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New convent sets down its roots in Marshall

By Terri Richardson trichardson@marshallnewsmessenger.com
Dec. 11, 2010 at 4:58 p.m.

Sister Susan Catherine\u002c formerly Sue Kennedy\u002c who served as the county judge of Nacogdoches County\u002c is the foundress of the Daughters of Divine Hope to  provide a religious community for women over the age of 35 to enter a traditional consecrated life\u002e The Daughters will be located in Marshall\u002e Sister Susan Catherine is seen after taking her vows with Bishop çlvaro Corrado and a unidentified member of the Diocese of Tyler\u002e

A new religious community has formed in the heart of Marshall as a once empty convent has become the home of the Daughters of Divine Hope - a unique community of nuns who have decided to take holy vows later in life.

"The Daughters of Divine Hope is being founded in large part to provide an opportunity for women over the age of 35 to enter into traditional consecrated life," said the Rev. Gavin N. Vaverek, JCL, chaplain to the daughters. "Most religious communities accept younger women, but we live in a world now in which the life expectancy is much greater than in the past."

The Daughters of Divine Hope was established in a decree Nov. 21 at the feast of Christ the King as Bishop Álvaro Corrado appointed the former Sue Kennedy, now Sister Susan Catherine, as director of the association, according to Catholic East Texas, a publication of the Diocese of Tyler.

Sister Susan Catherine professed private vows that same day and received the habit of the Daughters of Divine Hope for which she is also the foundress.

In her former life, the Ms. Kennedy established herself as a pioneer among women. She was the first woman county judge of Nacogdoches County and an accomplished business leader with experience in banking, telecommunications and hospital services, according to a biography.

"There are more women who are widowed but still very productive in their lives. These women have many gifts and skills to offer in God's service," Vaverek said. "Sister Susan Catherine, as the first Daughter of Divine Hope, is such a woman. Even in the few months she has been discerning the establishment of the Daughters, she has had a number of women contact her with interest in being part of such a group."

Following her vows, Sister Susan Catherine entered a year-long novitiate, a time for prayer and not for public dealings. In accordance with this, she was not allowed to give interviews to the media, and Vaverek spoke for her and the community. She will be the order's only member until her novitiate is complete, when new members will be accepted.

"We're content to take it slowly, to make sure we're following the guidance of the Holy Spirit," she said in a previous interview. "God has brought us this far, and we place all our hope and faith in him. We want to be sure this isn't our doing, but his."

For this year, she will be housed at the St. Joseph Parish convent next to St. Joseph Catholic School on South Garret Street in Marshall. Father Denzil Vithanage helped coordinate facilitating the Daughters' needs, Vaverek said.

"The convent exists in Marshall due to the generosity of the people of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Marshall," said Vaverek. "About six months ago it became necessary to find a place for the Daughters of Divine Hope to take people to welcome Sue Kennedy to Marshall. Thanks to their generosity, the Daughters of Divine Hope have a real convent as they begin their founding stages."

Outside the St. Joseph Convent, deep green ivy beds encircle oak trees, still wearing their softer-green foliage. Religious statuary of saints and a sign inviting the public to prayer in the chapel mark the building as one of higher purpose.

Until about 10 years ago, its nine rooms, parlor, library/commons, kitchen, chapel and courtyard were inhabited by sisters who taught at the school. Once the convent was no longer a home, it became a place for classes and retreats.

"Bishop Corrada and I decided that, before I can direct anyone else through their novitiate, I should have that experience myself," she told Catholic East Texas. "It's our hope that in a year's time, we will admit several women for their novitiate, and we'll be on our way."

Sister Susan Catherine wears a deep-green habit and veil with a creme lace under-veil crossing her brow - green because it's the color of hope. Her own hope is becoming fruitful as she founds the community, a response to finding no place for older women choosing this lifestyle.

"I discovered there was not an opportunity for women over 50 to enter consecrated life," she told Catholic East Texas. "I found one community that was open to me, but it wasn't my charisma."

She is the widow of Deacon Bill Kennedy of Nacogdoches, who died in 2007, which is when she began considering consecrated life. She is a mother, grandmother and former hospital department director with a background in management as well as public service from her term as judge.

"Through my own experience of having lost my husband, I have come to a much deeper understanding of the church's teaching on hope, which is that as we live in our sorrow, we hope for the joy that comes from Christ, and that hope gives us strength," she state in the article.

She is also the founder of the Hope Leadership Alliance with a Web site at www.hopeleadershipalliance.com, where her detailed resumé can be found.

Rather than focusing on a single service like nursing or teaching, their community will use their myriad collection of unique, God-given skills and talents in the service of Christ and the community. The Daughters will be serving publicly, offering hope.

Her blog at ddhope.wordpress.com notes the dates of her journey beginning before the community was formed and includes her personal sentiments.

"Women interested in joining are from different place geographically, but they share a common desire to live in a radical way the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience," said Vaverek. "They desire to live in a community of women that will encourage and help them in growing in love of Jesus Christ and in service to God's Holy people."

Sister Susan Catherine has had 18 serious inquiries with lower age limits listed at the community's official Web site, www.daughtersofdivinehope.org, at 25 years old. Members' continued communication with friends and family also will be respected.

According to Catholic East Texas, "Establishing the Daughters of Divine Hope as a public association of the faithful subjects the community to the law of the church and places it under the oversight of Bishop Corrada. It is a preliminary step toward formal recognition by the church as a religious order."

Inquiries about the Daughters of Divine Hope or Sister Susan Catherine should be directed to the community's Web site.

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