Sister Kathryn Teresa Clemmer on her call to religious life
It was in quiet moments of Adoration that Kathryn Clemmer began to seriously consider what God was calling her to do with her life.
She had previously thought about the religious life, but set those thoughts aside as she finished college and graduate school and began her career as an elementary school teacher. But there before the Blessed Sacrament a few years later, the desire returned.
“I said to myself, ‘I thought I was done with this,’” she recalled in a Sept. 19 phone interview with the Sun. “But I knew I had to pay attention to it and start listening.”
Sister Kathryn Teresa, 27, grew up “all over the place,” as her family moved for her father’s work as an engineer. One constant was the tight bond with her three siblings and her parents. When Sister Kathryn Teresa was in high school in Maryland, Marvin and Mary Clemmer began to welcome foster children into their home. Since settling in DeWitt several years ago, the Clemmers, who are parishioners of Holy Cross Church, have continued to serve as foster parents. About four years ago, they adopted Faith, who is now almost six.
“It was an inspiring thing to be part of as a teenager,” Sister Kathryn Teresa said. “I thought, ‘My parents are really saving these kids. If my parents can do something so big, what am I called to? I wonder what God has in store for me?’”
Her faith and her love of children led Sister Kathryn Teresa to study elementary education at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, DC. There, she became involved in campus ministry and started going to Adoration every week. “That time in prayer made me evaluate my life,” she said. “I realized I wanted more than what I had.”
She joined the campus discernment group, and later met a sister from the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). On a service trip to the Sisters’ mission in Peru during her junior year, Sister Kathryn Teresa “fell in love,” she said. “I came back on Cloud Nine. I wanted to be a sister.”
But she ultimately set those thoughts aside. Sister Kathryn Teresa finished her senior year at CUA and went on to teach at St. Stanislaus School in Massachusetts while earning her master’s degree in special education from Providence College in Rhode Island.
After graduation, Sister Kathryn Teresa moved to Virginia, where she taught at St. Joseph’s School. But she found her faith life had “fizzled out” in the face of “real world” obligations, she said. It was her work with the youth group at her parish that relit the spark.
“I’d be on retreat with the kids, talking about our faith, and it rekindled my authentic faith life,” Sister Kathryn Teresa said. “I hadn’t gone to Adoration in a few years, but I started going again, and it made that desire for the religious life flare up.”
She spent the next year and a half rebuilding her prayer life and reconnecting with the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. About 850 sisters belong to the Immaculata branch of the congregation; they staff schools in several U.S. states and in Peru and serve the Church in other ministries throughout the country. She participated in a few retreats with the sisters and “the more I came, the more I realized this is what my life is about,” she said.
When Sister Kathryn Teresa announced her plans to enter the IHM congregation based in Immaculata, Pa., “no one was surprised, no one freaked out,” she laughed. “On the one hand it was kind of frustrating, because here I was making this huge decision and no one was surprised! But at the same time, it was affirming. I received a ton of support.”
Her mother Mary said she cried when her daughter first told her she wanted to be a nun. “I was not surprised, because she’s always been such a good kid,” she said. “In college, her friends called her their ‘moral compass.’ And she’s such a wonderful teacher, I’m glad she found a teaching order.”
Mary also said she’d long prayed for her children’s spouses. “My son and my daughter have already found wonderful spouses — and now so has Katie.”
Sister Kathryn Teresa entered the congregation as a postulant in September of 2012. For a year, her days were tightly scheduled around prayer, theological studies and ministry experience. It was a challenge to realize that her time was no longer her own, Sister Kathryn Teresa said, but she came to cherish the time set aside specifically for prayer.
She also came to love the 50 other women in the Motherhouse with her. “The first thing that attracted me about the IHMs was that they are an order dedicated to education [as a ministry]. Another part of their charism is hospitality and joyful service, and they truly live it,” Sister Kathryn Teresa said. “These sisters are so down-to-earth. They are funny and sarcastic and very real. I felt like I could be myself with them.”
Though she encountered brief moments of exhaustion and doubt over the year, they never lingered, she said. “Every Friday, we go to clean at the retirement home for our sisters who are sick or elderly. We have conversations with the sisters, and time after time they’ve told me, ‘I’ve never regretted my decision.’ Hearing that from women who are 85, 90, who are so radiant and happy with their lives, it’s so encouraging. So even when you might have a hard day, you hear their voices.”
On Aug. 13, Sister Kathryn Teresa was received into the IHM congregation as a novice during a private ceremony. It was the first time she wore her white habit.
“Looking at myself in the mirror, I thought, ‘This is crazy! This is really happening!’” she laughed. “I’d had all these conceptions about what a sister is, how they must have it all figured out, how they’re perfect. But I don’t have it all figured out. I guess that’s part of it — showing people that I’m human, too, that I’m on the same journey as them. We’re all just doing the best we can to be disciples.”
Kneeling before General Superior Sister Lorraine McGrew, IHM, Sister Kathryn Teresa also received her religious name. “In our order, we have the option of changing our name. I wanted to add Teresa, [in honor of] my mom’s little sister, who had cerebral palsy and only lived until she was four. I was born on her birthday and I’ve always felt a connection to her and a call to work with people with special needs,” Sister Kathryn Teresa explained. “I asked to have Teresa added to my name, but I didn’t know if I’d get it. So when I heard it announced at the ceremony, I was so, so happy.”
This year, Sister Kathryn Teresa will take a step back from apostolic work and focus on her prayer life and formation as a sister. She will spend two years as a novice, then profess temporary vows each year for five years, followed by profession of her perpetual vows.
Sister Kathryn Teresa advises anyone discerning a vocation to find someone to talk to. “Talk to sisters, talk to a priest, find others who are discerning. And talk to your parents! Some people keep it a secret because they’re nervous, but don’t be afraid,” she said. “Most important, pray, pray, pray. Go to Adoration. On my discernment journey, those pivotal moments were in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Spend as much time there as possible.”