Sister Kathleen Dueber: Taking the wheel on a new Ursuline pilgrimage

Upon graduating high school in 1962, Sister Kathleen entered the Paola community.

Sister Kathleen had thought about religious life for a long time. She had an aunt who was a Dominican Sister, a great aunt who was a Franciscan, and cousins who were Sisters of Charity and of Loretto. Her aunt who was a Dominican visited often. “I got to know them as ordinary people,” she said.

Sister Kathleen was a member of the Povo Club at Bishop Miege, which stood for “potential vocations.” “We wrote to different communities to get information, we’d go on weekend trips to Paola,” she said. Her pastor at St. Agnes, Monsignor Herman Joseph Koch, was very supportive of religious communities, she said.

Her decision to enter did not come as a surprise to anyone, Sister Kathleen said. “Starting in the seventh grade, I sang for the 7 a.m. Mass and Mary Ellen played the organ every school day until I entered,” six years later, she said. She sang songs in Latin, even though her Latin classes never quite sank in. “I could sing it, I just didn’t know what I was saying,” she said. “I figured if we were singing it in church, it couldn’t be bad.” She continues to cantor at Mass at the Mount.

Her mother was not keen on the idea of her entering the convent, telling her it was too soon after her father’s death, even though it was two years later. “She didn’t oppose it,” Sister Kathleen said. “Deep down, I think she was excited about it.”

She said it was an easy transition to become a sister with those who taught her. “When you’re on the council, they are very supportive, I think they feel like they’ve done a good job.”

A life in education

Sister Kathleen poses with the four other sisters who made up the Paola Leadership Council from 2002-2008. Next to Sister Kathleen is Sister Pat Lynch. In the back, from left, are Sisters Helen Smith, Jane Falke, and Kathleen Condry.

During her novitiate, she attended extension classes from St. Mary’s College in Leavenworth, Kan. “In those days, people thought a sister would be ruined if she went to a secular college,” Sister Kathleen said. Colleges just for women religious were set up, and she attended Marillac College in St. Louis, along with 36 other orders of sisters. “It was fascinating to me.” She got her bachelor’s degree in 1969, with a major in history and minors in philosophy, theology, and education.

Becoming a teacher was not her motivation to become an Ursuline. “I just wanted to be part of this family atmosphere,” she said. “I didn’t even think about what I would do. Education is what we did.”

Her first ministry in 1965 was teaching 36 students in the fifth through eighth grades at St. Philip Neri School in nearby Osawatomie, Kan. “Mother Charles (McGrath) thought that would be a challenge for me,” Sister Kathleen said. “That was probably the happiest year of my teaching, I was so naïve. I played soccer or dodge ball with the kids.” She moved to another school after the first semester to replace a sister who needed to transfer. One of her former students says he is still mad at her for that move. “They lost their goalie,” she said.

Her next ministry was a homecoming for her – St. Agnes in Kansas City, where she taught fourth grade. Her classroom was the very one she had first come to as a fifth-grader. “I had younger brothers and sisters of kids I’d gone to school with,” she said.

After that year, she went back to school for a year, then began ministering at Holy Trinity School in Paola, where she taught fifth and sixth grades for a year and a half. That age group was her favorite to teach.

“They are old enough to be somewhat independent, but young enough to not think they know it all yet,” she said.

After taking a semester to finish her schooling, she returned to St. Agnes in 1969 for the beginning of a five-year ministry. She was in a new wing of the building this time, and the classes were more departmentalized than in 1966. “It amazed me how much smaller the hallways seemed now that I was older,” she said.

While there she was a team member for retreats for upper high school and college students, similar to today’s Teens Encounter Christ. “It was inspiring to see the change in the participants,” she said.

In 1974, the community asked Sister Kathleen to become the bookkeeper for the sisters. “They knew I was good at math,” she said. “I didn’t mind the work, but it was lonely. It was just you and the numbers.” She paid the bills, handled payroll, and prepared financial reports for the leadership council for four years, until she returned to the classroom in 1978, once again at St. Agnes.