She'd already mentioned her years of ministry in men's prisons. The guard who led her to the first face-to-face meeting said he planned to shackle the inmate's feet to the floor. "I wouldn't be comfortable with that," said Kathy. Her choice made no sense to the guard. But maybe that's part of the reason why she has memories of some beautiful human beings from those years.
Last year she was back in prison, leading a SoulCollage workshop for 12 men, including some convicted of violent crimes. The prison didn't allow scissors, so they improvised. Kathy was touched by the men's reflections on the torn-paper collages that they created about their lives.
Her most fearful experience: the war in Sierra Leone. It ripped apart ancient respect for elders as leaders. Young soldiers and guerrillas roamed and terrorized and killed innocent people, for no reason. A villager came in the night to warn Kathy and her companions that they must flee NOW. Other Catholic missionaries had been murdered in a village not far away. They packed their car...and then a group of schoolgirls came to the door, abandoned by those who had run their school. Delay - sudden new needs that Kathy knew they must meet - then another attempt at flight with the schoolgirls. Traumatized, they made it to safety.
Sister Kathy Schmittgens began her work as a School Sister of Notre Dame by teaching chemistry and math in the US. As needed, she moved to prison ministry, to overseas mission, to congregational leadership, to serving now as support for the growing province of SSNDs in Africa.
Kathy has faced fear in ways far beyond my experience. So I asked: How has fear changed you?
Kathy paused, considered. "Fear has deepened my trust," she said.
She spoke of prayer during frightening times. Relying on God and the communion of saints, she rescued the schoolgirls, handled challenges from Sierra Leone police, and more.
My fears are commonplace beside hers. But they're real. Her words invite me deeper into prayerful communion with divine presence and saints of many kinds, deeper into awareness of the Body of Christ where I find sustenance and hope - if I let myself.
By the way - you can get to know Sister Kathy at her blog. Beautiful posts - worth regular visits!
And you can hear more stories of courage, prayer, and hope by coming to the US Catholic Mission Association annual conference in St. Louis on October 25-27. Kathy will be the keynote speaker this year, on Social Media and Mission.
Years ago, a USCMA conference is where I met Kathy. What an honor to be among these folks - and what great stories they tell, with such serene insight - but only if you ask.