Sister Kathleen Kaelin, OSU: “I feel so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

Growing up in a very Catholic home, a lot of spirituality was rules and regulations, Sister Kathleen said. “This was the first time I got in touch with the real Kathleen and the real God in me,” she said. “It was a heartfelt experience. It gave me a sense of where I was heading for the rest of my life.”She returned to teach at Mount Saint Joseph Academy from 1973-79. She enjoyed the experience, but the school had changed much since she was a student.

Sister Kathleen and her friend Patsy Beauchamp talk following a Namasté board meeting.

“A lot of the girls had problems with drugs and alcohol, and their parents didn’t know what to do with them,” Sister Kathleen said. “I was teaching all day, and listening to their problems all night. That may have led to my desire to get into therapy.”

From there she spent seven years, 1979-86, as director of the temporary professed, those who’ve made vows, but not their final vows.

It was during these years in the 1980s that Sister Kathleen began overlapping in several jobs.

In 1983, Owensboro Bishop John McRaith asked her to join the staff at the Catholic Pastoral Center, in the office of Worship and Spiritual Life, where she served until 1989. In 1985, she began working in the ministry formation program at Brescia, which she did until 1988. From 1989-91, she was associate director of the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center.

While at the pastoral center, she worked with the late Father Tony Ziegler doing workshops throughout the diocese on liturgy and spirituality. At Brescia, she worked with Kevin Karl, now a former priest, doing spiritual direction, directed retreats, and spirituality programs throughout the diocese.

Karl, now director of assisted living for the Franciscan Health Care Center in Louisville, said Sister Kathleen is truly gifted.

“She has the ability to see the holy in the everyday,” Karl said. “She helps people find that for themselves.”

Sister Kathleen gathers with the Namasté Board of Directors after a meeting in January. Front row, left to right, is Annette Bender, Sister Kathleen, and Patsy Beauchamp; standing is Pat Reno, Pam Ratterman, and Maddie Reno.

Karl said all of Sister Kathleen’s friends know the most important day to her.

“She thinks her birthday is the most special day in the world,” he said with a laugh. “It’s April 2, and she thinks the whole world knows it.”

Another pivotal moment

While at Brescia in 1989, Sister Kathleen was teaching a class on peace and justice when a thought came to her.

“I thought I wouldn’t feel right teaching it again without an experience with the poor,” she said. “(My instruction) was all coming out of my head, not my heart.”

She spent a powerful month in Flores Magon, a poor barrio in Mexico, to better understand the people who had so little.

“I had to plan the prayer ritual the first or second week I was there, and I didn’t know a word of Spanish, but that’s how they come to our country,” she said. “All I knew how to say was ‘Donde es el baño?’ which means, ‘Where is the bathroom?’”

Sister Kathleen called those years her “midlife breakdown/breakthrough,” because she discovered “the shadow parts of my life that hadn’t gotten out as yet.”

While at the Retreat Center, she realized many people coming for spiritual guidance were also dealing with emotional problems. She saw advertisements for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, Calif., and kept sending away for information.

“I wrote up a proposal to get a second master’s,” she said. “I was in my 40s. They’re cutting edge internationally, teaching psychology in a holistic way, that includes the spiritual.”

She concedes some members of the community were skeptical about her plan.

“I wrote up a proposal to show how it helped the community and the church,” she said. “I admit I did that so it wouldn’t look loopy, since ‘transpersonal’ wasn’t a well-known word at that time.”