Sister Kathleen Kaelin works in a small office in Louisville, Ky., but one of her concerns is whether she has a big enough container.
Not a container for holding leftovers, but one to store the emotions filling the hearts and lives of the many people seeking her help in finding God within themselves.
“I just love sitting with people, not trying to get them somewhere, just holding an expansive enough container for them to walk around wherever they need to in their lives,” said Sister Kathleen, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph. “I feel so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”
Those opportunities took her from a girl growing up in a strong Catholic family in Louisville to Mount Saint Joseph Academy, then into a vowed life. She’s had a varied career as a teacher, spiritual director, retreat leader, and finally her greatest passion, the Center for Sacred Psychology and Namasté Center.
“I think Kathleen is a seeker, she always has been and is now,” said Sister Rose Marita O’Bryan, an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph and an academy classmate.
“She holds truth lightly. That allows other truths to come in,” Sister Rose Marita said. “She’s not a ‘tent down’ person. She doesn’t force her truth on others.”
Sister Ginger Andrews, a Sister of Mercy who does spiritual direction in St. Louis, has been seeking spiritual direction from Sister Kathleen for 10 years.
“Kathleen is a wonderful listener. She listens beyond the words and beneath the words,” Sister Ginger said. “She’s very perceptive of the feelings coming through. It’s a freeing experience to be with Kathleen.”
Sister Kathleen grew up in Louisville attending Saint Denis Parish, one of five children of Julia and Sylvester Kaelin. She left home in 1956 at age 13 to attend Mount Saint Joseph Academy, at the urging of her aunt.
“My aunt thought she wanted to be a nun, and therefore attended the academy,” Sister Kathleen said. “We were taught by the Ursulines at Saint Denis.”
“The Mount was known for the values of faith and education,” Sister Kathleen said. “Many of my cousins and sisters went there, but it was so difficult to leave family.” One of her cousins who attended the academy is Ursuline Sister Joan Riedley, who also lives in Louisville as a parish minister.
“I cried the first three years, then the fourth year I didn’t want to leave,” Sister Kathleen said. “I’d grown so close to the people there.
“My mom wrote us twice a week about what was going on,” she said. “The values our parents put forth were education and faith. That was the place to go.”
Upon her graduation from the academy in 1960, she decided to join the Ursuline sisters.
“The reason I entered the Ursulines was a spiritual calling,” she said. “I felt like it was the place for someone drawn to a deeper relationship with God.”
In 1965, following her graduation from Brescia College, she and Sister Rose Marita were sent to small towns in Missouri near St. Louis to teach school; Sister Kathleen at Saint Angela Merici in Florissant, Sister Rose Marita at Seven Holy Founders in Affton. Sister Kathleen’s eight years at Florissant were a special time for her, because the school and parish staffs were so much like a family, she said. She taught religion and English, and was the director of religious education in the parish.
It was during those years that one of the pivotal experiences of Sister Kathleen’s life occurred. During the summers, Sister Kathleen and Sister Rose Marita were sent to St. John College in Cleveland to work toward master’s degrees in religious education.
“In Cleveland, we were exposed to the cutting edge of experts on spirituality, theology, scripture, and church,” Sister Kathleen said. “The pivotal moment for me was when someone on the staff of St. John’s did a pilot course on East and West spirituality. We were doing the yoga diet, exercise, and meditation. That was very rare back then, but a real turning point in my life.”