2013 Jubilarian – Kathleen (Kathleen Mary) O’Brien
Sister Kate O’Brien received an IHM education at Sacred Heart Grade School in Dearborn and St. Mary Academy. Sister Marie Chantal presented the idea of becoming a sister to her when she was inquiring about college.
She initially dismissed the thought, but after that conversation Sister Kate, “knew without a doubt I was coming to the community. It was deep in me. It was very grounding to know, but I kept it a secret for some time.” Eventually she told her parents.
Looking back, she notes with amazement how of the skills and experiences she had in IHM ministries prepared her for the next ministry, “how one thing has unfolded out of another.”
Initially, Sister Kate taught in primary grades and in high school, first at St. Mary of Redford and then a four-room school in Emmett, Mich. She returned to Monroe, teaching at the Hall of the Divine Child, and then to St. Regis in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Immaculate Heart of Mary High School, Westchester, Ill.
She ministered for four years as Northwest Province provincial secretary and treasurer before serving in formation, working with sisters who had made temporary vows.
While volunteering at a prison, Sister Kate recognized a call to become a prison chaplain. She ministered to inmates for 15 years at the federal prison in Lexington, Ky., and a women’s correctional facility in Gatesville, Texas, where she became the first woman chaplain in the Texas prison system.
“I met some remarkable people in prison and discovered far more immaturity than evil,” she says. “Many of the women never learned social skills. It broke my heart to see the same patterns with their kids.”
She was impressed by the resilience of the women to endure prison and still remain hopeful. She found the most important tool she had was her ability to listen.
Sister Kate was elected to serve on the IHM Leadership Council from 1994-2000. “That was another great experience,” she says. “I learned so much working with our leadership group. There is such a gift in collaborative ministry.”
Following her term of office, she took a three-month sabbatical and discovered a talent for watercolor painting. She exhibits and sells her beautiful art work, which helps support the community.
After her sabbatical, Sister Kate partnered with Sister Marie Sweeney as campus minister at Marygrove. Since 2004, she has been a hospice chaplain in Monroe. In ministering to patients and families and when asked to lead funeral services, she “keeps death in the context of faith, reminding those who grieve that their loved one belongs to God, lived in God and now lives on in God – death is a transformation into a new way of living in God.”
Sister Kate is profoundly grateful for being part of the IHM community. “The importance of prayer in our life and the sense of community among us have been tremendously grounding for me on many levels.”