by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — For Therese Horvat, her 52-year career in communications has been more than a profession or a vocation.
It has been her identity.
“I don’t separate a lot of that out,” she said. “It’s what I do and who I am.”
Her career has included working for the Eastern Kansas Register (now The Leaven), Providence Medical Center, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth and her own consulting firm.
As a communications consultant, she has brought a lifetime of knowledge and expertise in service to the church and nonprofit organizations.
She has also served the community, offering her leadership to various civic organizations as board member, chairperson or president.
Like a tapestry, her career in communications has been woven from these threads of her life: faith, home, mission and storytelling.
The foundation for all has been her fascination with the transcendent Word.
“I was thinking how important words are to me,” she said. “I was thinking about the Gospel of John: ‘In the beginning was the Word.’
“That means that words are sacred. There is that identity of Jesus being the ‘Word made flesh.’ I think words are very telling.”
Words from the start
Although she has lived now for 30 years in Leavenworth County, Horvat grew up a “’Dotte,” which means that she is a native of Wyandotte County — or Kansas City, Kansas, for those not from there. Being a ’Dotte is not a matter of mere geography, but a rootedness to her identity. It means history, heritage, relationship and family.
“I’m the oldest of four kids,” she said. “We were all baptized at St. John the Baptist Church, the Croatian parish, but Mom and Dad’s first home was in [the] Quindaro (neighborhood).”
Church and matters of faith were important in her family — family rosaries, First Friday Masses and Catholic schools. She was taught by women religious of three orders.
Her long association with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth literally began at birth, which was in the old Providence Hospital (now site of Donnelly College) run by the Sisters of Charity.
Later, she and her siblings went to St. Rose of Lima School, where she was taught by these Sisters.
“I had the Sisters from grades one to eight, and I have fond memories of the Sisters,” said Horvat. “I credit my love of writing to my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Corita Conlan.”
Sister Corita would give them creative writing assignments that would begin with a prompting word or phrase [such as: “The pilot stepped from the cockpit”] and then have them read their work aloud for critique.
“That, I really feel, is where my love of writing started,” she said.
For high school, Horvat went to the old Loretto Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, and was taught by the Sisters of Loretto. There, she experienced her first leadership role as student council president.
After graduation, she briefly considered a religious vocation.
“I went for two weeks to the Sisters of Loretto, who at that time sent their postulants to Littleton, Colorado,” said Horvat. “I got extremely homesick.”
Upon her return to Kansas City, Kansas, she enrolled at Donnelly College, founded and run by the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison.
She graduated from Donnelly with an associate of arts degree in 1966. Next, she went to Mount St. Scholastica College (now Benedictine College) in Atchison, also run by the Benedictine Sisters. She graduated with a bachelor of arts in 1970.
Horvat was editor of the literary magazines at the academy and both colleges. And while at Donnelly, she worked part time as reporter for the Eastern Kansas Register.
“I liked to write,” she said. “I think I knew I wanted to do communications, but what shape it would take I didn’t know.”
After graduating from Mount St. Scholastica, Horvat received a scholarship to attend Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As she learned in Colorado, you can take the girl out of the ’Dotte, but . . .
“I had a notion that I wanted to be the religion news editor for Time magazine,” she said. “So, I went to Harvard for a semester and a half, but I got dreadfully homesick.
“It’s one of the few regrets I have that I didn’t complete a theology degree there.”
She returned to the Kansas City area to look for work. Eventually, she became news editor of the Eastern Kansas Register from 1972 to 1975. Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker was the new ordinary, the changes of the Second Vatican Council were being implemented and Call to Share study groups were meeting all over the archdiocese.
“It was an exciting time,” said Horvat. “I got to meet a lot of people, travel all over northeastern Kansas, and I liked the stories.”
Next, she worked briefly in the communications department at the University of Kansas Medical Center. But in 1976, she “came home” to the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth when she became public relations director at Providence-St. Margaret Health Center (later Providence Medical Center) in Kansas City, Kansas, run by the Sisters.
By the time she left in 2000, she had become vice president of strategic planning and community relations.
