Sister Kathleen Kelly (formerly Sister Edward Marie)
My song will be for you forever
You, the music in my heart,
You, my love, my light, my friend.
As we gather this morning to honor the memory of our Sister and friend, we can be grateful to Kay for the thoughtful and reflective “autobiography” she penned in 2006, which allows me to share her own words with you, said Sister Maureen Abbott in her commentary for Sister Kathleen Kelly, formerly Sister Edward Marie, who passed away on Tuesday, August 17, 2021, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 89 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 70 years.
Sister Maureen continued: Sister Kay was born Kathleen Audry Kelly on July 21, 1932, in Chicago to Edward Joseph and Stella Moroney Kelly. Although she was baptized Kathleen, she quickly adds “(soon to be called Kay.)” She was the fourth daughter, with Rosemary, Dorothy and Alyce having preceded her.
She was still a tiny baby when, a year later, her father dropped dead of a heart attack at age 42, so during her early childhood years, the family lived with their mother’s mom and dad. When she was 5, they moved to the west side to be near Providence High School since Rosemary had received a scholarship to attend. Kay regarded this as “the hand of God in my regard,” since all the girls later when to PHS. If not, she states: “I would not be a Sister of Providence today.”
With help from their Moroney grandparents, they grew up without frills but not lacking for what they needed, with Grandma Kelly and their aunts providing “trimmings.” She recalls: “Mom kept us starched and curled within an inch of our lives. I think that that may have some bearing on my need to appear perfect and my effort to be the best wherever I could.” The three youngest were close in age and would pal around together, all three feeling “drawn to whatever was available to us as religious … daily Mass and stopping by the church for a visit. All three of us entered religious life. Alyce and Dorothy later became Sinsinawa Dominicans after I entered the Sisters of Providence.”
Why the SPs for Kay? “I really found inspirations from the sisters who were my teachers in high school. I admired them, the time they devoted to the students and most of all their spiritual influence.” Well, she wasn’t the only Provite to enter that year. Sister Mary Lou Ruck tells us about how a large group of prospective postulants met at the Chicago train station on Feb. 1, 1951. This was during the Korean War and the trains were on strike, but in order to transfer sailors from the Great Lakes Training Center, some were still going out of Chicago. However, times were not reliable. When the call came over the loudspeaker, Terre Haute and points south, there was a flurry of excited goodbyes and the girls assembled at the boarding place. No train arrived. So they rejoined friends and family. Another call, same thing. Finally the third time around the train arrived. Now on their way at last, it occurred to some that this would be their last chance and amused themselves by flirting with the sailors. As it was almost 10 p.m. when they approached Terre Haute, having had nothing to eat all this time, Kay proposed that they find a restaurant. It was not to be because several taxis were at the station to take them on to the Woods, where they were served some soup before being ushered to the dormitory.
After professing first vows on Aug. 15, 1953, she began her teaching ministry as a primary teacher in Terre Haute and Fort Wayne, then returning briefly to Chicago before professing perpetual vows on Aug. 15, 1958. After three years as a middle grade teacher at tiny St. John’s in Evansville, she was surprised to be called for St. Ambrose in Hollywood, traveling across the country and enjoying four years in southern California. When the Congregation established provincial government in 1964, she returned in Chicago’s trend-setting St. Joseph Province. First she joined Sister Gerry Cavenaugh (RIP) and her energetic faculty at St. Andrew’s, and then moved to Mother Theodore Guerin High School in 1969 as a math teacher. This proved to be a time of embarking on a new phase of life adapting to the many changes of the time.
What was Kay up to during those years?
- Forging lifetime friendship: With Sister Gerry Cavenaugh as principal at St. Andrew’s were a whole crew of energetic faculty made up of SPs, including Sister Therese Guerin Sullivan in her first teaching assignment, who told me Kay recruited her mother as a teacher aide to help her cope with her 52 first graders. Former SPs on the faculty became sidekicks as well as colleagues. Two of these lifelong friends are still with us today: Anita Banas and Mary Cullen. Later, Kay invited Anita to apply for a position at Guerin, where Sister Cathy Campbell joined the fun crowd.
- Learning to drive: Anita bravely took on the daunting task of helping Kay learn to navigate constant Chicago construction. Frequently these lessons would include practicing parking in front of Kay’s mother’s house and stopping in for a visit.
