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

She headed to California in 1991, where among her significant experiences were a 10-day Buddhist vipassana retreat, along with a Thomas Keating Centering Prayer retreat.

She still calls upon those times these days, as she leads a meditation group on Tuesdays and Sundays. “(The group members) come from such different traditions. Some are Zen, some Buddhist, some Christian,” Sister Kathleen said. “The words are different, but it’s all the same. Some are hungry for what church isn’t providing. They’re looking for where the Jesus story is alive in their own life story and in the global story.”

Sister Kathleen holds onto two quotes that help guide her. For her daily life, she recalls these words from Vince Donovan, African missionary and author: “When you walk with another person, you don’t take them where you’ve been, as exciting as that may be, but together, the two of you go to a place where neither of you have been.”

Sister Kathleen goes over a document with Namasté board member Pat Reno following a meeting.

“I’m not a therapist who can tell you what’s wrong with you,” Sister Kathleen said. “I’m just providing a safe container so you can listen to where God is taking you.”

The second quote deals with the larger picture, and is from an Aborigine woman: “If you’re coming to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’re coming because your liberation is tied with my liberation, then let us walk together.”

“It’s about a mutual transformation,” Sister Kathleen said. She’s going to Jamaica with five other sisters and an associate later this month on a fact-finding mission to see if there’s a need for an Ursuline presence there. She believes her desire to do that is an extension of her Mexico and Guatemala experiences in the 1980s.

“I need to walk around face to face with people in my global family and allow the experience to expand my life,” she said.

Coming home

Sister Kathleen hoped to stay in northern California for a few years after graduating from the master’s program in 1994, because most of the writers she read came from there. But two days before she was to fly home for her father’s birthday in December 1992, Sylvester Kaelin died. Her mother, Julia, was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, so after a year of discernment, Sister Kathleen decided to start her practice in Louisville in 1994 to be closer to her mother. It was the first time she’d lived in Louisville since she was 13.

Sister Kathleen rests on the porch swing outside her office in Louisville.

She called on her most trusted advisers to make that decision.

“Jesus and Angela Merici have been my two strongest guides,” she said. “I’ve always felt (Angela’s) been with me the whole way.”

She also relied on another guru of hers, Ram Dass, the former Harvard professor credited with making Eastern spiritual practice accessible in the West. Dass was in an ashram in India in deep retreat when his father became seriously ill. He wrote that he decided to come home because he believed he could learn as much from his father as he could from his teacher in India.

“I believed walking my mother through her dementia and death would be as much of a teacher for me. That certainly was true,” Sister Kathleen said. “She’d get frustrated and I’d get the rosary out, and her agitation would stop, she’d come to such an inner peace. She taught me so many things like that. We’d sit and talk and laugh. She slowed my life down.” Her mother died in 2001.

Sister Kathleen was facilitating therapy groups and beginning a private counseling practice from 1994-1997, when she opened the Center for Sacred Psychology in the Ursuline sisters former home at Edenside. She does individual, couple, and family therapy, holistic retreats, solitary retreats and spiritual direction.

“The love of my life is doing the individually guided retreats, holding a psychological and spiritual container,” she said. In 2001-2002 came the idea for Namasté, which was going to be a hermitage in nature for people who typically can’t afford such an opportunity. Namasté (pronounced “Nom-uh-stay”) is an Indian greeting that means, “The Divine in me greets the Divine in you.”

The project was started with her friends Patsy Beauchamp and Maddie Reno, and 14 acres were purchased in Shepherdsville, Ky. But plans were put on hold when neighbors objected, including some who thought the group was a cult, Sister Kathleen said. The Namasté Board decided to sell the land, but a series of unfortunate events followed that decision. Maddie’s husband died, and the following year, Patsy had a stroke, so the project has been on hold for more than two years.

In January 2007, the Edenside property was sold, so Sister Kathleen moved her office to a small, former house in The Highlands, in which she shares office space with another counselor. She hasn’t given up on Namasté.

“Our energy is coming back,” Sister Kathleen said. New officers have been elected and the board had its second meeting in January. The goal of Namasté is to help people find God in themselves, but rather than spend money on a facility, it may mean outreach, she said. “Most people want a loving listener,” she said.

Patsy, of Louisville, has been a friend of Sister Kathleen for more than 30 years, back when the two taught at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. Patsy taught physical education and health, and proudly points out she was the basketball coach who led the academy to its only winning season in 1977-78.

“She keeps me stable,” Patsy said. “I can always call her if something is bothering me. She was very helpful when my father died. She’s also a lot of fun.” The two have traveled to China, Ireland, and other places in Europe together.

Sister Kathleen and Maddie became friends when Sister Kathleen moved back to Louisville. Aside from Namasté, Maddie is in her meditation gathering and the two are in a book group together.

“Kathleen’s presence opens a sacred space to all who encounter her,” Maddie said. “There is a sense of divine presence with and around her. This is a result of a special gift or grace … and it is her ongoing prioritizing in her personal life that somehow protects that gift,” Maddie said. “Kathleen in her quiet way communicates that she and all of us are carriers or manifestations of divine presence.”

For fun, Sister Kathleen enjoys hiking, walking in the woods, and gardening — anything in nature.

“One of my most fun experiences was a friend and I visiting what I called the ‘sacred sites of Europe’ — Earth-based and Christian sites, such as Glastonbury Tor in England, Stonehenge and New Grange in Ireland, my grandfather’s village in Switzerland, walking the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France, and most importantly, walking Angela Merici’s path in Desenzano and Brescia in Italy.”

She says her ideal would be to do just retreat work in a hermitage, but she doesn’t think it’s coincidence that the call to discover Jamaica has come.

“I’ve always felt called by God to carry my monastery through the city,” she said.

And she’ll be sure to bring a big enough container.

By Dan Heckel