Sister Marie Catherine Fink

Sister Catherine Marie FinkThe themes of challenge and growth have appeared as an interactive dance for “Kate” throughout her 75 years of religious life. Born in Milwaukee, the only girl among three brothers, Kate attended a local parish school staffed by School Sisters of St. Francis.

“St. Catherine’s was what we called a ‘critic school’ so it had the best teachers,” she recalled. “I was blessed with them in most of my grade school days. I was impressed by the quality of their teaching even then. They were creative and inspiring – even in the way they carried themselves! They were always challenging us to be doing something worthwhile.”

Kate worked part time with her dad in a local drug store in her teen years and she saw the effect that professionalism and kindness could have on those in need.

“What drew me to community was a way of life, not so much a specific ministry,” she said.  Although her teachers in high school were sisters from another congregation, Kate remembered the School Sisters and she entered the community with a significant yearning to work with people and grow spiritually. “I’ve been surprised that every one of my appointments satisfied that deep desire.”

Early assignments in Chicago and Omaha teaching middle grades taught her “what true community was all about.” People she worked with and who believed in her helped Kate meet the new challenge. An opportunity presented itself when, a few years later, Kate was appointed to teach at St. Joseph’s High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

“I didn’t appreciate the change at first but there, too, were highly creative, energetic women.” While she was attending Marquette University for her graduate education, she was presented with the chance to write and co-direct musicals, and work with the dance choreographers. She participated in dance classes when she was young, so Kate could easily incorporate that experience in her work.

“It shocked me that when I got to a place, I realized I had the experience to fit exactly into what I was called to do,” she recalled. “It was a challenge, but I had what was required at that time in my life – all my educational training, work with a variety of people, and early experiences.”  

Kate shared that she loved working at St. Joe’s, but another major challenge arose when she was appointed to minister as vice principal at Pius XI High School in Milwaukee. This level of leadership was new and daunting.

“That challenged all my organizational skills and ability to help people develop in ways I had not known before,” she said. But again, she learned she had confidence and support from those who trusted her. The position forced Kate to think deeply about quality education and care for people’s growth, remembering the example that was set by her older, expert educators. “I more clearly realized that I enjoy the challenge of working with people. Opportunities presented themselves, and they were the very thing I wanted to become involved with.”

After serving at Pius, “Formation [of new members] opened, and I found I enjoyed working with personal and spiritual development. It helped me further my own growth. It clarified my own appreciation of religious life and helped me to live my true values. I realized more deeply that words were in empty space if I wasn’t living my own beliefs. I enjoyed looking deeply at myself and others in helping us all to grow spiritually.”

A different challenge and another change came when she was invited by the Provincial Leadership Team to consider becoming the Mission and Values Coordinator of Clement Manor and Villa Clement, our then-sponsored retirement centers. This was a further drift from working in formal educational settings to serving in health care facilities. “It called me to learn more about health care institutions and about how to work with adult staff plus older and declining residents,” she said. But Kate found that all the resources she needed were available to support her already-significant skills in organization, sharing faith, and listening to people.

In retirement, and still meeting challenges, Kate says, “I consider my life in community a great gift. It has surprised and positively challenged me, and I realize that as changes have come up, I had the capabilities and community support to succeed. In gratitude, many of those community members are with me in spirit, if not physically, celebrating my Jubilee with me. I thank them all.”

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