by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Kathryn White has photographed many events, but those of this past year are likely to stand out in the grand scheme of her career.
“I am honored and humbled to be trusted with documenting this time in history,”she said. “Striving to build up the body of Christ through my photography is part of my mission.”
White is a freelance photographer for The Leaven. She took her first assignment last summer when she captured newly ordained Father Brandon Berg as he celebrated Mass.
Father Berg’s chalice was formerly owned by Bishop George Donnelly, the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Leavenworth, and White’s photographs accompanied an article by freelance writer Katie Peterson.
White had already worked with various archdiocesan offices and told Leaven production manager Todd Habiger she was available for more assignments if he needed her.
Habiger was eager to take her up on the offer and said she’s been a natural fit for the paper.
“She wants to do the best job possible,” he said, “and I’ve asked some difficult things of her and she’s always delivered.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know if we could have managed without her contributions these past few months.”
White is a parishioner at Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park and a mom of six.
Her own mom immigrated to the U.S. from Korea and met her dad at a military base. She was raised in the suburbs of Chicago.
White went to Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, where she said her “faith came alive.” She went on to receive a certificate in youth ministry.
Initially pursuing a veterinary career, White was working at an animal hospital in Topeka when she began volunteering as a catechist at Holy Name Parish there.
She was later hired as a part-time youth minister at Assumption Parish and also helped with retreats at Hayden High School, both in Topeka.
It was at that time that her faith began taking on a bigger role in her life — and so did her interest in photography.
When she and her husband Daniel, who was in the Marine Corps at the time, moved to Colorado with their first child, she began taking photography classes to learn more about the hobby she loved.
When the family eventually moved back to Kansas City, White continued taking photos, and around five years ago, she created her own photography website.
Now, she photographs families, babies, high school seniors and sacramental moments, among other subjects.
But she proved her dedication to her craft long before she was married and started her own photography business.
While working at St. Paul Parish in Olathe, White accompanied some youth group students on a ski trip to Colorado. She recalls making what was, at the time, a seemingly innocent decision to take her camera on the slopes.
“I was trying to keep up with these double black diamond skiers,” she said. “I had never skied in my life.
“I ended up falling on the mountain [and] tearing my ACL with a camera around my neck.”
The injury didn’t thwart her love of photography. It’s a passion she can’t shake.
Her favorite project is one she’s currently working on — capturing still images for a documentary film about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders called “The FASD Project” (thefasdproject.com).
White travels to photograph families and individuals affected by FASD with the goal of helping the film explore the lifelong invisible disabilities that impact learning, behavior and physical and mental health.
“Joining a grassroots movement [and] working together to raise awareness and bring support to those with this disability has been an honor,” she said. “I’m humbled to be part of the team.”
White’s favorite Leaven assignment was photographing Uplift in Kansas City, Missouri, for an article about its ministry to the homeless and the dedication of its volunteers.
Although her work has been fulfilling this past year, it’s also had its challenges. COVID-19 has created a difficult work environment for photographers.
At times, White has had to work outside in freezing cold weather. More frequently, she’s navigated social distancing at her shoots while still attempting to get the best shots.
Habiger is grateful for her continuous dedication to The Leaven despite the additional hurdles she’s faced.
“These are difficult times,” he said, “and we want all of our freelancers to be safe.
“At the same time, we are a newspaper, and we are documenting historic times in our archdiocese because the pandemic has changed everything.
“We have a responsibility, as journalists, to record these historic times.”