Sister Karen Thein is pretty amazing. It’s only her second year at St. Cecelia’s Church in Kennett, Missouri, but she is already an essential part of the community – and she has a photo album full of pictures of celebrations and special sacramental moments that she has shared with them. A few of us had the chance to meet with Sister Karen on a recent visit to the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.
Sister Karen Thein visits with community members at their homes.
If you look on a map, Kennett is located in what is referred to as “the Boot Heel” of Missouri. Most people don’t visit that part of Missouri because it is very remote and there is a great deal of poverty. Also, not many Catholics live in the area, but Catholic Extension helps support Sister Karen’s salary and the ministries at St. Cecelia’s. Sister Karen told us, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Catholic Extension.”
Sister Karen admitted that at first she didn’t want to come to Kennett. She had grown very close to her former parish – and when she left, she was exhausted. But during her sabbatical, she was asked to just visit Kennett. Once she did, she couldn’t say, “No.” After all, she said, “If I don’t help them, who will?”
From January to March, the people of the community struggle because there is no work. It is not until the planting begins in March that they can go back to working 15 hour days, often seven days a week. Although the area is very poor, there is a lot of faith. We saw that as soon as we stepped into one of the area’s trailer homes.
A small faith-sharing group gathering for its weekly meeting.
Sister Karen took us to visit a trailer where one of the small faith-sharing groups was gathering for its weekly meeting. These communities of faith are part of the three-year program known as “Arise,” or as the Spanish-speaking groups call it, “Levantate.” The program is coordinated by Renew International. Thanks to the generosity of Catholic Extension donors, this faith-sharing program has come to the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. There are 18 small communities just like this in St. Cecelia’s parish alone and include women’s groups, men’s groups and youth groups. We listened as this group of women sang, prayed and gave witness to their faith.
Sister Karen is embraced by the parishioners of St. Cecilia Church.
We asked some of the parishioners what they would do if they didn’t have Sister Karen at St. Cecilia’s, and they said they didn’t want to think about what it would be like without her. But Sister Karen can’t do it all, and as the parish continues to grow, it is in need of a youth minister to work with the young people. These youth and young adults are hungry to learn more about their faith, which is so important to this community.
As one of the women said, “Nothing is a big problem when you have God in your life.”
- Terry Witherell, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Catholic Extension