by Jeff Means, Ph.D., M.Div., licensed psychologist at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center
As a pioneer and educator, Kathy brought new energy and vision to the Center. Over the many years we worked together, I came to respect Kathy’s centered sense of purpose, the compassion with which she listened deeply and intently to the longing spirits of those she served, and her strong and resilient character that would aid her in reinventing herself several times throughout her career. Kathy made these traits visible through her practice with individuals who sought her out, and they were expressed more widely throughout the Center as she took on the roles as a persuasive and tenacious advocate, relentless recruiter and perceptive translator.
I first met Kathy when Ellery Duke invited me to join him for a breakfast meeting with her at the Village Inn on University Avenue in West Des Moines. As I recall, Kathy had recently returned from a retreat with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie – one of her sacred places, and a place to which she would periodically return for strength and renewal. The purpose of the meeting was to learn more about Kathy and what her skills might bring to the Center’s work and mission.
In her vocational life, Kathy transitioned from her work as a Registered Nurse and counselor to a focus on wholistic healing, with training in Healing Touch and Spiritual Direction. Ellery and I came away from that meeting with a strong belief that Kathy’s background and perspective could benefit clients and enrich the clinical consultations among Center staff.
For a long time, Kathy faithfully attended case consultation and intake staffing groups advocating for a wholistic view of clients and their presenting problems. She stretched our thinking beyond more familiar psychological formulations. Her knowledge of energy work and the leading of the Spirit perplexed those of us steeped in psychological theory and traditional theology. Despite her skills at teaching and persuading, she faced the resistance of our implicit theoretical biases and the difficulty of opening our minds to how our clients could benefit from all she knew. Over time, the lack of counselor referrals from colleagues, and the lack of a felt sense of being valued as an equal part of the team, wore her down.
As pioneers do, when one path is blocked, they look for another route. Kathy took initiative as a relentless recruiter and mobilized her own referral base through the personal, professional, and religious networks she created. As clients came to see her at the Center, she helped them reflect on their human condition through her work as a Healing Touch practitioner and Spiritual Director. Kathy built a successful practice at the Center as her reputation blossomed as a respected teacher and wholistic practitioner. With her finely honed skills, Kathy provided comfort to those suffering from chronic pain and various health conditions, those struggling with life transitions, and those seeking a deeper spiritual life.
Through hard work, and her expanding knowledge and deepening commitment to Contemplative Spirituality, Kathy created the foundation for what, to my mind, was her major contribution to the Center’s life and mission – the development and subsequent institutionalization of PrairieFire. In collaboration with Kay Riley, Kathy brought the knowledge base and personal, contemplative practice experience needed to realize the vision of a non-therapeutic, group approach to rich personal growth and deepening spiritual development. She did this through the contributions she made to curricular content and teaching of the month-to-month didactic and experiential offerings of the program, her laser focus on the importance of the spiritual and personal growth of participants, her skill at building safe and sustaining communities of deep listening and mutual respect, and her persistent marketing and organizational skills.
Drawing upon the networks she had developed in the church and contemplative communities in Des Moines, Kathy’s relentless efforts at recruiting participants to the early offerings of PrairieFire were crucial to its wide success. Her skill at translating for folks the deeper spiritual longings that lay beneath many life difficulties and disappointments captured the imagination of people and made PrairieFire the amazing success it has achieved. Through sheer force of will, and her deeply held commitment to the growth and development of the spiritual lives of people, Kathy breathed life into a whole new dimension of the Center’s work. Because of the gift of herself, PrairieFire’s influence has grown well beyond the walls of the Center. Graduates now engage their respective communities in new ways, and an entirely new community of Spiritual Directors practice throughout the State.
As is often the case when Spirit takes the lead, none of us present in that first meeting at the Village Inn could have glimpsed what would actually lay ahead for Kathy’s work with us, or the many ups and downs her journey with us would take. But the pioneering contributions she made are now etched into the soul of the Center, and they will continue to enrich many souls for a long time.