Followers of St. Francis

Sister Kathy Warren, OSF

Follower of St. Francis: Sister Kathy Warren

When Sister Kathy Warren, OSF, was a high school senior in Rochester, Minnesota, a priest asked her class if anyone was considering a religious vocation. Few hands went up, but the question stirred something in young Kathy’s heart. 

A Franciscan spirit and the changes of the Second Vatican Council would lead her on a remarkable journey. 

Becoming a Franciscan 

Sister Kathy was educated by the Franciscan Sisters of Rochester, Minnesota. Her teachers inspired her with their good humor, deep faith, and ability to impart knowledge. The more Sister Kathy looked into religious life as a vocation, the more she felt called to it. In 1968, she joined and never looked back. 

“I can’t say that I ever regretted not being married or having children, because my life has been so rich and so full, and I’ve got so many wonderful people in my life,” she says. “I have the deepest gratitude for my Franciscan vocation because everything has happened because of it. I think part of the Franciscan way of life is to really know that our primary responsibility in life is to listen to the invitation of God constantly.” 

The Franciscan Sisters of Rochester were founded in 1877 and were initially a teaching order. They branched into the health-care field and had a substantial hand in the founding of the Mayo Clinic. For most of their history, teaching and health care were the primary focus. 

When Sister Kathy entered the fold, the Church was just three years past the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, which, among other things, called for renewal of religious life. In a previous decade, she’d have become a teacher or a nurse, but the council opened doors to a variety of other ministries. Sister Kathy says it was an exciting time, with sisters taking on roles in parish ministry, justice and peace, social work, and more. 

Early Ministry in a Changing Church 

After final vows, Sister Kathy was assigned to an eight-parish group in southwestern Minnesota. Five priests and four sisters shared the ministerial load. Sister Kathy was responsible for teaching the parish catechists, who then taught the youth. The landscape of Church life, particularly for religious sisters, was changing. 

“It was a wonderful time of lay and religious and clergy sharing the ministry of the Church,” she says. “That gave me a taste of what [Vatican II] was holding out to the Church [as a whole] in terms of expanding leadership in the Church and being much more inclusive.” 

She also worked in the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota. Bishop Raymond Lucker, recognizing the priest shortage, was an early adopter of appointing non-ordained religious to parish management. Several sisters were given roles as parish administrators, working with priests as sacramental ministers. 

Sister Kathy sees the efforts of the Franciscan Sisters of Rochester and those of other Franciscan communities as leading forces in promoting the renewal of the Catholic Church through the Second Vatican Council. Renewal, after all, is a Franciscan calling card. 

“It goes right back to our founder,” Sister Kathy says. “When St. Francis of Assisi was going through his long conversion process, he was trying to figure out what God was inviting him to. . . . It started with Francis, and Franciscans really have been on the vanguard, throughout the history of the Church, of Church renewal in rebuilding.” 

Sister Kathy also served as the sisters’ vocations minister and novice minister. She used that time to dig deeper into Franciscan spirituality. Her next role took her to New Jersey on the team of Renew International, a Catholic organization dedicated to connecting personal faith and parish life. Her work affected faith development in the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, India, and Ireland, where Renew International programs were put into practice. 

Fortuitous Timing

In 2000, Sister Kathy began studying for a master’s degree in Franciscan studies at St. Bonaventure University’s Franciscan Institute. Her studies included a focus on interreligious interaction through a Franciscan lens. The next year 9/11 happened, and the topic of interreligious dialogue, particularly between Christians and Muslims, came to the forefront. Sister Kathy turned her study into a book, Daring to Cross the Threshold: Francis of Assisi Encounters Sultan Malek Al-Kamil (Wipf and Stock). 

The story of St. Francis and the sultan has captivated imaginations for centuries, and it remains for Sister Kathy a source of inspiration and an example of how to share the faith. 

“St. Francis wanted to share the beauty of the Gospel and the message of the Gospel with the sultan,” she says. “But I think one of the unique features of Francis is that he realized it was not his job to convert the sultan. Conversion comes from God. I believe that among the Muslim people, Francis truly found the presence of God there in their prayer life, in their treatment of each other, and certainly in their treatment and welcome of him into the camp.” 

Today, Sister Kathy is the director of the Office of Women Religious for the Diocese of San Diego. In this position, Sister Kathy serves as liaison between her bishop, Cardinal Robert McElroy, and the 175 women religious from about 30 different congregations in the diocese. She also has a separate role leading pilgrimages to Assisi and Rome. 

Sister Kathy gathers the women religious several times a year for enrichment, reflection, and to address current events requiring their response. In recent years, the topic of immigration and border concerns has been discussed as well as Church concerns such as the Synod of Bishops on synodality. 

“I’ve been here in San Diego for seven wonderful years,” she says. “I find this to be a most dynamic, exciting, and grace-filled ministry.” 

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