Remembrance of the Life of Sister M. Kristin McNamara SL
April 17, 1932 — Feb.1, 2017Kristin McNamara composed her own obituary and submitted it to the Archives when she moved from Taos, N.M., to Loretto Motherhouse. It reads as follows:
“On April 17, 1932, I was born to Marie and James McNamara. Both were wonderful parents who nurtured and loved me throughout their life.
“On April 25, 1953, the Sisters of Loretto received me into the Community. I have always been glad I decided to enter into Loretto life as Loretto has been a source of great friendships and opportunities to work with such good people in many different areas of ministry. Also, throughout these years, Loretto has encouraged and supported me in my search for God and in my attempts to follow in the way of Jesus.
“On Sept. 12, 2007, I returned to the Motherhouse, that home of beauty, love and peace. Now I look forward to the life to come.”
Last week, Kristin allowed herself to be persuaded that we could add a few more words in remembrance of her very full life. In the end, her personnel file yielded many more of her own words about her life.
She was born Mary Jane McNamara, in Kansas City, Mo. Her father’s parents were from Ireland; he was born in Kansas City. Her mother’s family were farmers in northeastern Kansas, where Kristin spent many summer months. She was taught entirely by Sisters of Loretto, at Our Lady of Good Counsel School and Loretto Academy High School on 39th Street, and at Webster College where she was in her sophomore year when she wrote to Reverend Mother Edwarda in 1952, “I have always wanted to become a Sister of Loretto and have finally decided to ask to be accepted. The main reason for my wanting to enter is that I feel it is the way that I can best serve Almighty God. If plans work out the way I have them figured at present I should like to enter October 1952.”
Sister Rose Maureen wrote in support of Kristin’s application: “She is a hard worker and knows what sacrifice means.” Sister Frances Jane told Edwarda, “They do not come finer than Mary Jane McNamara.” Sister Theonilla commented, “Mary Jane will make a splendid member … talented in many ways … not afraid of work, …[and]most refined.” Her high school principal, Sister Lillian Clare, wrote, “She is an ideal youngster in every way … an ‘A’ average for four years … and a character as high as her grades.”
As she had planned, Mary Jane arrived at Loretto Oct. 25, 1952, part of a bumper crop of postulants, including two of her Loretto Academy classmates. Twenty were received on April 25, 1953, among the last to receive the “M” veil. Mary Jane took the name Kristin, by which she would be known the rest of her life. She made her first vows two years later and her final vows Aug. 15, 1958.
Kristin was one of the earliest to go to the House of Studies. She completed her undergraduate degree in Spanish at Webster College and had a brief two-year stint as a high school teacher at Elizabethtown Catholic High in Kentucky and Nerinx Hall in Webster Groves — brief for her, but a lasting influence for a number of young women who were inspired to join Loretto.
It was 1959 and change was already in the air. Plans for a Loretto presence in Latin America included training catechists for the work. Kristin was sent to Lumen Vitae in Belgium and from there to Regina Mundi in Rome to study. She liked the work at Lumen Vitae especially, where “the aim is to show one how to give to others. This is not a matter of methods but of knowing the subject, [that is, knowing the] person, and the needs and feeling of the time and place.”
Kristin’s file holds a set of letters which Anthony Mary Sartorius received and saved covering the period 1960-62. In one we find this paragraph: “Truly, it seems a shame that we so easily departmentalize our life that we become lost in some little facet of reality, one field of truth. I think we must become convinced that the first law … is the law of being — we must be, and be what we have been made. Thus the need to develop everything that is ours. … The most wonderful people that one encounters are those who have fallen in love with all reality.”
Toward the end of her studies in Rome Kristin learned that she would be going to Santiago, Chile.
“…Rev. Mother’s letter to the Community was here on our return [from traveling] and despite the midnight hour, we read it immediately. It is really great to think of getting to serve the Church in Latin America. Needless to say, I am scared at the responsibility, but eager to try. … The Sisters in La Paz have done such good work, please pray that we may carry on that same spirit [in Santiago].”
Kristin served in Santiago for eight years. Her reflections on her efforts are contained in a questionnaire she completed for PJ Manion in 1993 for the book Naming Our Truth.
“I volunteered [for South America] in response to Mary Luke’s call for volunteers. I felt I was able, willing, and interested in the experience. … The Sisters were going in response to John XXIII’s call for assistance in Latin America for the growth and development of the Church endeavors. We were called to ‘help’ in the work.
