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Oral history: Sister Kathleen Desautels, change maker

Sister Kathleen Desautels

“It matters little whether we are in one place or another, provided we do the will of God.”

— Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Indianapolis; Saint Mary-of-the-Woods; Linton; Jasper; Bloomington; Chicago; Bolivia; Washington, D.C.; Nicaragua; El Salvador; Haiti; Guatemala; Iraq; China; Greenville, Illinois …

Student, postulant, novice, Sister of Providence, teacher, pastoral associate, theology instructor, alumnae affairs director, prison chaplain, 8th Day Center for Justice staff, prisoner of conscience, justice promoter, justice advocate …

Advocate and leader

Sister Kathleen Desautels helps to organize the crowds during a large protest.

Every word above has been used in reference to Sister Kathleen Desautels, also known as Sister “Kak.” She has a Wikipedia page. She has been interviewed in Rolling Stone magazine, the Chicago Tribune. In Catholic publications, national publications and more. Sister Kathleen was in a documentary video ‘Band of Sisters’. She has written extensively about her experiences.

Sister Kathleen was involved with so many non-violent protests when she was staff at 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago that she became a “hostess,” as she described it in one article. She  understood the rules of non-violent protest and explained them to the participants, coordinating with law enforcement, calming participant jitters. She knew how to carry her phone, emergency numbers at hand. And she knew the limitations and expectations of non-violent protests.

A teacher from the beginning of her ministries with the Sisters of Providence, Sister Kathleen has continued to teach throughout her career by learning the needs of countless others around the world and spreading that information to groups and parishes and those who might be able to do something about it. She has embodied the intention Saint Mother Theodore Guerin conveyed:

“Souls everywhere are equally dear to our Lord, and we are determined to consecrate our life to them.”

— Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Eyes wide open

Sister Kathleen Desautels in her ministry in social justice at 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago.

During our Dec. 10, 2023 interview, she was engaging, funny and self-deprecating. Sister Kathleen has a heart for those who suffer the injustices of the world. Her eyes are wide open to the causes of such injustices. And she has worked tirelessly throughout her life to do something about it. There is a tenderness coupled with some righteous outrage when she talks about what she has seen and people she has encountered: some of them on the edge, some who have fallen off the edge, some who were pushed off the edge.

As soon as we sat down in the small meeting room at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Kak said that no one would be interested in her school, her childhood, her early years. Yet her passion, her spirituality, her love for her sisters and the Woods and how all of that came about is part of a story that started before she ever arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Upbringing in Indianapolis

She is the middle child of five children born to Leon and Josephine Desautels. Her brothers Joe and George are deceased. Her sister Marianne Mahaffey and brother Robert are living in Florida and Indiana. “Kak” is the nickname given to her by her siblings, short for Kathleen. It went from the loving nickname “Kakky” to “Kak” and stuck. Not only her siblings but the neighborhood kids called her Kak. She thought when she entered school she could drop it. No. High school, she would become Kathleen. No. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College? Uh-uh. Becoming a Sister? Well, possibly, since she was originally Sister Mary Colleen; but no. She is still Kak.

Sister Kathleen, also know as Kak

Kathleen Desautels is the first-born girl in her family, a middle child with two older brothers, and a younger brother and sister. Certainly the traits of a first-born — achievement, goal-oriented, outspoken, and stubborn — combined with middle child traits of diplomacy, flexibility and compromise, merge into someone who may have a fierceness, a bravery, a determination, a passion.

She describes the home she grew up in as middle- or upper-middle class. She says her mother was a devout, regular Catholic who didn’t wear her religion on her sleeve. Her father was of French descent and learned much of Catholicism from her mother. They lived within walking distance of St. Joan of Arc Church in Indianapolis. Kak attended St. Joan of Arc Elementary School and St. Agnes Academy, both staffed by Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Her father traveled with his work, and the pastor would come to the house most Thursday nights for a nightcap when her father would return home from his travels. From her earliest years, church has been familiar.

Pull toward religious life

Front from left, Sister Kathleen Desautels and Sister Mary Morley pose with three of their classmates from St. Joan of Arc School in Indianapolis in 1968. All five entered religious life.

