Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sisters Share Murdered Nun's Service

By Yael Garcia-Torrescano LOGOS STAFF WRITER   (From the Logos, September 2017. Used with permission)

The Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word remembered a sister's life of service on the 30th anniversary of her murder Sept. 27.

Students in the Social Justice Leadership course – primarily Cardinal Community Leaders – along with others, gathered in the Chapel of the Incarnate Word for the observance titled “Reflection on the Murder of Sister Patricia Ann Kelley: Standing Against the Death Penalty.”

Kelley was raped and strangled to death, according to news accounts of her murder in St. Louis.  She was a graduate of Incarnate Word Academy in Bel Nor, MO, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religion from then- Incarnate Word College (now the University).

Kelley’s legacy included being regarded as an exemplary teacher, service as the Sisters’ vocation counselor, time spent as a probation officer, and a volunteer organizer.

In 1981, Kelley secured a grant to start the Dollar-Help and Energycare project in St. Louis which aimed to help low- and fixed-income elderly who couldn’t afford to pay their utility bills. When funding was ended after two years, she worked to make Energycare an independent, nonprofit organization, serving as its executive director.

Between 1983 and 1987, Laclede Gas helped Kelley raise $1.5 million for the Dollar- Help project. In 1984, Kelley was the first woman to be awarded with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s Humanitarian Award, and later even called the “Mother Theresa of St. Louis.”

Kelley was found murdered in her Energycare office on Sept. 28, 1987. Nearly a year went by before St. Louis charged Jerry Lee Little, who was later convicted in Kelley’s death as well as three other women.

Sister Martha Ann Kirk, a longtime religious studies professor at UIW, shared memories of Kelley when both were students here, living on campus.

“I loved to be around her because she was fun,” Kirk said. “She would make you laugh! She would just dive-in into doing things, and you would have a good time with her.”

On a typical Sunday afternoon, Kirk recalled Kelley would ask, “ ‘Who wants to come with me?’ We need to be taking some joy to the soldiers that are in the hospital (referring to Brooke Army Medical Center).”

Kelley’s brother wanted Little executed but the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word wanted imprisonment as the maximum penalty because he was dangerous. Not only did the order believe Little’s family had suffered enough but they believed the death penalty wasn’t going to make things better.

The late Sister Dorothy “Dot” Ettling, then-congregational leader of the order, said: “Such violence will never be conquered by a retaliation of violence in our own hearts.”

Kirk, a member of the Incarnate Word Sisters Justice and Peace Committee, said she remembers lobbying against the death penalty, because the sisters believed in the dignity of the human life.  “Our faith teaches us that every human life has dignity and the death penalty disrespects the dignity of creatures that God has made,” Kirk said. 

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