“I worked in Santiago, Chile, from 1962 to 1970, in the national and diocesan offices of catechetics and at the Catechetical Institute. I lived and also worked in a worker area, a ‘población’ on the outskirts of the city.
“I became much more of a social-political minded person. I came to see myself as working primarily with people rather than working for the Church — a change in priority, not a question of either/or. … I had sincerely believed the U.S. meant well for everyone. I guess I ‘grew up’ in South America and came to learn something of the pervasiveness of vested interests and control. The U.S. was no longer that wonderful nation but rather a mix of good and evil.
“[Political and social factors that influenced me included] the Socialist-Marxist analysis, Christian Democrat reforms, liberation theology, people as agents of change, and struggles between fatalism and self-determination. [Local individuals and groups that influenced me included] Pablo Freire and some Maryknoll Sisters. More than individuals, [I was moved by] the spirit of the times: If we work together, we can make a difference.
“I returned to the United States because of my parents’ age and health and the fact that I was an only child. [I found it difficult to readjust to U.S.] concerns with comfort and consumerism. I had been with people struggling with survival, struggling to make something for their family. I returned to people who seemed so serious about frills.
“[What long-term affect my experiences had on my life is] a good question but difficult to answer. I believe in people, and in their will for the good despite overpowering evil.”
Back in the States, Kristin served for two years as principal at Loretto in Kansas City, and two years on the Loretto Work Development Staff. Then she returned to working with adults as she had done in Chile. In 1977, Kristin’s mother died; her father had died in 1971 shortly after she returned from South America. Having earned a master’s degree in adult education at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Kristin was again free and prepared for more international work. She joined the staff of the National Council of Churches as director of Adult Education Overseas Ministry. For four years she had an apartment in New York City, but mostly she traveled – to various countries in Africa and South America, as well as parts of India and Bangladesh. As Dorothy Ortner remembers, Kristin even supervised a small but significant program in Lahore, Pakistan, where Loretto Sisters are today.
In 1982, Kristin moved to Ft. Lupton, Colo., to work as pastoral assistant for St. William’s Church and support her good friend from Santiago, Maria Visse, who was completing a degree in nursing. Kristin moved to Taos, N.M., in 1987 to begin the Loretto Literacy Center and Maria followed soon after.
In a progress report March 1988 to funders about the beginnings of the Loretto Center in Taos, Kristin wrote, “The focus of our efforts has been adult basic education in the areas of academics, family well-being, religion and women’s issues. … In March of 1987 we decided on Taos, N.M., … for several reasons … [including that] illiteracy is widespread. By that, I mean not only the inability to read (35 percent of the population in New Mexico), but also the felt inability to decipher and understand the economic, social and cultural conditions that impinge on one’s life. People feel they cannot ‘read’ what faces them each day. Therefore, we want to work with them to look at their reality, study the options, judge what is to be done and then do it. … Working with people paralyzed by economic insecurity … tears at one’s heart. Yet these same people get up in the morning and struggle for a more livable day. That fact quickens one’s head and energy to push onward with them.”
For 20 years, Kristin served the people of Taos and the surrounding countryside using the principles of practical education she had learned at Lumen Vitae and while working alongside Paulo Freire in Chile. In 2007 Kristin moved to Loretto Motherhouse, to Stuart Hall where she prepared for Maria’s arrival in 2008, and where she offered hospitality, support and good conversation to many Loretto visitors for 10 years. Kristin managed the Guest House until just a few weeks ago; she was an energetic member of the local Education Committee; she provided both informal and formal pastoral care in the Infirmary.
Some remarks Kristin wrote in 2000 when she was a candidate for Loretto leadership sum up the way she lived her life and encouraged others to live their lives:
“I do not believe I can ‘move us forward in the service of the poor.’ We try to operate collaboratively and so no one individual moves us; rather, each one pitches in with her concerns and gifts to help resolve issues and needs. Each of us can only bring needs forward and try to inspire others to use their energies for those in need.
“In any situation, I want to encourage and support. I enjoy listening to people’s ideas and getting folks together to share hopes and plans.
“Finally, I want to tell you what keeps me upbeat about life and Loretto. Maria Visse says it in her song, Una Llamada:
“Follow, follow the windstream taking the chances that come.
Know that always friendship can follow you.
Nothing is lost – so ride on.”
– By Eleanor Craig SL
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