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story.lead_photo.caption Sister Kathleen Wegman displays the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice ("Cross for the Church and Pontiff") pin and medal she received from Pope Francis upon the occasion of her retirement, during her retirement celebration. Photo by Jay Nies/Catholic Missourian

A wise mentor once "schooled" Sister Kathleen Wegman on accepting gifts and giving gratitude.

"God's Kingdom is not about earning and deserving," the fellow Catholic School Sister of Notre Dame told her. "It's about believing and receiving."

That's the spirit with which Wegman retired from 50 years of full-time ministry, including the past 12 years in leadership roles in her home Diocese of Jefferson City.

"I'm deeply grateful for the many ways I have experienced God with and through the people of this place," she stated.

Wegman found particular satisfaction in helping parishes throughout the diocese embrace the Second Vatican Council's ideal for collaborative ministry.

"But I've become keenly aware that I don't have the energy I once had, and it is time to move on," she said.

She plans on resting up and recharging for a while before embarking on a less-consuming ministry in another diocese.

"You can retire from active ministry, but you don't retire from your vocation," she said. "I'm a baptized Catholic, and I will continue living out my baptismal call as a School Sister of Notre Dame wherever I am."

'Service to the people'

Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos, who led the diocese 1997-2018, invited Wegman to return to the place of her upbringing in 2007 to serve as chancellor.

In addition to her role of properly maintaining records for the diocese, she would help manage the chancery offices while serving as director of pastoral services.

That would include facilitating the smooth and effective functioning of parish pastoral and finance councils and serving as a liaison between the bishop and Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri and its affiliated agencies.

She would be the bishop's delegate to sisters and brothers who are members of religious communities and as chairwoman of the Diocesan Review Board, which advises the bishop on general policy and specific allegations of abuse under the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.

She would also serve for 18 months as diocesan associate interim director of Catholic schools.

In addition, many would find comfort and inspiration from the retreats and days of recollection she led.

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight succeeded Gaydos in 2018.

He intensified her focus by appointing her director of pastoral and charitable services, making her the diocese's liaison to Catholic health care, primarily the SSM Health St. Mary's Hospitals in Jefferson City and Mexico, and to Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

Upon her retirement, he was quick to thank her for a job well done.

"What an honor it is," he stated, "for our local church to have you as one of us — a consecrated woman of faith who has spent her life in service to the church, in service to people."

At McKnight's request, Pope Francis bestowed on Wegman the prestigious Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice ("Cross for the Church and Pontiff") award.

McKnight and Gaydos affixed the pin and medal to her lapel during a Nov. 20 prayer service.

Wegman thanked them for the honor. She said she'd like to share it with the people of this diocese, "with whom I grew up and who helped form me," and with the international congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, "who continue to form and support me."

The world over

Wegman recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of her profession in the School Sisters of Notre Dame congregation.

Since entering religious life in 1967, she served as a teacher, principal and diocesan elementary-school director in Missouri and Illinois and as provincial councilor and provincial leader of the SSND's former St. Louis province.

She was a director of elementary schools for the St. Louis archdiocese from 1981-83, provincial councilor from 1983-91 and provincial leader from 1991-99.

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.

The long way home

Upon returning to Jefferson City, Wegman recognized God had been guiding her back to this place after equipping her with an array of helpful experience.

"One skill God has given me," she said, "is the ability to recognize the potential in people, call it forth and challenge them to put it to good use in strengthening the Body of Christ.

"That's how you grow the Church," she stated. "That's how you grow a community of faith."

At the chancery, she met individually with staff members to learn about their responsibilities, needs, desires and strengths.

"Part of my task was to help the staff continue to grow into a working, vibrant community of professionals," she said.

She discovered among the diocesan personnel "an incredible sense of service, creativity and zeal to serve a very rural, geographically vast diocese."

"There was this sense that if it's gonna happen, we're gonna make it so," she added.

She also tuned in to "a deeper desire for community of faith and unity — and we set out to help them move in that direction."

Likewise, she worked with pastors to help broaden people's vision for collaborative governance in parishes.

When priests asked for advice, she gave it to them. It often included being the first to reengage with people who were angry and to quickly seek forgiveness whenever necessary.

United in mission

The beginning of her tenure coincided with the first wave of priests arriving on mission from India, Nigeria, the Philippines and several other countries to minister in parishes here.

Based on her own experience as a missionary, she realized how hard it would be for many of these priests to minister here without some solid cultural preparation.

"I realized that I had spent time in many of their home countries when I was in congregational leadership," she recalled.

She and the Rev. Joseph Corel, who was then the diocesan vocation director, set about organizing a series of classes and panel discussions to help the arriving priests understand important aspects of U.S. culture.

From modest beginnings, that grew into a wide-ranging orientation program for priests from overseas as well as the parishes that welcome them.

The Rev. Roberto Ike, a priest from Nigeria who is administrator of St. Andrew parish in Holts Summit, now oversees the program as the diocese's moderator for international priests.

Fully rely on God

Throughout these 12 years and more miles than she could keep track of, Wegman has been astonished by people's "incredible holiness and love of the Church."

"At a time when our values are being exceedingly challenged, I have found the people of God here to be all the more strong and committed," she said.

She hopes the Catholics of this diocese will continue finding new ways to pour that personal holiness out in service to people who are in greatest need in their communities.

"Jesus spent a lot of time with poor people," she noted. "I think he preferred being with them because they know their need for God.

"I think we need them to evangelize us," she stated.

Wegman asks for continued prayers for faithfulness to God's calling and for the freedom and courage to say "yes" to wherever that may lead her.

At the same time, she plans to pray "for the people of the Jefferson City diocese to always continue to be open to the action of God in their lives, have the grace to recognize it, and live with gratitude."

"I always think a sign of God's spirit and holiness is gratitude, to live gratefully," she said. "I certainly will live much more gratefully because of my experience here."

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