By Connie Berry
Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, said whenever she is faced with a major decision, she usually requires weeks to think it over and then asks for advice from dozens of people —and then she asks for a few more weeks to think it over. This time, however, she answered right away.
Sister Katie will leave her position as diocesan director of the Office of Faith Formation, one she has held for nearly a decade, to join her community in Latham, N.Y. as assistant coordinator of the Sisters’ hospitality and retreat center at the Provincial House outside of Albany. Sister Pat Conran is the coordinator of the Carondelet Hospitality Center and she asked Sister Katie to join her at the sisters’ relatively new endeavor. The center offers space for meetings and retreats, as well as overnight accommodations and food service to parish, diocesan and community groups.
“When Sister Pat called there was something that felt right about it. It was an unexpected invitation but I knew it was right,” she said.
Sister Pat also knew Sister Katie would not be joining her in Latham until after the diocese’s annual Journey of Faith event. She plans to begin her new position Nov. 1. Hosting groups and organizing presentations is nothing new for Sister Katie. She has coordinated the annual Journey of Faith event for the diocese for years. Every year, Sister Katie said, she wonders if her office could possibly pull off the event “one more year.” And then, when she sees the large groups, usually around 400 or 500 people, gathered each year to hear presenters it is an “adrenaline rush.”
“It [Journey of Faith] is a huge undertaking and I always think to myself, ‘Can we keep doing this?’” Sister Katie said. “Then you look at that group sitting out in front of you… it touches peoples’ faith, their lives and that’s incredibly enriching.”
Journey of Faith is one highlight of Sister Katie’s work in the diocese’s Office of Faith Formation. The close relationships she has with all the catechists is what Sister Katie said she will miss most. She began work in the ministry more than 20 years ago serving as regional director for the Northern and Southern Offices of Faith Formation before being named diocesan director by then Bishop James Moynihan.
Before forming lifelong learners in catechesis, however, Sister Katie did the same in Catholic school classrooms teaching at her alma mater, Rome Catholic, Notre Dame High School in Utica, Bishop Scully High School in Amsterdam and Catholic High in Troy, N.Y. She has been a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet for 33 years.
More than 20 years ago, she stopped teaching and started working with adult faith formation in Holy Family Parish in Fulton. “I loved working with adults and I loved RCIA,” Sister Katie said. She found her true calling while teaching courses at the parish. Working with adults in their faith formation process provides a different satisfaction than working with teenagers, Sister Katie explained.
“In the normal process of faith development, teenagers question everything. They think, ‘If I am going to make this faith my own, I’m not going to swallow all this whole.’ Whereas adults come into faith formation because they have a hunger for it,” Sister Katie said. “Adults are in a different stage in their faith development and teenagers aren’t there yet. Then there are others who love working with teenagers who are in that questioning stage. It is a normal process of faith development. As we become adults we seek a deeper sense of our need for God, a longing to be in relationship with Him. It’s just different from when you’re a teenager. It’s like any relationship.”
Over the years, Sister Katie has served her office with a strong collaborative leadership style. There are four regional directors who meet with her twice a month. Cathy Cornue is director of the Eastern Region Office of Faith Formation and she said Sister Katie is “definitely a team player.” Cornue said she has mixed feelings about Sister Katie’s new opportunity, but she’s happy for her. “She’s brought so much enthusiasm to our diocese,” Cornue said. “She isn’t just a ‘boss.’ She is always very attentive to the people in her staff and the whole catechetical community. People could call her at any time. She cares about the whole person.”
Sister Katie’s office works closely with the Formation for Ministry and RCIA programs and Father Joseph Scardella, who directs that diocesan office, said he will miss Sister Katie tremendously.
“She’s a treasure for our diocese,” Father Scardella said. “She has brought religious education to where it should be in our diocese. I’ve used her staff a lot in the Formation for Ministry program and RCIA. We’ve worked together for years.”
Sister Katie is confident that whomever Bishop Robert Cunningham appoints as her successor will keep the Office of Faith Formation moving forward. She said she’s grateful to Bishop Moynihan for her own appointment and also to Gerrie Kaluzny, her predecessor. “She was a mentor and friend to me. She saw gifts in me that I didn’t know I had,” Sister Katie said.
Now she will bring those strengths to her newest position.
“It’s bittersweet,” Sister Katie said. “I’m very excited about it but it is very difficult for me to leave the Syracuse Diocese and the relationships that come with it.”
Father Scardella described one gift Sister Katie can take everywhere she goes: “She just has the best of an Irish personality. She’s jovial, she’s serious, she’s lite, she’s just wonderful. She’s a gift.”