Wednesday, June 12, 2024
Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph

Loving God and neighbor without distinction: A pontifical institute of women religious of the Roman Catholic Church

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Eulogy for Sister Jeanne McKenna

September 3, 1932 – May 8, 2024
Eulogist, Sister Marilyn Wall

Eileen Jeanne McKenna, better known to us as Sr. Jeanne, was born in Kingman, KS, to Peter and Catherine McKenna.  She was the youngest of nine children. She states that her Dad’s first profession was teaching. Her older siblings read to her and taught her important lessons. She also says, “I was their darling, so I have no memories of wondering if I belonged.”  Jeanne proudly states that her father came to the Kingman area in a covered wagon with his parents in 1880. Jean is predeceased by her parents and all eight of her siblings.  She is survived by numerous nieces and nephews.
Jeanne graduated from Loretto Heights College in Denver in 1954 and worked for United Air Lines for six years. In her words: “At age 27, I wanted to do something important with my life, so I wrote to Mother Helena asking to join my sister and other friends who were CSJ’s of Concordia.” Jeanne entered this community in 1959 and made her final profession in 1964. The two members of her band who remain are Sr. Betty Maschka and Sr. Rita Plante. Following initial formation, S.Jeanne taught at Marymount and was chairwoman of the History Department.  Of these years, Jeanne says, “The Marymount Faculty and Staff were daily inspirations…seldom, if ever, did I wake up wondering if I should reconsider my vocation.”
Following these years, S. Jeanne was invited to study for a PhD at St. Louis University.  Her Dissertation was on the life and works of an unusual Kansan from 100 years ago: Samuel N. Wood. Jeanne describes him as a political agitator whose passion was the abolition of slavery and suffrage for both women and Negroes. Both passions with which S. Jeanne could identify.
After five years, S. Jeanne returned to Marymount to teach history. She became actively engaged in many Justice issues and was given opportunities to experience ministry experiences that were not in the classroom.  Once asked by a teacher what she had learned in 21 years of Catholic education, she said, “I learned that God had gifted me with an inquiring mind, and  I was required to use it. My entire life has been an opportunity to use this gift.” 

During the years in which she taught history at Marymount, Jean was a member of the Caribbean-American Exchange Program’s study in Puerto Rico.  She was also active in letter-writing campaigns and the Peace Movement.
 Sr. Jeanne was co-chair of Democrat Bill Roy’s campaign for Senate and North Director of the Women’s Democratic Clubs from (1971-1975). She also was a member of the Federation of Women’s Democratic Clubs and Secretary of the Saline County Democratic Women’s Club.
Sr. Jeanne campaigned for Governor Carlin in 1978 and was most influential in his election. After his election, Jeanne was invited to work in the Governor’s office. Jeanne also visited China as a member of Carlin’s administrative team.
Sr. Jeanne was the Administrative Officer of the largest department in the State Treasury, working for Joan Finney from 1975-1991 and ardently worked for the election of Joan Finney as Governor of Kansas (1991-1995).
During all these years, Jeanne had a heart for people experiencing poverty, especially women and children, and worked tirelessly to alleviate their burdens. She also spent an overnight in prison with several other women to work for better conditions in the Penal system. 
In more recent years, Jeanne volunteered time at Assumption Catholic Church in Topeka and at “Let’s Help,” which she describes as a not-for-profit social service agency. She volunteered there for 15 years.  One of their outreaches, in particular, was a GED preparation program.  She helped many students study for and pass the exam.  Among her many acts of service, Jeanne read books over the phone to an  89-year-old man with poor vision. Rather than seeing that as drudgery, Jeanne said, “We’ve read some great books.”
In 2011, our community asked us to respond to some questions that would be part of our Profiles for the Website.  To the question: “What would you like to share about your spirituality,” she responded: “I pray often, but not always formally.  Lest you misunderstand, I do pray formally, but I also pray at musical events, when I drive, when I go outside, and when I stay inside. Is not this our mandate to pray always?” Last year, during the week after Christmas, we had a beautiful live concert at the Motherhouse.  I was sitting where I could see Jeanne, and I was struck by her rapt attention and delight.
In all her years, Jeanne has been remembered and treasured as a historian, a social justice advocate, and a minister to those with whom and for whom she ministered and lived.  We have known her as a wise woman who could say much in a few words and a woman with an unparalleled dry wit. 
In 1982, Jeanne submitted the “World Peace Prayer” as an editorial to the Salina Journal. I would like to close with that Prayer, and it seems to sum up her life

“Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth,
Lead me from despair to hope,
from fear to trust,
Lead me from hate to love,
from War to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our World,
Our Universe.”

After a brief hospitalization because of a broken hip, Jeanne died at our Motherhouse on the evening of May 9.
We believe that you have now fully found that peace, Jeanne.  We have loved you, and we miss you, but we thank God for the gift of you and your witness among us.