Sister Kathleen O'Brien

Sister Kathleen O'BrienSister Kathleen, like many of us, can’t believe she is celebrating her 60th Jubilee. She has spent most of her educational ministry at Alverno College in Milwaukee, but has also served in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Illinois.  She was born in Massachusetts and entered the community from California, so it seems natural that she would have many different ministries.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and math from Alverno, an MBA from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in management from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She started the business degree program at Alverno and was the Vice President for Academic Affairs until she retired from the college. When she thinks back on her years at Alverno, she remembers the support and contributions of all the sisters who worked there, particularly the sisters she lives with: Sisters Mary Diez, Judeen Schulte, Marlene Neises, and Liz Heese.

One of her most interesting ministries was the three years she spent at American Islamic College in Chicago, after she left Alverno, as a founding provost, working to get the college Higher Learning Commission accreditation. She said it was a wonderful learning experience, and found that Catholics and Muslims have more in common than we might think.

When asked about what she enjoys most about the School Sisters of St. Francis, she mentioned her travel to India for the 2018 General Assembly. Sister Kathleen spent a month in India and met our sisters from around the world. She particularly appreciated the great work the sisters in the North and South India provinces are doing in education and with children with disabilities.  While there, she traveled to a Hindu university located at the base of the Himalayans to give a presentation on ability-based education – another offshoot of working at Alverno. She was again reminded of how much educators have in common as they are hard at work making a difference in the lives of their students.

Her years in education and travels abroad have provided keen insight into American strengths and weaknesses. She is proud that Alverno is offering an excellent education to many first-generation college students who haven’t had the advantageous opportunities of many of their classmates.

Now that she has been on the Provincial Leadership Team for four years, with four more coming up, she gets a reminder almost every day from one of our sisters about how appreciative they are for the team’s service. She notes that this word of appreciation makes each day a little more special.

How do people describe her? Many would say she is a storyteller with a strong sense of humor.  She remembers a line from a poem by W.H. Auden that reads, “the funniest mortals and the kindest are those who are most aware of the baffle of being.” Many of her days as a provincial coordinator involve issues that could be described as the “baffle of being!” Stories, she says, help sort out everyday baffles and a good sense of humor gives her hope for the future.

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