- Expert sewer of the modified habit: Kay had learned to sew from her mother and refined her skills by helping others less talented. In fact, she and Anita became such close friends that when Anita invited her to be the Maid of Honor at her wedding, she came attired in a self-made “beautiful green velvet dress.”
- Developing her professional skills: Kay had been on the long-term path and received her bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1965 and then spent summer vacations studying at Indiana State University toward her 1972 master’s degree in education. A very good math teacher, Sister Mary Lou Ruck notes that “her students loved her.” Her friend describes her as “one of a kind, very professional, wonderful to work with” because she had a great ability to organize things.
- Exploring a different lifestyle: As the large Chicago convents emptied out and pastors eyed them as office space, Kay moved into an apartment with other SPs. She comments: “This was a good period of time as well as a hard period for it involved learning to get along with others on a different level than living in a large house where you could get lost in the crowd.”
- Maintaining family contacts: Traveling to visit her big sister Rosemary in Hawaii gave Kay the opportunity to have “time together as adults.” When her mother suffered a stroke in 1975, Kay “spent many hours and many days at her bedside, holding her hand, loving her, and just being there.” Over time, her mom and all three sisters preceded her in death.
Referring to the Congregation’s renewal efforts of the time, Kay remarks: “To be more ‘Kay’ and less ‘the good Sister’ lifted me to a level of challenge to growth and validity and maturity. That was a very good step for me.” As her 13 years at Guerin High School came to an end, she chose to launch a new career. She spent the last three summers of that assignment in the SUMORE program at Seattle University, earning a master’s degree in ministry. This was “a wonderful and freeing experience, studying with men and women, lay and religious, from around the world.”
In a 2009 interview for the SP publication Community, Kay described the next phase of her life in ministry as, “My constant response to the hand of God – which is what I call Providence – has continually led me to the next place where I can serve, often where I did not plan to be.” Her first position as pastoral associate was at Queen of Angels Parish in Riverdale. When I spoke to her pastor there, Father Ray Yadron, who has maintained a friendship with her over the years, he described her as “a gutsy Irish girl from the west side,” who was “damn, damn good at what she did.” He related several incidents of sensitive situations where her attentive listening made all the difference for the individuals involved.
After 10 years there, she enjoyed a sabbatical year in the CREDO program at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. She then returned to the Midwest to work alongside Father John Scott at Nativity Parish in Portage, Indiana. They too became good friends and he is here today, so I’ll let him say more about that later. When Father John moved on, Kay suffered one of those sad experiences when the new pastor saw no need for a pastoral associate and cut the position. Fortunately, her old friend Father Ray was now pastor at St. Thomas of Villanova in Palatine, Illinois, and had an opening as a Minister of Care. For her, “This was a big surprise and a great uplift for my spirit.” Ever the serious student, during this time she also earned a Certificate in Spirituality and Spiritual Direction at the Institute for Spiritual Leadership.
By 2011, at age 79, it was time to retire. Here at the Woods, “retire” is another term for volunteer opportunities. Kay became a valued and beloved presence as a receptionist and spiritual director at Providence Spirituality & Conference Center until several bouts of poor health took her to Providence Health Care, where the hand of God came to invite her to eternal life on Aug. 17, 2021.
So goodbye, Kay. Now you can truly sing:
My song will be with you forever,
You, my light, my love, my friend.
You will lead and guide me home.
Funeral services for Sister Kathleen took place on Friday, August 27, 2021, at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place at 10 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Kathleen to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Kathleen in the comment section below.
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Patrick, Terre Haute (1953-55); Teacher, St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne (1955-57); Teacher, St. John, Evansville (1958-61); Pastoral Associate, Nativity of Our Savior Parish, Portage (1993-2001); Spiritual Director/Volunteer/Receptionist, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2012-2021); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2021).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. David, Chicago (1957-58); Teacher, St. Andrew, Chicago (1965-67); Teacher/Assistant Principal, St. Andrew, Chicago (1967-69); Teacher, Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1969-82); Pastoral Associate, Queen of Apostles Parish, Riverdale (1982-92); Minister of Care, St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Palatine (2001-06); Student-Institute for Spiritual Leadership, Living Word Center, Arlington Heights (2006-08); Spiritual Director/Ministry of Care, St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Palatine (2008-09); Spiritual Director/Ministry of Care/Kairos Prison Retreat Ministry, St. Thomas of Villanova Parish, Palatine; Dwight Correctional Institute, Dwight (2009-11).
In California: Teacher, St. Ambrose, Hollywood (1961-65).
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