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Sister Kathleen Condry: Blending leadership with a gentle spirit

Sister Kathleen visits with Father Francis Hund, the pastor at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan., where she ministers. The two first ministered together more than 30 years ago when Sister Kathleen was principal of Queen of the Holy Rosary School, Overland Park, Kan.

Update: Sister Kathleen Condry died Sept. 5, 2016, less than two months after taking office as the elected assistant congregational leader.

In the summer of 2009, Ursuline Sister Kathleen Condry was planning to take a long break before looking for a new ministry. Her community, the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kan., had just completed a merger with the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph, and she was free of elected community leadership for the first time in 15 years.

“I was hoping to teach English as a second language eventually,” Sister Kathleen said. “I was a language teacher. I’ve experienced the joy of seeing people begin to learn another language. It opens up wonders to them.”

As is often the case with the Ursulines, God had other plans. Despite never having served in parish ministry during her previous 39 years as a sister, Sister Kathleen has served the past two years as pastoral minister at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan. The people she ministers with and to could not be happier.

“She’s the kind of person who takes people under her wing,” said Dan Koenig, the business manager at Nativity for seven years. “She has a strong sense of fellowship. She brought a fabulous operations perspective, and a high level of spirituality. She has excellent judgment and a strong set of professional skills.”

Karen McDonald, registrar for the parish the past 12 years, said Sister Kathleen has brought humor and “a kind, compassionate spirit. Sister is always here, working long hours,” McDonald said. “She gets the whole feel of the parish. She initiated staff appreciation — we all feel appreciated.”

Sue Zimmerman has been a parishioner at Nativity for 17 years, and met Sister Kathleen through the RCIA program. “She’s so approachable. Her sense of love, her openness to people, embracing everyone, I love her.”

Zimmerman said one day she found a prayer for RCIA and asked Sister Kathleen for her help to fine-tune it. “She said, ‘Let me pray on this for awhile,’” Zimmerman said. “I was looking at the grammar. She’s such a good example for our kids.”

Sister Kathleen is the first Ursuline to minister at Nativity, a 25-year-old parish in Leawood, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. Her arrival started 30 years earlier, when she was a young principal at Queen of the Holy Rosary School in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. One of the teachers was Maureen Huppe, and the new pastor was Father Francis Hund.

Sister Kathleen speaks with an RCIA class at the Church of the Nativity in Leawood, Kan., in March 2011.

In 2009, Huppe was the principal at Nativity’s school of 500 students, and Father Hund was the new pastor at Nativity. When it came time to lead the faculty’s summer retreat, Huppe said, “I had done the last two retreats, I needed fresh blood.”

Huppe knew that Sister Kathleen was remaining in nearby Paola while attempts were made to sell the former Motherhouse property, so she called her former mentor to lead the retreat. When Sister Kathleen at first declined, Huppe said, “Father Francis said to ask you.” Sister Kathleen agreed, and on the day of the retreat, Father Hund asked her what she was going to do next.

“He said, ‘I need you. Can you start Sept. 1?’” Sister Kathleen said. She asked Sister Michele Morek, then the congregational leader for the Ursuline Sisters, who said, “If it gives you energy, do it.” She then discussed it with Sister Helen Smith, who was sharing in the upkeep of the former convent with her, and Sister Helen encouraged her to go. Sister Kathleen returned the favor by asking Sister Helen to join the parish in October 2010 to lead the children’s sacramental preparation.

“It does give me energy,” Sister Kathleen said. “I love the variety that parish ministry affords.” One of her roles is to mentor the parish leadership, both staff and parishioners. She works with a staff of 18 people, and assists parishioners in any way that they need.

“She has great leadership ability, great communication skills,” Father Hund said. “She works wonderfully with parishioners, and knows how to respond to people. She has a great faith background.”