Monday, October 29, 2007

The Sisters of Mt. Tabor

I'm not Catholic, and I'd never been to a convent or monastery, so I had few expectations for my upcoming experience with the sisters of Mt. Tabor. We have a copy of St. Benedict's Rule at home, which admonishes adherents to refrain from excess food, drink, and even conversation. I imagined that the sisters would be strict adherents to these rules, so I expected to meet women who were kind, but restrained, introspect women who walked at a slow contemplative pace, women whose focus would be inward and upward. Well, in large part, I was wrong. These women are contemplative, they are a contemplative community, but they are also active. Very active. A slow, measured pace would be impractical. These gals, when not praying, go at full speed. Be sure to read the bios of each to discover the passions for the poor, the young, the elderly, those seeking justice, those seeking beauty. The sisters are seekers, and they draw seekers, seekers of place, of discernment, of connection. However, the sisters are a lot more fun than the women I'd pictured. Laughter, the many sounds of laughter, giggles, chortles, snickers, and snorts sound out "whenever two or more are gathered." That's the gift they give. Whatever one seeks, one comes away with a sense of joy. Hospitality is hard. Work is hard. Discipline is hard. So, joy is necessary. Joy is what God intends, in Christ. Here, demonstrating this sense of fun and joy, the sisters pose for what I call, "3 cheers for Christ!" Pictured front: Postulant Mary; left to right: Sr. Carolyn, Sr. Eileen, Sr. Jan, Prioress Sr. Judy, and Sr. Kathleen.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Adult Education, Big Sandy Community and Technical College

Some of the Adult Ed divas. Pictured left to right: Lynn, Kay, Stephanie, Cindy, and Lisa

Autumn in KY will always be the mountains, the sisters, and the teachers and students of the Adult Ed department. Kay Ross the director, has organized a terrific programs to help adults in the area fulfill their education goals, whether strengthening math and reading skills, completing their GED preparation, or preparing to enter college. The teachers, Ron, Stephanie, Nancy, Lynn, Cindy, and Wayne, as well as Lisa, who keeps all running smoothly, are intelligent, compassionate people who make everyone feel that "they can do it," including one NY visitor. Thanks, everyone, for the warm welcome, helpful advice and instruction, many great lunches, and the perfect gift of What's Cooking in Kentucky. I miss you already!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Breaks

Driving home from the West Virginia Book Fair and the Mountain Stage concert in W.V., we "swung by" The Breaks, the Grand Canyon of the south, on the KY, VA border. A must-see. Here are a few pics.

Sr. Jan is a wonderful traveling companion, and I was so grateful for her companionship. Sister Jan is hard to fluster, however. The following story is rated PG-13, so young ones should not read this! I'll space down now.

So, Sr. Jan & I were heading south toward the Breaks, and I stopped to refuel and use restroom. In the bathroom, I did a double-take b/c they had a vending machine that sold scented condoms. Thinking I could shock Sr. Jan, and knowing she has a good sense of humor (and was married), I said to her, "Sr. Jan, you're not going to believe this. They actually sell scented condoms. They have chocolate, strawberry, mint, and banana." Well, without missing a beat, she asked, "And which one did you choose?" Ha! Whose face was red then?! No, I didn't buy a condom, so don't even ask.

Dressed for a party

Between work, hospitality, community and individual prayers, and service to the larger community, the sisters have full schedules. But, there's always time for a party. Here, they're off to celebrate friends' 50th anniversary. Pictured left to right, Sr. Eileen, Postulant Mary, Sr. Judy, and Sr. Jan.

I love a parade

The Jenny Wiley Festival is a big event in Prestonsburg. There was food--St. Martha's sold egg rolls (a Filipino recipe!), games, music, beauty contests, and a great parade. Here are just some of the many photos.

Waiting for the parade

Color guards

A phalanx of firetrucks

Floyd County Emergency & Rescue Squad -- Sr. Judy in front passenger seat. You go, girl!

Church Float

Yes, and a monster truck

Festival -- Bull ride in foreground, musicians in back

Somebody needs an ice cream

Festivals are exhausting. On a side note, red hair is common in eastern KY.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sr. Kathleen

St. Vincent Mission & David Crafts

Sr. Kathleen takes client Charles out for a birthday breakfast.

As a tough-talking young woman from Pittsburgh, Kathleen had no trouble fitting in with the mechanics in the service department of a Chrysler dealership where she worked. She was happy with her life, new car, apartment, secure job. Then a friend mentioned Kentucky and the Christian Appalachian Project. Would she want to volunteer? Heck, no, said Kathleen. Actually, her language was more colorful. Still, the ideas sparked her imagination. A sermon fanned the spark into a flame. In what do you find security, God or material possessions? asked the priest. The admonition of Ps. 95—If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart—fanned the flame into fire. Kathleen was going to Kentucky.

