Sister Kathleen Heffron, CSJ: Caring for others through rural ministry

Sister Kathleen Heffron, CSJ, executive director of Cortland/Chenango Rural Services in Cincinnatus since 1987, is doing what she likes to do best — help other people.

   “I am with people, listening to them. I initiate getting help for them and I like being able to help when and where I can,” she said.

   The Rural Services program serves people in 11 surrounding towns. Clients are assisted in obtaining food, appliances, furniture, household items, clothing, fellowship and education on nutrition and aging.  

   The program started out as an arm of Catholic Charities in 1987 and was incorporated in 2013. More than 60 volunteers devote their time and talent to Rural Services.

   “Hundreds of people use the program,” noted Sister Kathleen.

   As executive director, Sister Kathleen serves as the catalyst that coordinates all the programs and networks with agencies from Cortland and Chenango Counties. “We provide the space for agencies such as the Cooperative Extension’s Office of the Aging and the WIC [Women, Infants and Children] program,” said Sister Kathleen. “We correlate the needs with area schools, churches and the medical center.”

   Some of the programs offered by Rural Services include the Nearly New Clothing Store, the Take a Break Program, Tuesday Community Gathering, the Cincinnatus Farmer Market, the Food Sense $$$ Program For You and a food pantry. Additional programs have been set up to assist people in obtaining school supplies, clothing, food for the holidays and household items. Emergency funds are also dispersed to people in need of medical transportation, vision care, dental care, prescriptions, heat and utilities.

   Sister Kathleen was born in Locust, Gap, Pa., and grew up in Schenectady. She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet on Sept. 15, 1958, her 18th birthday, and professed her final vows on Aug. 6, 1966.

   Sister Kathleen said she fought entering the life of a religious “every inch of the way.” Finally, it was in one of her high school English classes that she realized that was what she was destined to do. “My male friend said he would wait for me but I said, ‘No, I’m supposed to do this and it’s what I’m meant to do,’” remembered Sister Kathleen.

   Sister Kathleen received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in psychology, both from The College of Saint Rose.

   Sister Kathleen served as teacher and as principal at many schools throughout New York State. In addition, she served in parish ministry at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Vestal.

   Sister Kathleen said she was drawn to her order because of the example set by the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught her in school. “I liked their wonderful spirit,” she said. “They cheered us on at the Friday night basketball games. They were young and they took an interest in us.”

   Sister Kathleen said she enjoys life as a Sister of St. Joseph. “I like having the freedom to help people out because they have family and work responsibilities,” she noted. “My source of strength is people — it’s the God in each of us — God touching God. I also like having a flexible schedule that gives me the freedom to pray when I can.”

   Sister Kathleen feels it’s important for sisters to be involved in the ministry. “Being visible in the town [Cincinnatus] and being part of the town is important,” she declared. “It’s because there’s a sense of security about us and you can trust us. Caring for others — it’s a grace that we have. We reflect like a mirror that we’re all on this journey together.”

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