They sat outside McDonald’s, eating fish sandwiches.
The young woman had something to tell the young man she had been dating the last couple of years.
They had thought about getting married, buying a home and having children.
She had recently told her parents that God might be calling her to be a School Sister of Notre Dame, and she had to find out for sure.
Both parents approved, but her father advised her to break the news to her boyfriend as soon as possible.
“So I was in this terrible turmoil,” Sister Kathleen Wegman recently recalled. “You know you can’t have both, and you know God isn’t calling you to both.”
The call to religious life was a like a magnet. She knew she wouldn’t be satisfied until she at least gave it a try.
“I’ve got to enter the School Sisters to get God off my back,” she told the young man.
That was over 50 years ago, and God has not relented.
“The longer I was in religious life, the more I knew that it fit me,” she said. “It was only in this way that I could be my best self. I could be who God created me to be.”
“Accept me, O God”
Sr. Kathleen — a Jefferson City native, graduate of St. Joseph Cathedral School and Helias Catholic High School, former chancellor for the Jefferson City diocese and current diocesan Director of Pastoral and Charitable Services — recently celebrated the 50th of her profession as a School Sister of Notre Dame.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight and Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos presided at the Mass in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“Sister Kathleen Wegman, we are all so honored to be able to join with you, giving thanks to Almighty God for your 50 years of dedicated service to Jesus Christ, His Gospel and His Church, in the community of the School Sisters of Notre Dame,” said Bishop Gaydos.
Sister Debra Marie Sciano SSND, provincial leader of the congregation’s Central Pacific Province, led Sr. Kathleen and fellow SSNDs in attendance in renewing their vows:
“My God, You call me to be one with You, and send me to proclaim Your love through my life. Consecrated by You, I offer myself totally to You for the service of Your kingdom. I renew my vows to live forever, consecrated celibacy, Gospel poverty and apostolic obedience in community, according to the Constitution of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Accept me, O God, as You have promised, that I may live and in Mary’s spirit, do whatever You tell me. Amen.”
Bishop McKnight presented her a framed apostolic blessing from Pope Francis and thanked her for all the help she has given him.
Said Bishop Gaydos: “Well done, good and faithful servant! But you’ve got a lot of work yet to do.”
Sr. Kathleen said she discovered her calling to religious life in the context of community — beginning with her family.
She is the first of five children born to Leroy and Dorothy Wegman, who are both deceased.
“I was baptized and grew up in the faith,” she said. “Once you fall in love with Jesus Christ and become His disciple, there’s no turning back.”
She believes her family was the cradle of her vocation and prepared her well for life in community.
“I was formed in the family to be a good community member,” she said. “I was formed in the family to reach out to those in need.”
Her family community often grew whenever an aged member of her extended family would lose a husband or wife.
“My dad and mom would bring us together and say, ‘You girls will have to share a room for the next few years because Aunt So-and-so or Uncle So-and-so were coming to live with us,’” Sr. Kathleen recalled.
“So we learned to care for the elderly,” she said. “We also learned respect for the dead, visiting cemeteries regularly and praying for those who had gone before us.”
“Those were shaping moments,” she said. “It’s like God was preparing the soil, like you till the earth to plant a seed.
“That’s what I believe happened to me.”
Formed by missionaries
Being the first of her siblings to start at what is now St. Peter Interparish School made Sr. Kathleen homesick and reduced her to tears every day.
Her first-grade teacher, Sister Marie Jerome (now known as Sister Rita) Reisch SSND, would not give up on her.
“My dad would drive up the alley of St. Peter’s, and Sister was right there every day, waiting to literally pull me out of the car,” Sr. Kathleen recalled.
“Looking back, I see not only the huge persistence she had but also the belief that I had potential and that she wanted me in her classroom,” said Sr. Kathleen.
The Wegmans were living within the boundaries of what is now Cathedral of St. Joseph parish when it was founded in 1958.
They automatically became members of the new parish. Sr. Kathleen transferred to St. Joseph Cathedral School in fifth grade.
Her new teachers, Sisters of Mercy from Ireland, were missionaries to the United States.
“I remember being in awe that someone would leave their country to come teach us,” said Sr. Kathleen. “They left home and came to a new country with a different culture, with all the difficulties that come with that.”
Her ongoing encounter with mission continued at Helias Catholic.
“The SSNDs at Helias, in addition being terrific teachers and mentors, had such a great missionary spirit,” she recalled. “We learned about all the countries the School Sisters of Notre Dame served. Honduran sisters would come and visit the school.”
In them she saw the universality and inclusivity of the Catholic Church.
“Their world was so large,” she said. “And in all of those encounters, my vocation was formed.”
“The Role of Community”
She has been thinking a lot about community lately and the role it has played in her answering her religious calling.
“That day in August 1967 when I stood in what was then St. Joseph Church, I was called forth from that community and sent by the community,” she said.
She believes that for anyone living a vowed life — whether that be in religious life or marriage — that vow is given in and supported by the whole Church.
“Teach the child”
Sr. Kathleen entered a period of formation as a postulant and later a novice with the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) in St. Louis in 1967.
She learned to discern God’s will for her through prayer and study, through the community of sisters who were in charge of her formation and through her classmates.
She majored in American studies at Notre Dame College in St. Louis, then got sent to teach upper-grade math.
“That’s not what I was trained to do,” she noted. “But you know, you teach a child, not a subject. That’s how I looked at it. Over the years, I always found myself focusing on the children before me.”
She professed temporary vows — stating her intention before God to live according to the virtues of poverty, chastity and holy obedience — in the summer of 1969.
She professed final vows in 1974.
Sr. Kathleen has served as a teacher, principal and diocesan elementary-school director in Missouri and Illinois and served for a total of sixteen years in provincial leadership for the former St. Louis province of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
She taught in Nepal for a semester in 2000, and taught English in Japan’s largest Catholic school from 2002-04.
She has lived and spent time in various cultures in the United States and many other countries, including Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Japan, Nepal, Sierra Leone and Italy.
“Community life, both locally and within the broader SSND community, is foundational to we are as School Sisters of Notre Dame,” she noted.
She has spent time in some of the most faraway and isolated regions of the world where there are SSNDs.
“And every time I touched down,” she said, “I would always ask God, ‘Please give me the grace to feel at home. Because if I cannot feel at home, I cannot be attentive to Your grace in this place.’
“God has never failed me in that,” she added.
“In many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started,” said Sr. Kathleen.
“That’s the beauty of experience,” she said. “You can look back and say, ‘How I wish I knew then what I know now!’ But you have to look back and say, ‘That’s where God wanted me and what He wanted me to learn in order to get me here.’
“Everything builds on that with life, with experience, with a relationship with God, with participation in the Church,” she said.
For her jubilee, Sr. Kathleen asks for prayers for faithfulness to God’s calling, and for the freedom and courage to say yes to wherever that may lead her.
“To the degree that I’m faithful to who I am, I am faithful to God Who called me,” she said.