While at Providence, Horvat enrolled in the Executive Fellows program at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, and graduated with a master’s in business administration in 1987.
During her 23-year career in hospital communications for Providence and St. John Hospital in Leavenworth, Horvat grew deeply involved in the communities of both Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties.
She exercised her leadership skills as board member, president or chairperson of a number of organizations, including the KCK Chamber of Commerce; Wyandotte Development, Inc.; Caritas Clinics; and the Kansas City Area Hospital Public Relations Society.
In 2000, Horvat founded her own firm, WTGG (an acronym for “Way To Go, Girl”). The firm’s focus is strategic communications, strategic planning, group facilitation and grant-writing consultation.
At that time, she also began to study for a master’s degree in religious studies at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kansas, graduating in 2004.
Most of her clients have been nonprofits or Catholic entities. It wasn’t planned this way but, rather, the result of her contacts and personal associations.
In 2006, for example, she was engaged by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas as a consultant to work with Meitler Consultants to do pastoral planning with parishes in Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties.
“I was on the task force for each county to oversee the process,” she said. “Those were difficult, sensitive times. There were fewer priests, and parishes needed to be consolidated. There were difficult decisions for people to grapple with.
“In those situations I used my planning and facilitation skills I developed. . . . It was to try to get people to come to agreement that some things needed to change . . . . There were a lot of evening meetings, and those could be contentious because these things were near and dear to people’s hearts, and it would mean change for them.
“I was the ‘on the ground person’ sharing information and bringing feedback back to the [leadership] group as to what people were saying.”
Horvat has also used her professional skills at Holy Angels Parish in Basehor, her parish.
She was chairperson of the capital campaigns to build the new church and a eucharistic adoration chapel, and has also been involved in the archdiocesan capital campaign “One Faith, One Family, One Future . . . in Christ.”
“She was one of the first persons, when I arrived, to offer me her services,” said Father Richard McDonald, pastor. “She has been more than helpful. She has been phenomenal.”
Additionally, she is a lector, greeter, and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. She has also done publicity work for Holy Angels.
“She is involved as anyone could possibly be in the parish,” said Father McDonald. “Would that more people would step up to the plate like she does.
“She is always so pleasant and cheerful, and has a good take on things. Everyone respects her and she is very much liked.”
As a leader, she brings people together, he said. Horvat has the ability to bring consensus by focusing on core issues and eliciting from people their points of view in ways that are respectful to them.
A return to her roots
Horvat’s long history with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth led her to becoming an SCL Associate in 1996, while working at Providence.
“An associate is someone who adheres to the philosophy, mission and values of the Sisters,” she said. “That’s important to me, because it’s my identification with the Sisters.”
Horvat’s spiritual association with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth became professional as well when, as a consultant, she became part-time communications director for the Sisters in 2005. She continued as an independent contractor with the Sisters until November 2016, when she became a full-time employee.
Sister Constance Phelps, SCL, now community director, met Horvat when she was on the Providence Medical Center board.
“I saw what she was able to do in her position at the medical center,” said Sister Constance. “She’s articulate. She certainly writes well. She has good ideas and she’s personable.”
As communications director, Horvat published a thrice-yearly magazine Voices of Charity; upgraded their website; wrote and sent the daily email blast to the associates and far-flung houses of the Sisters in the United States and Peru; did special communications and projects; wrote communications plans; published newsletters; and sent out news and feature articles to various news organizations.
“She is a creative leader,” said Sister Constance. “Because she is centered in herself, she is calm. She can encourage others and pulls out the leadership qualities in others. She certainly has the ability to get things done.”
And she’ll be hard to do without.
“She’s put her stamp on things and moved things forward without seeming overloaded,” she added.
This past December, Horvat decided to retire from full-time work with the Sisters. She’ll continue part time and will assist her successor. She’ll continue to freelance and do communications consulting, and pursue other things that she enjoys.
“Sharing the stories and supporting the missions of the organizations I’ve worked for, whatever they are, has been my greatest accomplishment,” she said.
“And I’ve never been bored,” she continued. “There’s never a dull moment when you’re doing communications because the stories change and your efforts are to share the stories in a positive way . . . and let people know what they do.”