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Sister Kathleen Bernadette Smith: love of God strengthens love of others

Sister Kate celebrates 25 years as a
Sister of Providence in 2018.

Mother Theodore reminded her sisters, “You will see many things in new lights if you give the Holy Spirit free access to your minds and hearts.”

Certainly, Sister Kathleen (Kate) Bernadette Smith, SP, did just that 28 years ago. She was a graduate student at both the University of Chicago, where she was studying for a master’s degree in social work, and at Catholic Theological Union (CTU) pursuing a master’s degree in divinity.

An invitation and a call

It was at CTU that she met Sister Jeanette Lucinio, SP, who asked her one day, “Kate, have you ever thought about religious life as a Sister of Providence?” Indeed, Kate had thought about religious life. She was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, and she had seriously considered joining a congregation of sisters but found their spirituality not quite the right fit for her. Sister Jeanette’s question to Kate prompted her to give the Spirit free access to her mind and heart once again.

As Providence would have it, Kate had been to Saint Mary-of-theWoods as a child. Her father and mother were Baptist, and both wanted the children raised Catholic. Her mother passed away when Kate was 3 years old, and her dad married a Methodist Episcopal woman who willingly raised the children Catholic. Kate remembers coming to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods as a child with a German priest who brought a busload of people to visit. As Kate and Sister
Jeanette talked about the Sisters of Providence, Kate recounted her memories of the trip — visiting the grotto, the fountain, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Saint Anne’s Shell Chapel.

Spirituality and music

Still living out her love of God and
music: Sister Kate plays the piano to
record a prayer video in February.

Kate found the “fit” she was looking for with the Sisters of Providence. She found a group of religious women whose spirituality fit with hers and who shared her love of music. For Sister Kate, both of those characteristics define much of who she is.

She has been making music since age 3. Kate had spent her life doing music ministry wherever and whenever she was needed at a church service in the Chicago area (regardless of religious denomination). She had also taught science and music in several grammar schools. But her first love was providing music. It gave energy to her spirituality and allowed her to share in the spiritual life of others.

As a Sister of Providence, Sister Kate spent nearly 25 years as Pastoral Associate and/or Director of Religious Education of St. Felicitas Parish in Chicago. Then, most recently, she served at St. Katherine Drexel Parish as a volunteer. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, she has shared prayer and spiritual discussion regularly with church members via Zoom and other modes of communication.

Bringing needed diversity

In 2002 Sister Kate with a parishioner in her
ministry at St. Felicitas Parish in Chicago.

Sister Kate holds the distinction of being the only current member of the Sisters of Providence who is African-American. She said she hasn’t experienced racism from other members of the Congregation. “Some sisters would sit and watch me sometimes, just because they were curious, I think. The Sisters were very kind and very inviting, and no one ever challenged me,” Sister Kathleen Bernadette she said. Sisters Mary Pius Regnier, Jeanne Knoerle and Nancy Nolan were particularly attentive to her. Sister Kate said she has felt welcomed and included from the time she joined.

Faith at the center

Sister Kate’s advice on how the Congregation’s work combating racism might be most productive? “Racism will not change if we are not spiritually strong and able and willing to bring people in. If there is not a strong spirituality, racism and all sorts of malice will creep around and be perpetuated. We need only look at Martin Luther King, Jr. He made the impact he did not just because he carried signs and protested, but because his faith and spirituality were at the center of all that he did. It is in that way that humans come to an understanding of who we are as people.”

Sister Kate joins in community
discussion during a 2017 meeting of
all sisters.

One of Sister Kate’s big worries today is concern that the Church has stopped some of its outreach to young people. Sister Kate’s deepest prayer is that we, as a Providence Community, will figure out how to do an even better job of reaching out to students here and elsewhere to encourage them to practice their faith and to help them know and understand how to live a spiritual life.

“Love of God strengthens love of others,” she says. Sister Kate wants to ensure that the next generation can enjoy the Providence spirituality that has been her guiding light throughout her life.

Originally published in the winter 2022 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. She currently serves on the Congregation leadership team. Previously she ministered as a teacher and administrator at the secondary and university levels.

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