Sister Kathleen and her father, with whom she was close, would watch “Face the Nation” together when she was home on a visit. She had been steeped in the world and politics before she ever left Indianapolis. Kak recognized even then that some things just weren’t right in the world. She relayed with a laugh that her father would jokingly say to her later on in her life, “When I lost you to be a sister that was one thing, but when I lost you to the Democrats, that was the worst!”

Kathleen attended Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) as did many of her friends from high school. She felt a pull toward religious life, but she was also enjoying her friends and dating. The lure remained. She mentioned it to her mother. Her mother said, ‘But I thought you wanted to go to Europe with your friends?’ “Oh, yeah,” Kak replied. Josephine Desautels may have hoped her first-born daughter was dissuaded. She was not, and in part because of her mother’s influence.

“If you are quite determined to belong entirely to God, to work with all your strength … I say to you with assurance, Come.”               

— Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

When she was a senior at SMWC, she spoke with a Sister of Providence about her leanings. She entered the Congregation in September 1960, following her senior year of college.

“My mother … I think she knew I would do this. She was accepting of it but it was hard for her. We were close.”

Sister Kathleen, standing right, plays ping pong with other Sisters of Providence postulants in 1960-61.

Formed as a sister

“The 60’s were a wonderful time to enter the community because of the second Vatican Council.” Kak had four years of college and then five years of initial formation at the motherhouse. For the first time the postulancy lasted an entire year instead of six months. Everything was changing. “Those five years were significantly important in my theological beginnings, learning from our sisters who were recently graduated.”

Sister Kathleen, at left, on a trip to Columbia with another member of her delegation.

Kak credits the late Father Dooley and the late Sisters Barbara Doherty and Ruth Eileen Dwyer as instrumental in her theological grounding. Father Dooley taught what was going to come from Vatican II. Sisters Ruth Eileen and Barbara had just come from recent post-Vatican-II theological training, and  ‘Apostolic Spirituality’ was introduced in a way to understand the work they were doing in light of the Gospel.

Years later, Sister Kathleen’s good friend, a Dominican nun, remarked she was envious because she knew the Sisters of Providence had their own nuns teaching. The Dominican nuns had Dominican priests teaching them. Kak’s friend told her it made all the difference in the world who was teaching. Sister Kathleen’s four years of college followed by five years at the Woods steeped her into a spirituality that looked at the needs of the world and the environment. A fire was building.

“That time was foundational to all that my life became. I could not get enough.”                                     

— Sister Kathleen Desautels
A young Sister Mary Colleen (Sister Kathleen Desuatels)

Learning care for the poor

Sister Kathleen told of Sister Louise who oversaw junior sisters. She knew that they had to experience people in poverty, that not all of them were familiar with people who lived in dire straits. That sister asked: “How can I help these young nuns learn to be with the poor?”

Sister developed a plan with the help of the Sisters of Charity from Chicago: They would go to Dresser community, an impoverished neighborhood near Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. In fact, a roommate of Kak’s from Terre Haute would drive young sisters to Dresser each Saturday but would not join them. At that time even the police were hesitant to enter the area. Sister’s instruction to the group: ‘Just walk the streets and at some point, the children will come and they will get to know you. And if they invite you into their homes you go but not unless they invite you.’ Sister Louise would go into the bar in Dresser to meet with the patrons while the young sisters walked through the area and interacted with the children.

“There are very few persons who understand how difficult it is to serve their neighbor.”

— Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Sister Louise taught us how to be neighbors, and how to make that a part of our spirituality. For 50-to-60 years that has been part of Sisters of Providence spirituality. We were trained to know how to be with people who may not be like us and to learn from them. These people lived in shacks, with dirt floors and only a bed to sit on. We were making friends with people who were our neighbors, and we hadn’t always been neighborly. In time, many of the Dresser people got jobs through us. It was a shift in our spirituality.”

Teaching in so many ways

Sister Kathleen discusses climate justice with other Sisters of Providence at an annual meeting several years ago.

