The subject of women’s role in the Church has been a hot topic in recent years. In Kilmore diocese, one talented individual has been key in organising a group of women who are keen to learn more about modern human and spiritual formation.
Originally from Chicago and of Irish parentage, Kathryn Clarke is passionate about helping women who share an interest in serving the community.
Although born in Chicago, Kathryn has strong links with Ireland. Her mother was from Castleisland in Kerry and her father spent a lot of his childhood in Ireland.
“I would say my parents were what everyone would recognise here. We were Catholics, it was important to us, we said the family rosary every night. I would say I was deeply spiritual, I was a practicing Catholic, but I wouldn’t say I was desperately religious,” Kathryn said.
It was when she was in her early 20s she joined the Secular Franciscan Order, and a few years later married an Irishman. Wanting to bring up their six children – four daughters and two sons – in a countryside environment they moved to Bailieborough in Cavan, where her husband was from.
Kathryn began her career in domestic violence prevention, where she developed the first programme in Illinois for use of evidence based prosecution. As supervisor of a court advocacy programme in Cook County Criminal Court, she developed protocols for 35 suburban police departments which increased the effectiveness of multi-organisational efforts.
A Certified Law Enforcement Instructor with North East Multi-Regional Trainers, she transitioned into consulting and provided training and policy development to dozens of police departments and private organisations.
Well-educated and with a demonstrated history of policymaking and training, Kathryn now uses her skills to support the faithful. She said: “Every skill I ever was trained in or I used in my first profession I am using now in my service to the Church: adult education, policy development, programme development.
“We are a diocese of 32 parishes and in order for goals to be met there has to be consistent application of safeguarding for example, we have a great safeguarding children policy in our diocese, and we have to make sure the lay people serving the Church in five years’ time understand and use the policy properly, things like that – that interests me.”
As the author of a novel The Breakable Vow, published by Harper Collins in 2002, Kathryn created and advanced a domestic violence prevention programme for Catholic High Schools known as DV-PEP. Initially piloted in 10 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Kathryn also provided training and implementation of the programme in several public schools including the Chicago Public School District and the Cleveland Public School District.
After relocating to Ireland, Kathryn provided consulting and training and developed policy for the domestic violence community. As a consultant for Tearmann Domestic Violence, she created information brochures and other literature for use with GP surgeries, Garda stations and hospitals. Additionally, Kathryn developed and piloted a 10 step recovery programme for victims who had ended violent relationships. In Kerry, she completed a systems analysis and subsequent training of staff at the Domestic Violence Refuge and lectured for the Marino Therapy Centre in Dublin.
Most currently, she developed and continues to pilot a psycho-spiritual education programme for secondary schools in the Diocese of Kilmore. This programme assists young people in developing healthy relationship with themselves, others and God.
Kathryn writes under both her given name and also using a pseudonym. Her spiritual writings have been granted an Imprimatur from Bishop Leo O‘Reilly.
Currently one of the Church projects she is working on is the ‘Mothers of the Church’ course with women involved doing their first formation year last year.
Geared to all women, the group aims to develop the role of Mary, the mother of the Church and to establish a structure to both form women and receive them into service for the diocese.
Women participating in the two year formation programme are taught a contemplative prayer practice and receive skills for healthy thinking patterns.
The methodology of formation includes elements from psychology (human formation), spiritual formation and also Catechism and Scripture.
Kathryn says: “Underpinning our efforts is the reality that you cannot have a healthy Catholic if you do not have a well-adjusted human being. When women assemble to develop and contemplate their service to the faith family and to all of society, initiatives and roles tend to become clear because they are based on the most pressing and urgent needs of people. We promote a shift from a sin-based spirituality to a virtue-based spirituality.”
Speaking of her hopes for the future she adds: “Our hope is that women will continue to assemble and receive formation, allow themselves to develop and then be equipped to help form other young people in programmes that can represent the Gospel message in a contemporary way.”