by Anita McSorley
It was an unusual sight, to be sure: a mariachi crooner serenading a nun.
But if you hang around nuns long enough, you come to expect the unexpected.
And I have to admit the serenade was only one of the many highlights of the sendoff given to director Sister Carol Ann Petersen, OSB, by her beloved Keeler Women’s Center and the wider community in Kansas City, Kansas, March 3.
Keeler’s Women Center has been an outreach of the Benedictine Sisters of Atchison for 13 years now. Sister Carol Ann was one of its founders, and has been its director since its inception.
Keeler’s mission is to empower women in the urban core of Kansas City through education, advocacy, personal and spiritual development.
There was a glorious diversity to Sister Carol Ann’s sendoff that, at points, brought tears to my eyes. These lovely women — because many Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison had come down for the occasion — wove their way confidently through halls that were packed tight with the beneficiaries of their outreach.
The beneficiaries — also lovely women, but women of different races, creeds, and socioeconomic class — were women that many of us might turn away from in fear and suspicion, should we run into them.
That’s because the beneficiaries of the work of Keeler’s are women living on the peripheries that Pope Francis is always talking about. They are women who have experienced poverty, addiction, discrimination, domestic violence, and sometimes even prostitution and incarceration.
They are women who have found — when they’ve managed to muster their few resources and their courage to escape the situations that are trapping them and their children in a cycle of poverty — the hand of a Sister outstretched to pull them into the warm.
At Sister Carol Ann’s sendoff I saw tattoos I couldn’t decipher. Heard songs sung in languages I didn’t even recognize.
And yet felt, as one rarely does in this life of hyper-divisiveness and coarsening public discourse that it truly was, as one woman sang in a language I could understand, a wonderful world.
If you missed Sister Carol Ann’s celebration, don’t worry. Because we all know that the reward for doing good work in the church is more good work to do.
Yes, Sister Carol Ann is now the new director of the Benedictine Sisters’ spirituality center in Atchison, called the Sophia Center. So you can offer her some support in her new assignment by looking into attending one of their retreats here.
Or you might throw some love to Keeler’s former associate director Sister Bridget Dickason, OSB — now director of Keeler Women’s Center — as she steps into the big shoes left by Sister Carol Ann. You’ll find her at the Keeler Women’s Center website or on their Facebook page.
But why stop there? We’re right now in the middle of National Catholic Sisters Week (March 8-14). Why not reach out to those women religious who did so much for you in the past? (I’m talking about you, Sister Judith Jackson, SCL, and Sister Delores Brinkel, SCL.)
Or the ones you’re lucky enough to count as friends now. (Yes, Sister Mary Irene Nowell, OSB, and Sister Barbara McCracken, OSB, you have to claim me.)
Then thank them — over and over and over again — for their service.
So thank you, thank you, thank you, Sister Carol Ann Petersen, for all you’ve done at Keeler’s Women Center in Kansas City, Kansas.
We can’t wait to see what you do at your new gig.