Sister Kathleen Bernadette Smith: Joyful collaboration in a prophetic mission
Sister Kathleen Bernadette Smith has ministered almost 20 years as a pastoral associate at St. Felicitas Parish in Chicago.
She collaborates with parish staff, parishioners, local community leaders, archdiocesan and SP-led teams and committees to proclaim the Gospel in a joyful, prophetic way richly textured by her African-American spirituality.
As a young woman, Sister Kathleen started out as a Chicago Public School teacher and textbook editor. In 1990 she responded to a call to study social work and theology. That set her feet on the path of Providence.
While she was applying for a Master of Divinity degree at the University of Chicago (UC), her advisor encouraged her to find out why Catholic Theological Union (CTU), located just blocks away, did not have a dual enrollment agreement with UC. That way she could study Catholic theology. In doing so Kathleen became the catalyst for evolving a dual-credit relationship between the two institutions. She also became one of the first CTU students welcomed into the Tolton Scholars’ program. The program provides grants to those preparing for ministry in the African-American community.
Sister Kathleen credits her CTU teacher Sister of Providence Jeannette Lucinio with inspiring her to become a Sister of Providence. She also is thankful for the Sisters at St. Angela Convent for having “the courage to join the new postulant formation strategy at that time that allowed her to continue her studies while living on mission.” By doing so she was able to graduate with a Master of Divinity degree from CTU and a Master of Social Work degree from UC. After completing her canonical novitiate at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1994, she began her ministry at St. Felicitas.
“St. Felicitas is a parish that is more old than young, but there’s always a lot going on. We have more parishioners over the age of 70 years than under 35,” she says.
To meet this challenge, the parish is engaged in the Parish Transformation Process, a strategic planning initiative sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago. In it Sister Kathleen and parish leaders are addressing financial concerns and initiating ways to gain more members.
“This process has opened our eyes to the challenges facing this community and to the groups with whom we can partner in responding to them.”
Daily Sister Kathleen has a full plate. She answers calls from parishioners. She works with liturgical ministers. She visits homebound members. She assists with the parish and finance councils. She writes biblical reflections based on the Sunday readings. She often provides music for various liturgies and funerals, and fulfils countless other involvements.
Collaboratively, she works with members of the Pastoral Associates of the Archdiocese of Chicago (PAAC) and the Avalon Park Ecumenical Association (APEA).
“The APEA is very ecumenical with United Church of Christ, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, United Methodist Church and Catholic Church ministers, pastoral associates, and priests at the table. We have learned about our various traditions. We did a super big ‘taking our streets back’ campaign working with the police, local businesses and residents to get rid of drug houses. We annually sponsor a back-to-school parade, an ecumenical picnic, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration,” she said.
Sister Kathleen serves on both the SP and Archdiocese of Chicago Anti-Racism task forces. She also companions those preparing to make commitments as Providence Associates.
As a member of the Pathways Awareness Committee, she has partnered with others to write grants “to get hearing devices and other aids and accommodations for churches to help individuals with various challenges participate in worship.”
Evolving her ministry for the future, Sister Kathleen will be looking for ways to use technology to reach “the homebound who now outnumber those in the pews, to keep them connected to the Church community by engaging them in devotions like the rosary and days of reflection.”
About the author: Sister Cathy Campbell, who holds a Doctor of Ministry degree, enjoys celebrating the work of those who serve among God’s people in pastoral ministries. She currently coordinates the Circle of Grace program for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in addition to freelance writing and editing for Catholic media.
(Originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HOPE.)