Kak has a bachelor’s degree in education from SMWC, and master’s in theology from La Salle University. She taught elementary school for five years: in the nearby Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village, in Linton and in Jasper, all in Indiana. She will tell you that she was having fun, and that she probably learned more from the students than her students learned from her. But those five years were building on her love for learning and her spirituality for the mission she would dedicate herself to: teaching. Teaching groups, teaching in parishes, teaching people who could do something about the injustices she encountered in the world. Sharing with those who had not had the opportunity to experience what she had experienced, who had no understanding of true poverty, true oppression, true injustice up close and personal. Teaching those in her own community – and learning from them.

“It is truly sublime to be devoted to the service of our neighbor, to cooperate so intimately with our blessed Lord in the work for which God laid down His life. But we must not think it an easy task.”         

—Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Change of habit

Sister Kathleen Desautels was received into community when sisters still wore the habit. She continued to wear it the five years she was at the Woods, prior to the change to secular clothing in the 1970s. By directives from Rome, every community was compelled to meet to examine and update the customs and rules via Vatican II. “For people who found it difficult to accept the change, you could blame the church,” she said with a chuckle. “We were doing what we were told.”


Sister Gilchrist Conway and Sister Kathleen Desautels in LaPaz, Bolivia in 1982.

Sister Kathleen went from teaching elementary school to Religious Education Coordinator, Pastoral Associate, Director of Religious Education, and then back to SMWC. There she was a theology instructor followed by being a campus minister and director of alumnae affairs. While at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Kak had the opportunity to take a sabbatical to Bolivia. A group of religious were serving there, one of them Sister Gilchrist Conway, SP, who was later killed in a flash flood a year after the visit. The sisters in Bolivia lived in the mountains, with people on the edge of society amidst the civil unrest at the time.

Sister Kathleen returned home early because her mother was dying. She said she found out later that her brothers had been furious she had gone to Bolivia. Their mother told them, “Look, when you got married you went and the people you married had to go where you went. And now Kathleen is following her heart and her life.” Her brothers respected their mother and nothing more was said. Bolivia was only the start of following her heart. The fire was lit.

“We have had too much talk of sheep. I want to see the lions come out.”

—Teilhard de Chardin
Sister Kathleen Desautels, second from left, with other peacemakers at a protest against the School of Americas.

8th Day Center for Justice

From 1986 to 2018, Sister Kathleen Desautels was on the staff at 8th Day Center for Justice in Chicago. A collaboration of religious communities, 8th Day worked toward justice by praying together, doing analysis together and working in collaboration with others on social justice issues. Kak was Justice Promoter for the community and did this by working with other staff. She was part of groups that worked with people who asked 8th Day to work with them; or they were working on obvious international issues, or whatever the “hot topic” might be. 8th Day was part of many communities.

In Central America struggles were always a concern, then as they are now. These justice collaborators did not shy away from being vocal about detrimental U.S. political involvement in countries. Chicago is a large city with many groups of people who sought to work with 8th Day: Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Haitians, Palestinians, Iraqis, to name only a few. 8th Day provided an opportunity for people who had been to countries of unrest or who had lived and worked there to have a big voice. But their work was not limited to groups and concerns in Chicago.

Kak has written about justice issues. Google her name, and you will find articles quoting her and her stance, citing her knowledge and experience. You will find interviews she has done with various publications. Like all Sisters of Providence she has a fierce determination to continue their foundress’s intention and passion, to be with those who are suffering and most in need, to be a champion for them, to pursue justice.


Working on social justice issues comes with its own risks. Are the phones bugged? Are communities accepting? Will people be open to discussing differences? These were all questions that confronted Sister Kathleen and her fellow members of 8th Day. As Saint Mother Theodore said — not an easy task.

“Woman in this country is never seen transacting the least business, religious no more than others. Eyes are opened wide at Terre Haute and everywhere when I appear to pay bills or to make purchases. Everyone is astonished.”                   

—Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
Sister Kathleen laughs while visiting others in 1990.

Women’s issues were prominent among those Sister Kathleen worked on, as they had been when Saint Mother Theodore Guerin arrived in Indiana. Those issues could be divisive without a doubt, but Kak reported that she had found sitting and discussing issues brought mutual respect, if not agreement. The Million Woman March. The School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). The Persian Gulf War. Women’s health care. To name a few.

