By Barb Arland-Fye
Kathy Flynn says the part of her heart reserved for motherhood is satisfyingly full, but another part of it had been missing something — until now. With anticipation and a deep love for God, the 56-year-old single mother of an adult son begins religious life with the Dominican Sisters in Sinsinawa, Wis.
On Jan. 8, Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport celebrated with a send-off after Mass for Flynn, a parishioner. During Mass, following his homily, Father Rich Adam “interviewed” Flynn about her vocation, which drew the congregation’s applause at the start of National Vocation Awareness Week. A week later, Flynn will become the third woman in six years to enter the Sinsinawa Dominican community in the United States. Altogether, seven women have entered the community either in Sinsinawa or Trinidad, said Sister Mary Ann Nelson, director of initial formation. Generally, the community accepts new members ages 22 to 40, but does make exceptions.
“We are looking forward to welcoming her. When we talk about a woman entering our congregation, we talk about her entering the process of becoming Dominican. This is a lifelong process, so she and we can see if there’s compatibility; if who she is and who we are fits,” Sr. Nelson said.
Responding “yes” to God in discerning a call to religious life takes courage, admits Flynn, who leaves behind a satisfying career and a close-knit family to return to college and live in community with three Sisters she doesn’t know. But Flynn believes the Holy Spirit guides her on this journey of faith. Spiritual mentors along the way — especially Bishop Robert Gruss of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D. — have helped equip her for the journey.
Flynn and her son, Peter, now 26, converted to Catholicism in 1998 after participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at Sacred Heart. “I have been Catholic in my heart all of my life, but formally since 1998,” she said. Her spiritual life deepened with the arrival in 2010 of then-Msgr. Robert Gruss as Sacred Heart’s pastor and rector.
“God puts people in your life. Msgr. Gruss had definitely been a gift in my life,” she said. “I’d email him questions and he’d answer them. He said, ‘I’m teaching RCIA; you’re welcome to come.’” Going through the process a second time enriched and built on her faith. She became involved in parish activities, such as serving on the stewardship committee. That led to her attending a regional stewardship conference in Kansas City, Kan., and through serendipity, traveling home with Sister Laura Goedken, development director for the Diocese of Davenport and a Sinsinawa Dominican. The two had never met.
“We had a great conversation on the way back in the car,” Sr. Goedken said. “Kathy told me she had been searching and knew God was calling her to something other than what she had been doing. She had even thought about being a Sister. I shared information on a 24-hour program in the Dubuque area. Participants visit four motherhouses, pray with the Sisters, have a meal with them and get a feel for what the Sisters’ life is like.”
Flynn’s sense of a vocation call deepened after participating in “Dubuque’s Got Sisters,” sponsored by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dubuque Franciscan Sisters and Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. The tour’s first stop was the Sinsinawa Dominicans’ motherhouse. “I knew nothing about the Dominican Sisters,” Flynn said, “but in my heart I felt at home.” She made subsequent visits to the Dominican community and felt peace each time she arrived and sadness when she left.
She consulted with Msgr. Gruss, who in the midst of her pondering a vocation, learned he’d been appointed bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City.
“I was Kathy’s spiritual director for a few months while I was at Sacred Heart,” Bishop Gruss said in an email to The Catholic Messenger. “I think that she is a wonderful candidate for religious life. Over the time that we met, as she engaged her faith life, a life of prayer, and participated in the sacramental life of the Church, it was a beautiful experience to see how the Lord was working in her life, drawing her into a deeper relationship.
“It was a privilege and a blessing to be a part of her faith journey in this way, giving her what little guidance I may have given. Ultimately, it was her response to the Lord’s invitation to this relationship which led her to discover this new vocation. For me it is always a great gift and privilege to be able to walk with someone on their faith journey and to witness God’s work and love in a person’s life which leads them to discover their unique vocation. Kathy is a very prayerful, faith-filled woman who desires to serve the Lord in whatever capacity He is calling her. May her new sense of vocation and direction in her life continue to draw her deeper into the mystery of God’s love.”
Responding to call inspires others
Kathy Flynn couldn’t have been more affirmed by the response of family, friends, employers and co-workers to news that she is entering religious life. One friend, Sacred Heart Cathedral parishioner Pat Keys, recalls time spent at the kitchen table talking with Flynn about her vocation. “It was great to be on the journey with her,” Keys said.
Flynn’s employers at Iowa Mutual in DeWitt gave her big hugs and told her that if they were going to lose her it was good to be losing her to God. At a luncheon held in her honor, “jaws dropped,” she said, when she told her department the reason she was retiring. As word spread, people responded not only with congratulations, but sought her out to talk about faith! “It made me realize how much people hunger to talk about their faith. That was very humbling. That’s a gift to have people come to talk with you that way.”