As a young girl, Sister Kathleen McManus was fascinated by the Church and God. She told everyone she would one day become a nun. Once she reached high school, the young woman realized discernment was a more thoughtful, prayerful process than acting on a girlhood fantasy.
As the Second Vatican Council was implemented into practice at the parish level during her college years, Sister Kathleen threw herself into campus ministry.
“That’s when the whole concept of lay ministry was emerging and it was an exciting time,” she said. Social justice consciousness was awakened in the young woman; she was radicalized and heavily influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement.
“I began again to consider religious life,” Sister Kathleen said. “There are so many options in lay ministry. I could do many things but there was something much deeper that was stirring in me. I came to know it was more about a state of mind than a particular ministry.”
She joined a mission team in the Archdiocese of New York, living in community with priests, Religious and lay people who engaged in every aspect of parish ministry. They led retreats focused on spiritual renewal.
It was at that point the young woman discovered the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, N.Y.
“In them I encountered the integration of all these things that in different times in places had been called forth in me,” she said. “The preaching charism, living simply, social justice, I saw them embodied in this community.”
The history of the order spoke to her profoundly, with its mission of preaching, contemplating and sharing the fruits of that contemplation. Founded more than 800 years ago, the women and men of the Dominican Order, or the Order of Preachers, search for truth, compassion and serve God by preaching and reaching out to people in need.
After formation, Sister Kathleen earned a master’s degree in theology with a concentration in preaching. She returned to New York City, taking up ministry as a pastoral associate in the Bronx in a large, multicultural parish. She loved it there, yet struggled with a certain clericalism in the process of decision-making. Eventually, she began to feel another pull, a call to theology, which she had always studied and loved.
“I was seeking a way of being in the church in a free and fruitful and fulfilling way as a woman, and in a way I would not become bitter or angry,” she said. “I saw theology as that path.”
She pursued a doctorate in systematic theology, wanting to contribute to the formation of ministers, lay and ordained.
In 2000, Sister Kathleen interviewed at University of Portland, which at the time was forming a master’s program in pastoral ministry.
“It was really a privilege to be with the school during that process,” she said. Today, she also teaches undergraduate students, a job she loves. She is the author of Unbroken Communion: The Place and Meaning of Suffering in the Theology of Edward Schillebeeckx, and has published articles in academic journals and chapters in several other books.
The place and meaning of suffering have been a constant in Sister Kathleen’s academic work. “During my years [in academia] I have studied the suffering of women in poverty globally and the suffering of women in the institutional church, and the relationship between those two, and the responsibility that we thinking Catholic women in North America have to claim our voices on behalf of those who have no voices,” she said.
During the past year, she has spoken to women’s Religious communities as they engage in theological reflection in this time in history and the church.