“Woman in this country is only yet one-fourth of the family. I hope that, through the influence of religion and education, she will eventually become at least one-half – the ‘better half.'”

—Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

8th Day, as well as the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, have done much to advance women’s issues. Mother Theodore Guerin understood the necessity of women becoming fully equal in U.S. society. She passed on to her sisters, including Sister Kathleen, the importance of equality for women. Sister Kathleen learned it first from the strong women who led her formation as a sister.

“That time was foundational to all that my life became. I could not get enough.”

— Sister Kathleen Desautels

Speaking for the voiceless

Sister Kathleen speaks in 1987.

Following the first Gulf War, Kak and a Dominican Sister traveled to Iraq, taking money to a hospital run by Dominican Sister. They had to hide money in their clothing to get it to the people in charge of the hospital. Each time they visited an Iraqi city, they contributed monies for medications to give to healthcare providers. The teams in Iraq split up and visited different places. She and her sister friend decided to get a cab in Basra to visit families. An Iraqi man sensed what they wanted, offered his cab service, and took them to meet people who had suffered great loss because of the war. One man had lost his four daughters and wife in a bombing. The sisters listened to their stories.

Then they came back to tell the stories of the people’s suffering. “You go there and then you come back and tell their stories to our community, to parishes, to groups of organizers in Chicago and across this country. We weren’t sure what would come from that but we were educating them and, in the process, trying to be supportive of those who suffer the results of the war.”

A resource

Sister Kathleen Desautels leads a workshop on putting faith into action and nonviolence for Providence Associates.

Teaching. Helping people learn what is happening in the world beyond the newspaper and ‘Face the Nation.’ It was hard work, but communities relied on the information they shared. Sister Dorothy Gartland, a founding member of 8th Day, had done the same when she was on staff there. Another Sister of Providence, Sister Joann Quinkert, said that in Alabama they relied on information coming from 8th Day that informed them in their own day-to-day activities with the poor and economically disadvantaged and marginalized. Religious communities across the country as well as parishes and interested entities relied on that.

“… ours is the preparation for the generation that will succeed us, and eminent good will be done this way by us … You may not live to see it, but you will have sown the seed, and your Sisters will come to reap what will have been sown.”

—Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Paving the way

Sister Kathleen meets with actor Martin Sheen at a breakfast for International Worker Rights Day sponsored by ARISE-Chicago.

We didn’t start a revolution,” Kak said in our interview. But revolutions are organized movements aimed at effecting change in some manner — economically, politically, socially. Training workers in non-violent direct action who are striking is revolution. Providing service to groups of people who would train other people: revolution. Working for years on women’s issues and equality: revolution. Non-violent action is one step at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time, one year at a time. It’s letting them know you’ll be back, and you’ll do the same thing, and they can deal with it or not, but you’ll be back.

And one day, things will change. It could take years. But those who are driven to ‘sow the seed’ Mother Theodore Guerin spoke of are those whose spirituality has been set on fire, those who have a creativity and a strength to go back again and again and again. Kak and her companion Sisters of Providence have that strength, that fire.

Support from the Sisters

Community! Kak second row center with some of her Sisters of Providence community

“I have had wonderful experiences with community. Several sisters in my lifetime have communicated with me their own experiences, particularly regarding women’s issues, the women they work with and the injustice they have seen.” Sister Kathleen was clear that sitting down one-on-one, even with women who disagreed with her stance on topics – especially abortion – brought mutual respect if not agreement. She was part of women’s groups who looked extensively into especially the topic of abortion and the early church stance. It was a well thought out and studied process and included religious and theologians, a national Catholic group studying the issue. She embodies, as do many in the Community, the notion that ‘risk is the price of paying what the soul cannot ignore.’

Prison time

Sister Kak spent six months in prison as a prisoner of conscience at Greenville, Illinois, Federal Correctional Institute. Like several Sisters of Providence, she had been arrested for protesting. In this case it was the School of the Americas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The “school” trained military from El Salvador, Guatemala and other Latin American countries. These “students” returned to their countries and became responsible for the deaths of the poor there. In 2001 it became apparent that Sister Kathleen was going to prison for crossing the line in protesting the school. “I had crossed many times, and there were so many of us that crossed that they would arrest 20 or 30 people and they would go to trial. I probably crossed five times before they got me. Each year I would tell people, ‘walk with me, they don’t arrest me!’” she laughed.

