60 Years: Kathryn Rutan, SP

(Sister Jean Patrice)

Ten years ago, Montana native Sister Kathryn Rutan was leading the religious community’s international congregation from its headquarters in Montreal as the first non-French-speaking general superior.

This Jubilee, her 60th, finds her back in El Salvador, where she first arrived in 1995 with four other sisters to establish a mission in the civil war ravaged Central American country.

“Kitsy” returned to El Salvador last fall to help reinvigorate a ministry to provide scholarships and life skills to young people from campesino families in the region of Jiquilisco, which is made up of many small communities including La Papalota and Angela Montano.

El Salvador is literally a world away from Great Falls, Mont., where she was one of six children and was educated in Catholic schools. Inspired by the sisters’ works and their example, after graduation in 1954 she joined the Sisters of Providence as a postulant. “They were crusaders; they were prophetic in their time and continue to be, for me,” she has said. “We take our place at the margins to be a voice for people who are voiceless.”

Her course has not waivered

She professed first vows in 1956 at Mount St. Vincent in Seattle. Her zeal for living and working with the poor and disadvantaged has been at the heart of every ministry, including 15 years of teaching at the elementary, secondary and college levels, 13 years in provincial administration and leadership, and four years as superior at Mount St. Joseph in Spokane. She has worked with low-income Montana residents, served as an international observer of the return to democracy in Haiti, helped install stoves in homes in Guatemala with Providence Health International, and served as interim superior of the local Providence community in Winooski, Vt.

Despite the shakeups of the turbulent 1960s, rocked by Vatican II, the civil rights and anti-war movements, her course has not waivered. She entered the religious community to work for peace and justice and to help the poor and the powerless. “The community has always provided me the means to do that,” she said. “Never in any way has it limited my ability and desire to serve in the way that I felt called.”

Embraces the people of El Salvador

Today she is embracing Salvadoran families, encouraging their youth to apply to the Providence Scholarship Program, and offering prayer and faith-sharing opportunities to adults. Her communication skills are better now, thanks to 10 years operating in the congregation’s three official languages – French, English and Spanish.

But the Salvadoran people have always understood her heart and her compassion, if not her words.

As Kitsy enters into the province’s Jubilee celebration, her heart will be full of gratitude for all that has been and all that will be.