Sister Kathleen Condry: Blending leadership with a gentle spirit

It was Sister Johanna Huettenmueller, the French teacher at Bishop Miege, who noticed Sister Kathleen’s love for the French language. “She would write me notes in French, I’d write back to her,” Sister Kathleen said. “She took an interest in me, and kept writing after I graduated.”

Joining the Ursulines

Following high school, Sister Kathleen attended Kansas State College in Pittsburg, Kan., where she studied social work. “I got real involved in the Newman Center. I really missed the community at Bishop Miege, and missed the sisters,” she said.

“I think it was the chaplain who said, ‘I think you have a religious vocation, you should pray about that.’ He directed me to different communities, I visited those in the Wichita diocese, but they weren’t Ursulines,” she said. “I entered here the next year,” in 1969. She became a novice in 1970, making this her 41st year as a sister.

Sister Kathleen visits with her long-time friend Ken Luther during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Lakemary Center in Paola, Kan., on Sept. 25, 2009. The Ursuline Sisters of Paola founded the Lakemary Center in 1969 as a safe, nurturing environment for children with developmental disabilities.

“My mother was not Catholic. I don’t think she thought she should interfere,” Sister Kathleen said. “My dad said, ‘That will be fine, but you should finish college first.’ I said I wanted to go now. He said, ‘They won’t let you finish college, they’ll start you teaching right away.’” Sister Kathleen didn’t care, she just wanted to be a sister.

“My dad was OK with it. He was very involved here, setting up for events, raising money,” she said. “Wherever I worked, he was there fixing the furnace.”

After entering, Sister Kathleen switched to Avila College in Kansas City, Mo. Told she would likely be a teacher, she was asked what she wanted to teach. “I said ‘French.’ I’d given it no thought,” she said. “That’s how everything works in my life. I hope it’s the Holy Spirit speaking in me.”

The early 1970s were tumultuous times for religious communities, with the fallout from the Second Vatican Council. “The rules changed every other day. The sisters didn’t know what to do with me, or themselves,” Sister Kathleen said. “Very few of the sisters were wearing habits, they had changed when I was in high school. I was the only novice in the class, but there were other young sisters there.” Those included Sister Pat Lynch and Sister Angela Fitzpatrick.

Sister Pat, who now ministers in Emporia, Kan., served in leadership for many years with Sister Kathleen. “She has so many gifts. She has the most loving heart of anybody,” Sister Pat said. “People are just drawn to her. If you see her in a crowd, people line up to see her. She sees the good in everybody. She teaches us to love like Jesus loves.”

Sister Kathleen realized her father was right when she started teaching in 1970 before finishing college. She taught religion at Holy Trinity School in Paola, and French at Ursuline Academy, the boarding school on the Motherhouse grounds. She was also a dorm mother for the girls at the Academy, but 1971 was the last year for the school.

“It was a sad time, the boarding school girls were very close to us,” Sister Kathleen said. “They turned to us for consolation, but we were as sad as they were. There were girls from Mexico at the Academy, I was involved in helping them learn English.”

She graduated from Avila College in 1972, and was assigned to teach fifth and sixth grade for a year at Holy Name School in Kansas City, Kan. “I was trained to be a high school French teacher. I had no preparation to teach elementary school, I hadn’t even been in one since I was in grade school, other than religion class at Holy Trinity,” Sister Kathleen said. “I was so young, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. It’s what Ursulines do, whatever needs to get done.”

In 1973, she returned to her alma mater, Bishop Miege, as a high school French teacher. “I loved it, it was like coming home. A lot of the staff members were people who taught me,” she said. “I taught religion and was department head very soon, I guess because I was a sister. Teaching religion is such an awesome responsibility.”

After four years at Bishop Miege, the community asked her to prepare to become a principal, because there was a great need. “I spent the summer taking nine hours of science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where I was working on a master’s in administration,” she said. “You have to have some emphasis, so I picked science. I’d always hated science, but there was a federal grant available for this program and Sister Marcella (Schrant) was going, so I went too.”

She became the assistant principal at St. Agnes School, practically next door to Bishop Miege, to get on-the-job training in 1977. In 1978, she became principal at Queen of the Holy Rosary School. “I still had no idea what I was doing, but I had gone to school,” she said.