Sister of Providence Kathleen Desautels, in the pink, stands on the front courthouse steps on the first day of her trial after being arrested for peacefully protesting at the School of Americas march in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Like many activities 8th Day participated in, a non-violent protest of such dimensions as at SOA  — sometimes as many as 30,000 protesters — was encompassing before, during, and after the protest. Managing arrests, managing court hearings, managing legal representation. The groups they participated with were so well organized that they frequently had to assist the young Army soldiers with the paperwork of an arrest. Dynamic.

Making known atrocities

Why did she risk arrest and imprisonment? She had met people whose families had been murdered in Central America by those trained at SOA. The bond with peers is strong in a non-violent protest. They know the purpose of the protest. They know who is going to cross the line; it’s determined ahead of time. “The joy of bonding with others for a right cause – there is no amount of “spirits” that does that for your heart, bonding with people who are there, and with those for whom you do it.”

“Believe me … always and everywhere you will find people who will try your patience and you yourself will try theirs.”     

—Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Sister Kathleen was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institute in Greenville for six months. She had had wonderful legal representation by an attorney from Indianapolis whose mother attended SMWC. It’s a small world in such moments! What was prison like?

Life in prison

Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Kathy Long, OP, at left, served prison time with Sister Kathleen Desautels, SP, at right, for participating in a peaceful protest against the School of the Americas. The photograph here was taken in November 2003.

“You meet some good ol’ scouts. People are people. This was federal prison. Minimum security. I met a lot of nice people in there. I had a job. My job was serving the evening meal at 4 p.m. Prisoners are in charge in a prison, and a young prisoner was in charge of the meal. She kept changing my position in the line. Each day a different job. First, I was giving out the meat, then the potatoes, then something else.

“I asked, ‘Why do I not get to stay at just one place?”

“Because you take too long, and you give them what they want.”

“I said, ‘Where are we going? It takes one minute! Why are we in such a hurry to go back and do nothing?”

“She laughed. But finally my last job was to give out dessert, and I loved it. ‘You want an end piece? A middle? I’ll give it to you.’”

Where are we going?

“Where are we going?” A mantra to a Sister of Providence who has traveled the world in her quest to bring love, mercy and justice to those most in need. To educate herself to be able to turn around and educate others about the reality of the world for so many, the injustices of the world for so many, the policies that are detrimental for so many, to the poor in this country and every other country. “I soaked it up so I could tell their stories.”

“Where are we going?” Sister Kathleen was in China for the United Nations Fourth World Congress on Women and Gender Equality in 1995, still considered one of the most important U.N. conferences ever held. Even now, Kak points out, many countries understand the necessity of healthcare for women more than even the U.S. She has worked with Central Americans and others, both in-country and long distance, regarding women’s issues and human rights issues.

Sisters attending the United Nations Beijing Conference on Women in 1995. From left, Delores Brooks, OP; Sister Donna Marie Fu. SP; Sister Kathleen Desautels, SP; Sister Anne Therese Falkenstein. SP

Advocacy and support

“Where are we going?” Sister Kathleen Desautels has been a strong advocate for women’s rights, women’s healthcare, abortion rights. She has worked tirelessly as an advocate, sometimes challenged by the church, fellow Catholics, others. “I have had a lot of wonderful experiences. Our nuns, they may not have always agreed but we held each other in peace. I’ve had wonderful experiences of community.” She has been touched by the acceptance and reception she has received by so many. She acknowledges the support she received from General Superior Nancy Nolan when Kak spoke out in a national magazine – “Nancy asked to have a conversation. After several talks we agreed to educate about the issue.”

Sisters Kak, Barbara Sheehan, Patty Fillenwarth and Dorothy Gartland at a protest in the early 2000s.

In an interview that Kak did, she remarked she could never understand what it was like to be one of the marginalized in society but that she could understand what it was like to be on the fringe, as she had been on the fringe of the Catholic church at times. It reminded me of a detective friend who once told me that he could always see things better if he stood on the fringe.