For two years, beginning in 1979, she worked as a volunteer preschool teacher and then director. After being hired as an employee, she also became volunteer coordinator. CAP workers live in dorm-like housing, and after three years, she’d had enough of community living. She moved into a two-bedroom apartment in a converted barn. She took on a roommate who, she found out, was considering a vocation as a nun. She urged Kathleen to meet these sisters. You go ahead, Kathleen told her. Yet, before long, Kathleen did meet them and found herself spending most weekends with them. She even found herself considering a vocation. No way, she’d tell herself. Yet, she continued to feel the call. Hearing the scripture, Fear is useless; what is needed is trust, convinced her. The next weekend, she told the sister she’d decided to join their monastery.

Then, her longtime friend, Jack, proposed. That very weekend. Well, we could explore that, Kathleen told him. After all, she’d have her noviate year to consider. So, she considered, and Jack came to visit. He observed her with the sisters and said, I think this is what God wants you to do. Sr. Kathleen joined the order in 1985.

After teaching kindergarten at Mountain Christian Academy for six years, Sr. Kathleen became the Executive Director of St. Vincent Mission in David Kentucky. Can I do this? she wondered. Recalling her favorite scriptures, she knew that God was present. St. Vincent Mission requires that Sr. Kathleen juggle many balls:

  • Running the David Appalachian craft center with its numerous crafters and volunteers and logging in thousands of road miles taking these crafts to shows around the country. Last year, the mission earned over $30k, most if it going back to the artists and crafters.
  • The mission also assists in building and repairing homes for the needy and distributes food and emergency funds.
  • In addition, they run a secondhand store, which today offered coats, used and new, for $1.00 and $2.00.
  • Education programs

If this weren’t enough to fill her time, Sr. Kathleen is a member of the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth—the local chapter is working to see that coal companies abide by regulations and serves as board member for both Our Lady of the Way Hospital and the Low Income Housing Coalition.

In her off time, you’ll find this type-A personality watching a Steelers game, relaxing in the hot tub, or humiliating her opponents in cards.

Sr. Carolyn

Sister Carolyn prepares for evening training.

Sr. Carolyn and guest Sr. Judy teach the daycare providers the dulcimer.

Although she attended mass each Sunday, Carolyn wasn’t a particularly religion child. She didn’t even attend CCD because she was offended by being stuck with first graders when she was in second grade. In seventh grade, she and about twenty others were called out from their classes (in the public middle school) to be met by two Franciscan Friars, who told the kids that it was time to prepare for confirmation. Fortunately, these were “nice guys,” so Carolyn and the others sat through the instruction and were confirmed. In high school, Carolyn began to attend an Episcopal Church that was transitioning to a Chaldean Syrian denomination. The faith of the parishioners, as well as the music program, drew Carolyn in. It was in this church that she felt her faith come alive.

After various paid and volunteer experiences, in 1979 Carolyn came to Kentucky with a group of nuns who were volunteering for the Christian Appalachian Project. She decided to stay, working in early childhood education. Although she felt an inner pull toward a vocation, she told God, Talk to me in three years. During this time she worked in central KY, south of Lexington. She met Sr. Kathleen in CAP (who was not yet Sr.), and the two were even roommates. Toward the end of the three years, Carolyn responded to the nudge and sent out 35 applications to religious communities near her family in New Hampshire.

Carolyn moved back to the northeast to earn her degree in early childhood education, living first with her folks and then in a lay community that was part of a French Catholic Order. Once she earned her degree, she entered the religious community. Within two weeks, she realized she had made a mistake, although she stayed for eleven months. Carolyn explained that the community wasn’t right for her because it was very strict and straight-laced. The novices had to wear stockings and skirts whenever they left their bedroom, even on the community property. Articles not on the “to bring” list were taken from their rooms and stored. Food gifts from families were confiscated to be saved “for guests,” although sometimes food would spoil before anyone could eat it. The novices were not allowed to go into town, although that rule was broken as frequently as possible. One afternoon, meandering through town on a forbidden outing, Carolyn and the two others with her spotted a group of older nuns coming toward them. The younger three thought their ship was sunk because they stood out in their matching skirts, white blouses, and vests. They ducked into the nearest store, which they realized was a liquor store. We’re safe here, they said in relief. The sisters wouldn’t come there. And the senior sisters didn’t. Whew.

Carolyn and Kathleen kept in touch, but because the novices were not allowed to receive personal phone calls, their contact was limited. One day, Carolyn was summoned to the phone for a call from the Prioress of the Martin, KY monastery. It was Kathleen—not even yet part of the KY community, who said she figured that they’d put the call through if she said she was a prioress.

After Carolyn left the N.H. community, she returned to work for CAP. By this time Kathleen was part of the Mt. Tabor community. Carolyn again responded to the inner nudge and herself joined the Benedictine community in 1986.

She has continued her work in early childhood education, working at the Mountain Christian Academy, for Mountain Comprehensive Care, and for Eastern Kentucky Childcare Coalition, where she serves as a Resource and Referral Specialist, training childcare providers. In addition, she serves at Liturgist and Sub-prioress at Mt. Tabor, plays guitar for mass at St. Martha’s, and ministers at the women’s prison.