Written on: February 16, 2015
The heart of who we are is compassion and love. These words of St. Marguerite d’Youville have served Sister Mary Karen Kelly well in diverse educational ministries from first grade through university, with privileged and underprivileged adults, with young people and children.
When speaking of challenging and rewarding moments in ministry, Karen replies, “Teaching at St. Edward’s inner city elementary school in Philadelphia when we lost critically needed funding and personnel was devastating. At the same time, it was a highlight in my teaching career to see children make progress with programs that worked – like Writing to Read. How I loved those students!”
Karen’s missionary work in Peru put her in touch with students with the values of another culture. “Preparing young domestic workers for First Communion, teaching basic literacy to women in a nearby barriada called Carlos Villaran – those were unique experiences that I will never forget.”
Karen possesses a warm sense of humor, a gift for music, for words and for all things beautiful, and great Irish charm. She rates her summers as Director of Cape May Tutoring School as one of her fondest ministry memories, musing, “The long summer evenings, walks on the boardwalk, the sound of the ocean – everything made it fun for faculty and for me!”
The “heart of who we are” led Karen to answer the urgent needs of the people of Honduras following Hurricane Mitch in the late 90s. Intrepid, adventurous, and full of compassion, Karen packed her bags and joined a team of workers to do whatever needed doing, usually piloting a pickup truck to get to wherever she was needed.
Throughout her life, she has modeled love and compassion – teaching “the babies” to read and university students to speak Spanish; challenging the indigent as well as the privileged in Peru; laughing with joy at a child’s explanation of a drawing in her God Is Good book, “I’m happy with God and God is happy with me.”
Karen pioneered the program Operation TEACH, a 2-year service and tuition-free graduate program at Notre Dame College in Baltimore. The program recruits young people willing to teach in nearby Catholic schools and live in small Christian communities. As the program’s director for seven years Karen travelled to campuses as near as Baltimore and as far as California to recruit service-minded college graduates.
Every summer, as part of the orientation activities for new recruits, Karen taught a course she called Prayer 101. “The class gave me joy. It was a marvelous opportunity to share my own spiritual journey, and to relate to young people not as ‘the Director,’ but like them, as a person searching for God.” Beginning in 2003, Karen helped to shepherd more than 40 TEACHers to attain their Masters’ degrees while giving generous service as teachers.
Sister Karen now serves as an Archivist at the Grey Nuns Motherhouse.
From Philadelphia to Atlanta to Honduras and Peru, Karen has demonstrated for more than 50 years to students and colleagues of every age, “The heart of who we are is love and compassion.”