Keeler Women’s Center celebrates a decade of serving the women of Kansas City, Kansas
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Just about everything you need to know about the 10th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Keeler Women’s Center here could be summed up in the song of the Keeler Theatre Troupe that performed July 12 at the Jack
Reardon Convention Center:
“Celebrate the stories of women.
Celebrate and gather and listen.
Side by side, we stand with you,
To celebrate the best of you.”
And celebrate they did.
More than 600 people attended the event, including Benedictine Sisters, Keeler volunteers, supporters, community leaders and well-wishers. Last, but certainly not least, were women that have benefited from the services Keeler offers — like the members of the troupe.
The event served a double purpose, since it also represented one of many events held throughout the archdiocese as part of the yearlong 150th anniversary of the founding of the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison. The center is a ministry of the Atchison Sisters.
Mount St. Scholastica prioress Sister Anne Shepard offered the opening prayer, followed at the podium by 41 Action News evening anchor Christa Dubill, who served as emcee of the event. She introduced a video history of the center, which included a tribute to 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist, graduated from Mount St. Scholastica College in the early 1960s, but returned for visits even after achieving world renown for her work.
Maathai died of ovarian cancer on Sept. 25, 2011. In honor of her mother and as a tribute to the Benedictine Sisters, Wanjira Mathai gave the luncheon’s keynote address.
“Empowering women, as we believe in the work that we do, is the biggest, greatest work, and there can be no greater investment than that,” said Mathai, a board member of the Green Belt Movement and the Wangari Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies. (The organizations, founded by her mother, are concerned with environmentalism, community development, and empowering women.)
“I spoke at the Mount, celebrating the Mount, but here is an extension to celebrate the outreach that the Mount Sisters are doing through the work at Keeler — a manifestation, in my opinion, of your hope and belief that a better world is possible, a better urban Kansas is possible, a better Kansas, is possible,” she continued. “Certainly, your country is much better for having Keeler.”
“In so many ways,” said Mathai, “the women that we work with [in Kenya] are no different than the women that Keeler works with in this community — women and men, families and communities that have lost a sense of hope for whatever reason.
“The challenges that they face seem insurmountable. The challenges they face seem beyond their capacity to be addressed by what they have. But [we remind] them that within them is the capacity to address those issues.”
Mathai said she was moved by what she saw during her tour of the Keeler Center, located at 2220 Central in Kansas City, Kan.
“You offer so much that changes people’s lives,” she said. “You have 108 counseling sessions — unbelievable — 400 men and women monthly served at the center. Especially poignant was a comment by [Benedictine] Sister Barbara McCracken when she told me everyone at the Keeler Center is a volunteer. Nothing is a greater gift than service to others. And you serve so many people in this community.”
Sister Carol Ann Petersen, OSB, director of the center, spoke next, recounting the founding of Keeler Center. In 2000, the Benedictine Sisters were undergoing a long-range planning process, she explained. The process was led by Sister Mary Collins, OSB, prioress at the time.
“The result was, we reaffirmed our commitment to women, to empowering women, and to starting a center in Kansas City,” said Sister Carol Ann.
To much applause, she told Sister Mary Collins, who was in the crowd, “You really are the mother of Keeler.”
The luncheon concluded with the Benedictine Sisters praying a blessing over the luncheon-goers, and with an invitation to tour the Keeler Center.