Sister Karla Marie Kaelin, OSU: Serving the Lord one smile at a time

Sister in Ministry Update:

In 2013, Sister Karla Marie Kaelin became director of religious education at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Louisville, Ky. She served there until her retirement in May 2022, and now lives at the Motherhouse.

Sister Karla’s office at St. Mary of the Woods is down the hall from Lane Rhodes, the business manager, and the two like to share a laugh during the day.

It took Karla Marie Kaelin 11 years to join the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph after she was first impressed with the sisters. Everyone understood the delay – she was in the first grade when she knew she wanted to become a sister.

“That’s when I met the sisters,” she said, the Ursulines who taught her all eight years at St. Denis School in the Louisville suburb of Shively. “They teased me in the eighth grade that I would go to the convent.”

After four years at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, she entered at age 17 and has never looked back. Now a sister for 45 years, she is director of religious education at St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Whitesville, Ky., about 50 minutes from Maple Mount.

“Church ministry is the love of my life,” Sister Karla said. “It keeps me rooted in my own faith, and I keep up with what’s going on in the church. I enjoy people.”

Wherever she’s ministered, it’s been with the ever-present smile on her face.

“Sister Karla has her down days, I am sure, but she is always ready to tease, laugh, or turn her attention to someone else in a visit, or an inquiring question of how someone is,” said Sister Mary Celine Weidenbenner, her longtime friend.

Sister Karla prepares to enjoy lunch May 17 with other alumnae from Mount Saint Joseph Academy during the annual Alumnae Reunion weekend. From left are Jacinta Garinger A’47, Sister Mary Lois Speaks A’62, Phyllis Troutman A’63, Sister Karla A’63, and Audrey Pierce Durbin A’39.

“The qualities that I see in Sister Karla that suit her for this ministry are her outgoing personality, sense of responsibility, and loyalty to the people she serves, and serves with,” Sister Mary Celine said.

Lane Rhodes is the business manager at St. Mary’s, and works in close proximity to Sister Karla. “She’s got a great attitude about her,” Rhodes said. “She’s friendly, upbeat, and loves to joke around.”

Swiss Miss

She was born Karla Ann Kaelin, the daughter of Karl and Lillian Kaelin. Her dad was a brass finisher at American Standard in Louisville, while her mother stayed home with Karla and her two brothers, John (better known as “Bub”) and George. Her grandfather came from Switzerland.

“Two of my cousins do the family tree, I got a copy of granddad’s citizenship papers,” she said. He came to America at 17 just after the turn of the 20th century, and lived to be 91.

“My No. 1 ambition is to go to Switzerland,” Sister Karla said. “Granddad had a dairy farm. Uncle Albin was my godfather, he lived on a farm in Anchorage, (Ky.) and he had pictures of Switzerland on all the milk house walls,” she said. “We all wanted to go.”

Growing up, she lived on the back end of her granddad’s farm, and played as much baseball as she could. “We kept a ball field mowed to play all the time,” she said. “I grew up in a neighborhood of boys. They always say when I left home, the ballgames ended.” Her father had two names for her – “Gal,” or “Tomboy.”

Two of the teachers she had at St. Denis are still active, with seventh-grade teacher Sister Joseph Angela Boone serving as chancellor of the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., and her second-grade teacher Sister Margaret Joseph Aull working part-time at the Motherhouse switchboard.

“We followed Sister Margaret Joseph around the playground,” Sister Karla said. “We thought the world of her, and still do.”

The sister with the greatest influence on her was Sister Victoria Brohm, who taught the eighth grade. “She really took me under her wing,” Sister Karla said. “Sister Victoria helped me keep my head on straight. If I needed to talk, I could talk to her.” Sister Victoria died in 1992.