact at that time. She called again less than two months after Dave’s death and we talked for well over an hour. We clicked so well over the phone that I didn’t hesitate to invite her to visit. Last Spring she combined donor visits with some personal time and came to visit for a few days.

During her visit we talked more and I reconsidered becoming a Providence Associate. At that time I asked her to be my sister companion. She accepted without hesitation.

5.) What do you hope to gain from this year of candidacy?

I am still at the beginnings of the Spiritual Integration Units but feel I’ve already learned a lot. In the past few months I have been doing a lot of reading about recent church history, especially with regard to communities of religious women. I’ve acquired a whole new library of reading material including the works of Thomas Merton, Joan Chittister, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner as well as books on the practice of Centering Prayer. And, I’ve begun to reread the community history, starting with the “Journals and Letters of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.” I think this is the third reading of that volume but it’s always fresh and new to me.

It’s not just what I hope to gain from the candidacy year but what I know I have and will continue to gain from my journey to a deeper spiritual life. In her introduction to Joan Chittister’s “The Fine Art of Living,” a booklet about Lectio Divina or Sacred Reading, Mary Lou Kownacki writes “if we devote a few minutes each day to receiving God’s word, we can change. It may not be a dramatic or sudden transformation, just a daily smoothing of the sharp edges of selfishness and ego, a step toward tendering the heart.” Since deciding to commence this journey I have been experiencing just such a “daily smoothing of the sharp edges.”

6.) How do you and Sister Sue progress through the Spiritual Integration Units?

Our plan is to stay in contact by phone and e-mail. We’ve also been able to co-ordinate some travel plans and will meet in March and again in August or September in the San Francisco area.

7.) What from the Spiritual Integration Units has spoken to you?

I think this will be an easier question to answer once I have completed the units than it is now. But, what impressed me first was that I had started myself on a spiritual road that closely paralleled some of the information I found in the Spiritual Integration Units. For example, I had already begun to study the practice of Centering Prayer. Also, for some time I’ve wanted to journal and use journaling and sketchbooks as part of my artistic design process. I started using sketchbooks early last year. Now I’m learning to use journaling as well.

But, I think the unit that will speak most to me will be Unit 4: Providence Spirituality. I look forward to working with that unit.

8.) Since you live in the state of Washington, how do you stay connected with other candidates, associates and/or sisters?

The Internet is a wonderful tool and there is always old fashioned letter writing. I’ve already exchanged e-mails with Providence Associates Sharon Michaud and Kathleen Morris. Both live in Oregon and I’m hoping to meet them in March on my way south. I love to drive so traveling to gatherings is not a problem to me. I also expect to get back to the Woods at least once each year. With my niece, nephew and grand nephews in Illinois there is even more reason to make the trip.

I don’t feel a sense of isolation here in the Pacific Northwest. That is probably due to my long history with the Sisters of Providence. I do think it would be difficult for someone who has only recently come in contact with the community.

9.) Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Only that I don’t feel that I am in a year of discernment as a candidate preparing to make a one year commitment as a Providence Associate. Rather I feel that I am at the early stage of a journey that is going to form the rest of my life.

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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