“Sister Theodore was…unaware as yet of the immense destiny which Providence still held in store for her…that across the stormy Atlantic, the hands of neglected children … were stretched out to her to beg her love and devotion.”

— History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Vol I

Telling the stories

What does Sister Kathleen want people to know about the issues in so many countries?

“Education and action are the process for change. I don’t know if you can know what it is like in other countries. In Haiti the poverty is overwhelming. In Columbia, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador you stand with the economically poor and work with people on the human rights issues in their country. We bring back their stories and tell it to Americans who are not aware.”

8th Day Center for Justice staff and assembly members at the Eloy Detention Center to open the SOAWatch. Nogales Convergence weekend (from left) Mary Kay Flanigan, a family member of a detainee, Liz Deligio, Sister Kathleen Desautels, Patricia Schlosser and Arlene Ashack.

“8th Day was able to react and change quickly. It was a wonderful event in my life for years because we had people we could get angry with. Anger is a gift at times. It motivated me at times. It gave me energy at times. I have always had people who supported me. Every time we had a Chapter [governing meeting of the Sisters of Providence], we asked what is the justice issue? Since I first started, the world has gotten worse in some ways. But most people are good. My experiences and other Sisters’ experiences can be and are different. Some things are so divisive. But people who take the time to have a conversation? That is important.”

Coming back from near death

Sister Kathleen (with Clancy the dog) recuperating from her near-death illness.

Kak returned to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2022. Previously the picture of health, she developed encephalitis and was “out” for six months or more. She was placed on hospice at one point. Several Sisters shared that they were so worried about her during that time. Sister Kathleen has now recovered mostly but cannot walk as a result of the illness. “Good friends saw me through it. I was down to 70 pounds. A nurse came and sat with me at night and fed me orange slices. I am very lucky.

Ask Kak about trying to get into the Fourth World Conference on Women in China. Ask her to tell you about the Chinese student envoy who kept telling her and Dolores ‘find a group’. Good people, helpers.

Over and over Kak said, “People are just good. When they have a chance to be themselves, to be who they are. The Police are the same.” 8th Day held a peace vigil each Tuesday morning at the Federal Building in Chicago after 9/11, passing out leaflets, gathering to discuss what was happening and praying. On the last vigil, she went into the building to get the officer inside they had coordinated with and asked him to join them. He did! People are just good.

“I am in the world to change the world.”

— Muriel Rukeyser

In the world to change the world

Sister Kak with one of the new generation of Sisters of Providence justice advocates, Sister Tracey Horan.

Sisters of Providence are in the world to change the world, every one of them. Does Sister Kathleen have advice for anyone considering a religious vocation? She believes women entering now have done a lot of internal work, more than she or some of her peers probably did before they got to the Woods. The choices for women outside of religious communities when she entered was either be married or be single. Your opportunities were limited. Her own discerning happened while she was in community:

That time was foundational to all that my life became. I could not get enough.”

What delights Kak? What gives her wonder? “Life itself. I’ve been delighted in meeting so many different kinds of people I would not ever have met had I not been a Sister of Providence. I think the Community has allowed me to have the experiences I have had which have been so enriching. When I just look at the number of places I have been … I’ve been delighted by the experiences I have had. Just the experiences of the people I have met along the way. The Sisters I’ve lived with have been such faithful scouts. I’ve met a lot of good, good people along the way.”


The day we sat down to talk was the day after Christmas Fun at the Woods 2023. Kak had volunteered. “It delighted my soul,” she said about the large number of families and children who had attended. “There were so many families I had never seen before in my life, and either they’re from around here or nearby.”

Kak continued, “The lake is a favorite place of mine, it’s a holy place. This whole campus is a sacred place for me. The atmosphere and hope of the Community is that people would want to come because it feels good. Yesterday, Christmas Fun at the Woods, there were so many people. Thank God for our grounds. Thank God for the atmosphere, the spirituality of our Providence, to be open to all people, to our neighbors.”

