Catherine A. Dooley, OP
August 8, 1933 – December 1, 2015
As students, colleagues, and friends speak of the life and work of Catherine A. Dooley, OP, they recall a woman with a gentle spirit who convinced grade-school teachers and scholars alike to blend liturgy and catechesis. She is remembered too for her infectious smile and gracious presence, and for opening her home at Christmas and other holidays, inviting students and colleagues to feast and celebrate.
Catherine Agnes Dooley, OP, better known as Kate, died on December 1, 2015, at St. Dominic Villa, Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. Her life reached into many spheres and is being recalled fondly on more than one continent. She was born August 8, 1933, in Minnesota, spent 62 years as a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister, taught first graders and college students, and guided doctoral students through dissertations. She is known as a pioneer of liturgical catechesis, a field on which she wrote both pastoral and scholarly articles in periodicals that ranged from Today’s Parish to Louvain Studies.
Her friend Jim Schellman explained that her work in the grade-school classroom grounded her in the practical when she spoke to her graduate students and scholars. “She could hold the vision together in the way that few people could,” he said. “The stories that she would tell to illustrate the vision of liturgical catechesis were right out of her experience of teaching in a parish setting.”
Those stories formed the students who decades later continued to integrate into their work what Sr. Kate taught. “Kate's work in catechesis, and liturgical catechesis in particular, inspired me to delve into the field that continues to know her as a true pioneer,” said Richard McCarron, associate professor of liturgy at Catholic Theological Union. “Her ability to connect thorough scholarship and pastoral insights and to communicate them in approachable ways remains an inspiration,” continued McCarron, one of Sr. Kate’s students during her twenty-five years at The Catholic University of America (CUA).
With a background in preparing youngsters for the sacraments, Sr. Kate provided exceptional insights, “She was the first professor at CUA who truly integrated the practical, pastoral expertise with youth, adults, parishes, and higher education with academic depth and scope,” said Annette Pelletier, IHM. Pelletier, an associate professor in the Theology Department at Immaculata University, added, “Her stories of her experiences of teaching children in sacramental preparation integrated theological insight with humor and wit.”
Sr. Kate’s methods of teaching provided students with new understandings that influenced their careers and ministries. Pelletier noted that the combination of pastoral sensitivity and academic expertise contributed to her decision to become a professor and to delve into liturgical catechesis as a method to teach theology. “Liturgy was never the same after taking one of Kate Dooley’s courses!” she said.
As the director of the Catechetical Centre for the Diocese of Derry, Ireland, Rev. Paul Farren continues Sr. Kate’s work of liturgical catechesis with another generation. “She convinced me without a doubt that the liturgy is the starting point for all catechesis,” he said, adding, “Kate formed me to live the priesthood because she revealed through her teaching the power of the liturgy to teach, to form, and most importantly of all, to lead into the mystery of God’s loving relationship with us.”
Michael P. Horan, professor of theological studies and associate dean at Loyola Marymount University, saw in Sr. Kate the liturgical leader that he wished to become. “She was liturgical to her core, and so it was impossible for her to teach a class that was not informed and inspired by the genius and guiding principles of the catechumenate,” he said. He is grateful not only for the influence that she has had on faith formation but for the spirit that she left. “The Church is a better, kinder, more humorous and human church because of her.”
Perhaps, too, the Church is more connected because of her. Margaret Kelleher, OSU, who taught at CUA with Sister Kate, said, “Catherine (Kate) Dooley, OP, had a gift for gathering both people and ideas. Her home was always a place where people came together to share a meal, talk and laugh. In her academic work, Kate integrated her knowledge of liturgical/sacramental theology and catechetics to make significant contributions, especially in the area of liturgical catechesis. Her catechetical work was grounded in theology and her theology was always connected with the life of the Church.”
As Sr. Kate’s life is recounted, a woman in relationship with God and others emerges. Sr. Mary Catherine Hilkert, OP, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, said, “Kate always turned to the heart of the matter. As she once described liturgical catechesis, ‘Mystagogy is not so much about looking at the meaning of the rite as it is about the meaning of relationships... Mystagogy is a way of interpreting life in light of the mystery celebrated” (“Liturgical Catechesis: Mystagogy, Marriage, or Misnomer?” Worship 66 (1992) 386–397). She continued, “Kate delighted in initiating people-from the youngest child to her university students and colleagues, to the sisters and friends she gathered around the table-into relationships with one another and with God. She embodied the gifts of the Wisdom Woman in Proverbs 31-always inviting others to the feast that God has prepared for all of God’s beloved children, the feast she now shares in abundance.”
Both doctoral students she directed and friends told of how Sr. Kate extended herself to help others meet their goals. Rev. Michael S. Driscoll, associate professor of liturgy at Notre Dame, recalls her help when he was beginning his doctorate in Paris and she was concluding hers in Louvain. “I encountered a magnanimous person who was extremely generous with her time, her scholarship, and her very person. She gave me valuable bibliographical tips and advice and followed me along my doctoral studies.” He added, “I have huge admiration and affection for her. She will be greatly missed.”
One after another, former students and friends, recalled how Sr. Kate’s stories, laughter, and hospitality enlivened their gatherings. Her joy and fervor for the liturgy surely will continue to inspire, said Stephen S. Wilbricht, CSC, assistant professor in the Religious Studies Department at Stonehill College.
“Kate had the brightest of eyes, a quick wit, and a passion for telling stories,” he said. “Taking her to dinner was always a highlight for me, as she would tell such fun and interesting stories that would always include her hearty laugh. I have no doubt that Kate will be entertaining the angels with her smile and will be challenging them to understand anew the heavenly liturgy.”
Tribute prepared by Mary G. Fox for Pastoral Liturgy.