Flynn makes first profession
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
SINSINAWA, Wisconsin — Sister Kathy Flynn of Davenport radiated joy after making her first profession of vows with the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation during Mass in the community’s chapel Aug. 2. The morning sun glowed through the chapel’s stained glass windows and the choir led the congregation of more than 400 to lift their voices to the Lord.
Sr. Kathy’s son, Pete, sat beside her during Mass and gave the first reading from the Book of Jeremiah. Many of her siblings and friends also witnessed this milestone in Sr. Kathy’s faith journey, along with about 400 Dominican sisters. They concluded their community’s annual convocation by celebrating with their newest vowed member.
“Because we are all connected as God’s family, my profession is not mine alone but is shared with each of you. I give thanks for all of you!” Sr. Kathy wrote in a message of gratitude that appeared inside the cover of the liturgy’s worship aid. She thanked her late parents, Gordon and Velma Flynn; her son Pete; and her Sinsinawa Dominican community. “Mostly, I am deeply grateful to our awesome Creator God, whose mercy, compassion, patience and love still take my breath away!”
“Sister is not a title, it’s the name of a relationship,” observed Sister Priscilla Wood, OP, in a reflection she gave during Mass with permission from the presider. Sr. Kathy has discerned that she wants to “be ours as well as yours.”
The discernment process will continue over the next three years, during which Sr. Kathy has promised obedience to God, to Prioress Sister Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., and her successors, according to the Rule of St. Augustine and the community’s constitution. The new nun will live in the Milwaukee area, working with people living on the margins of society.
Sr. Kathy has long felt drawn to the Catholic Church. A single mom, she and her son entered the Catholic Church at Sacred Heart Cathedral in 1998 after participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. “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.
She had a spiritual and physical home, a career she liked, and a son she loved. But Sr. Kathy knew she was supposed to be doing something different, and prayed about it. Her job as a commercial claims adjuster for an insurance company brought her in touch with people often in trying situations. “I decided I could make my job my ministry,” she said.
Meanwhile, this self-described shy person stepped outside her comfort zone to get involved in church. She volunteered to serve refreshments at her parish’s newly revived Stewardship Committee, which proved to be pivotal. Through that experience, she got involved in the Social Justice and Peace Commission which eventually led to attending a regional meeting with Sister Laura Goedken, a Sinsinawa Dominican. During their long car ride, the two women had plenty of time to talk.
“I am so proud of Kathy and all the changes that have happened in her life,” said Sr. Laura, who serves as development director for the Diocese of Davenport. “I was the one who asked her if she had considered religious life and she immediately inquired about various congregations. She took this idea to prayer and knew she was being called. It was such a joy to watch her grow. I did not have to say anything further.”
In January 2012, the Sinsinawa Dominicans welcomed Sr. Kathy into their community. She had the blessing of Pete, who she describes as her “number one supporter, from day one of this journey.”
After witnessing his mother make her first profession of vows, Pete said, “I am very, very proud of her. It’s been a long journey. I’m so happy for her and excited to see the rest of her journey in Dominican life. It’s been something very nourishing for her.”
Sr. Kathy sees her relationships as being enriched through her commitment as a woman religious. “I have my biological family, my religious community, and those with whom I live and minister. When my life is enriched, so are theirs. When their lives are enriched, so is mine.”
God kindles Brabham’s call to sisterhood
By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Emily Brabham assumed she’d get married someday and work in a law firm. God had other plans.
The 30-year-old recently became a novice with the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton. And, much like a woman who changes her name after marriage, the title “Sister Emily” is one she is still getting used to. “It isn’t automatic yet,” she said.
The thought of becoming a religious sister never entered her mind growing up or as she embarked on a stint with Americorps after college. But then she began to wonder if God was calling her to youth ministry. She applied for and was offered a youth ministry job in Durango, Colorado. Taking the job would mean leaving behind family and her boyfriend in Oregon. She prayed for God to tell her what to do. The next day at Americorps she found a mysterious book on her desk titled “Durango Street.” She wasn’t sure how it had gotten there, but she took it as a sign to say “yes.”
Her faith in God strengthened in Durango and after a retreat in New Mexico, Emily began to wonder about religious life. While there weren’t any religious communities in the Durango area, she asked questions of Sisters who spoke at local seminars.
At an RCIA seminar in 2012, she met Sister Gael Gensler, a Clinton Franciscan who asked Emily if she’d ever considered becoming a Franciscan. She blurted out “Yes!” before she had time to consciously think about the question. In retrospect, the signs seemed apparent; she attended a St. Francis parish growing up, graduated from a Franciscan college and received counsel from Brother Francis during the transformative retreat. “There were all these connections that I didn’t put together until later on.”
She went into a period of discernment and was a little anxious, wondering if she was making the right decision. Sr. Gensler put her at ease by saying, “Emily, if this community isn’t for you, I can help you find the right community.”
In her two years as a candidate, Emily has been serving as youth minister in a Chicago area parish, participating in intercommunity formation programs and regularly visiting the Clinton Franciscans’ motherhouse, The Canticle, for formation and fellowship.
Earlier this month, the sisters welcomed her as a novice at The Canticle, where she received a copy of the community’s constitution. “It’s a very exclusive group that gets a copy of that book,” she said with pride. She was brought to tears when the sisters began to sing the Blessing of St. Clare. “To receive that blessing was a total gift, but it also put me at peace at a time when there are a lot of things that can be stressful. I hope to hold on to that sense of peace as I continue the next two years.”
She will continue to live in the Chicago area through 2016. Usually, a canonical year of prayer and study come first, followed by an apostolic year doing ministry of some sort, but the Sisters of St. Francis allowed her to switch the schedule so she can use her current youth ministry position to fulfill her apostolic year requirements.
Emily is the youngest woman in the Clinton community and one of two under 40. While some people have questioned her desire to become part of a community where youth is the exception, she finds such concerns misguided. “People had expressed a concern about this being an older community. I’m like ‘They are so relevant!’ They are on the cutting edge of everything. Human trafficking, for example, has been going on for millennia, but their engagement and activism is so relevant to where we are today, building awareness so we can end something that’s horrible.”
Still, she hopes that as a young person entering religious life, she can open the door for others to do the same. “Hopefully, the next young person who feels called will see that, ‘hey, there are two other young people. Maybe my calling isn’t so crazy.’ I think people are always called to religious life. Particularly my generation has a hard time saying yes. I hope the witness … empowers and emboldens them to say yes too. Maybe the next person says ‘yes’ because I had the courage to say ‘yes.’”