PERRYVILLE, Md. — Something about the Eastern Shore brought out a previously hidden religious vocation in Kathy Flood.
The New York native heard a mid-life call to become a Franciscan sister after a job transfer sent her to Maryland and into the welcoming community of Good Shepherd Parish in Perryville.
Born and raised in New York City, Flood, 50, was taught by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth at St. Adalbert’s School in Elmhurst, Queens, and by the Dominicans at St. Vincent Ferrer High School in Manhattan.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from the New York Institute of Technology, where she majored in computer science and minored in electrical engineering. She worked in the defense and commercial sectors, including as an information security engineer for a defense contractor attached to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.
In 2007, when the military announced that Fort Monmouth would be closed, Flood’s company planned to transfer its operations to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
She says she was “starting from scratch” as she settled away from her parents in New Jersey and her brother’s family in Virginia.
Moving to Maryland “removed a lot of the comforts, the things that were already established,” Flood said.
One of the first things she did was look for a parish near Aberdeen, in both Cecil and Harford counties. She found a connection at Good Shepherd because of the age span of parishioners. “They had a good mix, age-wise. I’d look at other parishes and I was looking pretty young as compared to the rest of the congregation.”
Flood was also impressed with Father Jay McKee at Good Shepherd, who she thought was “a good pastor, a good homilist. He seemed pretty down to earth, an approachable kind of guy.”
After joining, Flood wanted to meet parishioners, so she volunteered at the annual strawberry festival. She got more involved in the parish gradually. After a chance encounter with Father McKee one day, she got involved with the parish’s Vision Committee. Flood’s involvement soon expanded to almost every aspect of parish life, including high school catechist, confirmation catechist, lector, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, sacristan, work on the pastoral council, the finance committee, the liturgy committee, the school advisory committee, the technology committee, the youth ministry team, the Christmas bazaar, and most other parish or school fundraisers, including photography.
“I even survived bingo,” she said.
‘A passive Catholic’
Before her new life in Perryville, a religious vocation “had never crossed my mind. I considered myself a passive Catholic; just went to church, you know, nothing particular stirring,” she said. While her deep involvement with Good Shepherd may have sparked Flood’s religious vocation, “It’s not something I aspired to in childhood or anything like that,” she said. Although she had 12 years of Catholic education, she says that the invitation to religious life had never really been extended to her.
“Looking back on it, would I have pursued it or accepted it or not? Who knows? In some ways, by the end of high school, I just wanted out,” she said.
As her activities at Good Shepherd grew, she decided to develop her spiritual life as well.
It was “kind of a peeling the onion and finding out all the layers involved, just little by little. I started getting more involved in the business side of the parish. There were still other things that were kind of stirring in me, a desire to increase my prayerfulness,” Flood said.
“There was something churning in there” spiritually, she said. “I just kind of let it go for a while.”
She found a “waking point” during one of Father McKee’s homilies.
“Father mentioned Rick Warren’s book ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ and I started checking out the book and it then provoked a lot of questions within me. ‘What am I doing here? What is it all about?’”
She approached Father McKee for spiritual guidance. During a conversation with him about other vocations in the parish “he said, ‘I think you have one, too.’ I was like, ‘oh, I didn’t want to talk about that,’” she recalled.
Father McKee says he felt that way because he found her to be “a very prayerful presence in the parish. By becoming more and more active and by accepting my invitation to become a leader within the parish, I thought that she had some air about her that I felt she was drawn to religious life.”
She’ll be missed at the parish after she enters the novitiate, Father McKee said. “There’ll be a sincere gap, a hole in the parish when she leaves.”
Another sign that a religious vocation might be her calling came from a connection to her past: A newsletter from the Dominican order from her high school featured a story on two women in their 50s who were professing their vows. She said she thought, “Wow, they do that for more mature women?”
Father McKee put Flood in contact with Sister Margaret Cunniffe, the delegate for religious for the Diocese of Wilmington. She was Flood’s first encounter with the Sisters of St. Francis. Sister Cunniffe also put her in touch with other congregations within the diocese so Flood could get a good idea of what options were available to her.
Flood says at that point, her impression of sisters changed. Her previous opinion had been based only on the sisters she had encountered in school, who were “not exactly orthodox” in the wake of Vatican II, but were still wearing habits. Up to that point, “that was pretty much my notion of the sisters.”
She chose to enter the Franciscans because, “through all the retreats, congregation gatherings, and community dinners, I have felt a sense of peaceful, genuine warmth from all of them. I have been drawn to their deep-rooted joy, zeal, and passion for their God, patron, foundress, mission, community, ministries, and those to whom they minister.”
As she was more drawn into the discernment of her vocation, Flood found herself being torn between her job at the Proving Ground and her work at the parish.
It was “kind of flip the switch and go from the day job to the night job. It was very difficult, and more and more as I delved deeper into this discernment, it took more and more caring to go from one to the other.”
Then she believes another sign came to guide her. As part of the school advisory committee, Flood learned that the technology teacher at the school would not be returning next year.
She said she thought, “‘Bingo!’ It had to be divinely inspired.”
With her background in technology, she applied and got the job.
“They said, ‘oh yeah, you’ll probably be teaching religion also,’ and I said, ‘I can handle that after being a catechist for a few years.’”
The job eventually included teaching U.S. history and pre-algebra, along with serving as school liturgy coordinator and faculty adviser for the National Junior Honor Society.
Flood takes the next step on her vocation journey when she participates in the rite of novitiate at the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in Aston on Sept. 9.
As part of her candidacy (what some orders call postulancy), she’s now living at St. Stephen’s Convent in Bradshaw, Md. She’ll move to the Franciscan novitiate house at the end of August; the novitiate period should take about two years.
The next step after that is temporary profession, and anywhere from three to five years after that, she will be taking her final vows.
As for what her work as a Franciscan might be, Flood says she’s most interested in parish ministry, which would bring her full circle to what fostered her vocation.
“So at this point I would say that’s where the spirit’s leading. We’ll see.”