Remembering Sister Kathleen (Eleanor) McNamara, OSB


Sister Kathleen McNamara, OSB entered the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago in 1943 and gave a lifetime of prayer and service. She continued to distribute mail at the monastery (as pictured) until just a few weeks before her death. Sister Kathleen passed peacefully into the arms of God on June 16, 2017. To learn more about her life of loving service, enjoy the following biography written by Sister Benita Coffey, OSB.

Eleanor Elizabeth McNamara and her twin brother, James, were born in Salida, Colorado, August 18, 1924, the children of William James and Eleanor Walsh McNamara. They were baptized in Saint Joseph Church on September 7, 1924. Attending the parish grade school there, they were taught by Benedictine Sisters of Chicago from St. Scholastica Monastery.

Their secondary education was at Salida High School and following graduation Eleanor attended Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas for one year. On September 15, 1943, she entered the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago.

She was received as a novice on July 11, 1944 and given the name Sister Kathleen. She professed triennial vows on August 16, 1945 and on that same date in 1948 she pronounced her perpetual vows.

She earned her Bachelor of Music degree at the American Conservatory of Music. Classes in Education at De Paul University in Chicago provided the necessary requirements for certification for her career as a music teacher. Later she studied Liturgical Music at Saint Joseph College in Rensselaer, Indiana.

(Sister Kathleen, right, behind a piano in the 1950s)

Sister Kathleen’s first assignment of her teaching career was at St. Hilary Parish in Chicago. After three years of instructing children in the middle grades and teaching music after school hours, she became a full-time music teacher on the secondary level. For two years, she served in the music department at St. Scholastica High School in Chicago. The fall of 1950 was her first opportunity as a Benedictine to return to live in her home state, Colorado, where she would again be close to her family. Her role there was to be the piano teacher at St. Scholastica Academy in Cañon City, Colorado. The Academy was her own mother’s alma mater with which she had been familiar as a child. Except for another four years back at the high school in Chicago, from 1954 to 1958, the Academy in Cañon City would be her place of residence for the remainder of her active ministerial life.

For the first thirteen years, she was the piano teacher. Among other responsibilities as a staff member, she served as Dormitory Prefect, helping to make the Academy a “home away from home” for boarders. In 1971 Sister Kathleen was asked to make a major career change when she became the Director of Admissions at the Academy. In addition to her administrative tasks, she continued as dorm prefect and directed both school and community liturgies.

During some of her early summers in Colorado, she was counselor at Camp San Benito, which was operated by the school. In 1976 however, she began coordinating summer retreats for women and continued this ministry for the next 25 years. In the mid-1980’s Sister Kathleen was appointed assistant to the principal and began teaching piano again. After having a year’s sabbatical at St. Stephen’s Priory in Dover, Massachusetts, she was asked in 1989 to handle the Elderhostel programs which had now become part of the Academy’s innovative summer ministries.

Benedictine community life always remained the source of Sister Kathleen’s growth as a woman of the Church. Over the years, she served the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago with loyal enthusiasm. She held the positions of Public Relations Coordinator in the West and Personnel Board member. When on the Community Council, she served as its secretary. In 1988 she was appointed to the Formation Team, and eight years later became the Formation Director. True to the spirit of Benedict, each individual member is recognized for one’s zeal for the work of God as well as for the God-given talents and abilities of each. Over the years, Sister Kathleen’s musical gifts were nurtured but it is clear that her abilities for organization and administration were recognized and developed in ways she had likely not anticipated.

(Sister Kathleen, standing on right, loved serving in her home state of Colorado)

Perhaps not so noticeable was her flare for writing and her command of the written and spoken word. This added to the effectiveness of her communications with varied publics. A delightful example of excellence in writing was a play that she wrote and directed about the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago. This was produced by the Sisters during one Women’s Week before an appreciative audience of faculty, lay staff and students at St. Scholastica Academy in Cañon City.

Sister Kathleen’s genuine love of God’s people was evidenced in her desire over the years to serve the poor. She considered a major event of her life to have been the six weeks she spent doing missionary work in Haiti with her twin brother, Dr. James McNamara. Later she learned of the work of Sister Nancy Crafton, SC at Los Pobres in Avondale, Colorado, and for years, including the Christmas season of 2016, Sister Kathleen prepared gifts and toys for Sister Nancy to distribute. At the Testimonial Dinner in 2014, Sister Kathleen received the Spirit of St. Scholastica Award, a tribute to a life of reverent and joyful service under the Rule of St. Benedict.

The virtue of hospitality, so valued in the Benedictine tradition, will likely be one of the traits remembered by those who knew Sister Kathleen. She truly knew how to make people comfortable. She welcomed them by giving time and attention to each, always with a winning smile, and ever so often, when appropriate, of course, a charming laugh.

Sister Kathleen died peacefully in St. Joseph Court of St. Scholastica Monastery on June 16, 2017. The Mass of Resurrection was on Monday, June 26, and she is buried in All Saints Cemetery, in Des Plaines, Illinois. She was preceded in death by all of her siblings and is mourned by her relatives and her Benedictine Sisters.

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