A recent photo of Sister Kathleen Desautels, center, with Providence Associate Robb Farris and Sister Mary Morley.

And thank God for Sister Kathleen Desautels, Kak, who like her sisters in community, has devoted her life to making things better for those whom Saint Mother Theodore Guerin took to heart and built a lasting community to carry on — to love the children, to care for the poor, to teach. Look Sister Kathleen up on the internet; she’s been interviewed countless times. Better yet, sit and talk with her about her adventures. She has plenty of stories and she is a delightful conversationalist. She said near the end of the interview, “I’m going to be sorry to have this all end, it’s been fun.” But she sowed some seeds, and even today there are Sisters of Providence in many areas who are benefiting from that and sowing their own. Thank you, Kak. Thank you.

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Debbie Griffey

Debbie Griffey

Debbie Griffey has been a Providence Associate since 2009. Debbie is a clinical social worker and a licensed teacher. She has spent much of the past decade working outside the country most of each year. She has worked on military bases in the United States, Europe and Japan. She currently works part-time while residing on the family farm in Shelby County Indiana, where she manages the adult llamas her children showed in 4-H. Debbie has three adult children and five grandchildren.

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  1. Avatar Donna Butler on March 6, 2024 at 8:45 am

    Debbie, thank you for this incredible sharing of Kak’s story.
    Kak, thank you for your passionate, vibrant life dedicated to making life
    better for all people. I am inspired by your witness to the Gospel.
    I am also grateful for the Sisters of Providence who have supported
    you and made it possible for you to be who you are. What a phenomenal
    vocation story! I am especially grateful you have recovered from your
    illness to relive these amazing memories and to tell your story.

  2. Avatar Mary Montgomery on March 6, 2024 at 11:06 am

    Thanks so much to you, Debbie, for this interview/story of Kak’s life!

    Kak, thank you for being YOU and for sharing these many graced stories of your amazing, abundant life of ministry in education — always for justice, inclusion, mercy, right-relationship, etc. Thank you for your witness of leaning with all your weight on Providence and Community… and Being Providence and Community!

  3. Avatar madonna s buchanan on March 6, 2024 at 12:50 pm

    Well, how small our world. I went to school with Bob Desautels at SJA. I knew his sister entered the SP’s. I just never met her until now. Thanks.

    • Avatar Sister Benita Coffey on March 6, 2024 at 2:36 pm

      It has been a privilege as well as a pleasure to have know Kathleen over the last few decades.
      She has been an inspiration as well as a truly interesting person.

      The world would be a better place if more women like her had the courage and care that has
      been her source of love.

      Benita Coffey, OSB

  4. Avatar Connie SP on March 6, 2024 at 3:41 pm

    Thanks Debbie for interviewing Kak, and for your wonderful glimpse into Kak’s life.
    And, thanks Kak for being you, for loving life, for respecting all those Providence has given you to love and to minister with and to during your life . I pray that our Provident God will continue to bless you with what you most need to be who you feel called to be one day at a time.
    Connie SP🙏🏻❤️

  5. Avatar Paula Katherine Modaff on March 6, 2024 at 7:44 pm

    Rarely am I at a loss for words…Kak, how truly and faithfully you have mirrored the Holy for us and countless others. I am so proud to call you my sister. Keep on keeping on.

  6. Avatar Paula Calvert on March 6, 2024 at 9:59 pm

    Terrific interview! Learned a lot. Love you Kak!

  7. Avatar Nelleke Knarr on March 7, 2024 at 10:41 am

    Thank you for writing (& sharing on FB) this article about a remarkable woman who has done a tremendous amount of good in our world. Thank you, S. Kathleen for life of service to those whose lives cry out for justice.
    My life has been so blessed and inspired by knowing so many SPs like you.

  8. Avatar Paula Damiano, SP on March 8, 2024 at 2:18 pm

    Extraordinary! Thank you both ..Kak, for your life of commitment; Deb, for telling the story.

  9. Avatar Dick and Donna McGarvey on March 11, 2024 at 10:20 am

    Thyank you for sharing Kathleen wiht us as we have been friends of hers through the years and so grateful to learn more in depth of her life! D&D McGarvey mcgarve@indiana.edu

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