Tom McMahon continues his exploration of our "dysfunctional institution" with a focus on one woman, Dorothy Kjelstrom, now aged 80, who has been an inspiration to him in his local community for over 45 years. Tom sees women as this great "reserve army" the Roman Institution has failed to mobilise.
Series Navigation: Part I | Part II | Part III
There is a silent resistance to using reserves...
I remember a course I took in 1961 at a U.S. Army School concerning the use of reserve forces. The use of reserves has played a major role in success or defeat universally in every major battle in history. In the present crisis of survival the Roman Catholic Institution has untold numbers of loyal intelligent women in silent reserve yet the all male leadership refuses to acknowledge their saving power.
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As I proceed into this commentary I want to acknowledge that I shall include thoughts that have come to me just recently as I am reading Andy Greeley's latest (and last) book CHICAGO CATHOLICS AND THE STRUGGLES WITHIN THEIR CHURCH . I need presently forego much of the content intending to write a future critique of Andy's work that was completed by his staff after his tragic incapacitating accident. As usual Greeley is trustworthily, accurate, and on target. For a celibate Andy Greeley has had a fantastic appreciation of human relationships. I have a sense he inherited this from his Irish ancestors, particularly the strong and silent women of Celtic culture. Andy's sex-laced passionate novels reveal his deep understanding of what constitutes a complete human being. I first ran into Father Andrew Greeley on the military radio in 1961 as I left the Sheridan Kacern near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a mountain resort town in Bavaria, southern Germany. on my way to ski at Gestad with Monsignor J. Warren Holleran, (then spiritual director of North American College in Rome, where American seminarians were trained for future bishoprics.) Warren would eventually bring me face to face with Pope John the 23rd. From snow-bound, frozen Bavaria this priest so disgusted with Romanism was to bask in the radiant intellectual sunlight of Roncalli, Congar, and many other brilliant theologians. The little boy from 15th street was being educated in Jesus' theologies while beginning to experience the presence of Jesus on a people-parish level. I would continue to meet the female Jesus as I explored and immersed myself in Vatican Two.
I want to use one of the members of the Community of Jesus Our Brother [founded 1980] to describe how one follower of Jesus has dealt with the dysfunctional Roman Church. By telling her life story I hope to highlight one person's spiritual and earthy journey of life and her value to others. A reader of my commentaries on the dysfunctional catholic family system might discern that this writer has been heading in the direction of a healthy reform balance being dependent on our changing attitude toward women.
I account her story here as a keen example of the evolutionary spiritual growth of a lay woman born in 1932 and her understanding of the value of relationships in the modern world.
It is this woman to whom I refer in part one of this series as I wrote: "As I entrained back to San Jose from Stanford Hospital I conceived this article experiencing a peacefulness about the corporal works of mercy". Dorothy had just undergone unique surgery to heal fibulations of the heart that have plagued her for five plus years. The doctors entered the main artery, a machine probe going from groin to heart, zapping the rhythms with radio frequencies thus eliminating the extra heart beats. Dorothy described the procedure as being hit by a Mack Truck. The heavy dose of medicine as of this writing is being successful and life saving.
(Dorothy has cleared her story, giving me permission on July 10, 2012 to publish it on Catholica)
Dorothy Osterero Kjelstrom, age 80, is a native San Franciscan, born and raised Italian near Telegraph Hill and is a retired RN, having spent the last 18 years of her career as a psyche nurse in a locked mental health facility near the San Francisco Airport. Dorothy is a veteran at experiencing crisis in self and others. Her earthy spirituality has maintained her sanity and benefited many. Dorothy is a follower of Jesus with a fine sense of the value of human life; when one works and talks with Dorothy one traffics in human equality.
The documents of Vatican Two, and the desire for education with peace and harmony among all humans, were the pathways upon which I first met this thinking woman. For ten years we studied together the health of mind and body, aware of the sacredness of creation. Gentle, beautiful and attractive of spirit, face and body, Dorothy has been a model of study for me for 45 years. There is a time in her early teens, 1940's when fleeing from abuse Dorothy lived in the Greyhound bus station, sheltered and protected by female staff; emotional scars are lasting and deep and it has been my privilege to have been her mentor, as she has been mine, throughout her adult years. Dorothy always has held a positive view of life; through many set backs of illness and disappointments Dorothy has related to her God as a loving power. Like many women Dorothy is at home with a deity that offers color and beauty to her garden.
While playing hopscotch on Filbert St., Dorothy was forcibly enlisted by the Holy Family Sisters in a first communion class at St. Peter and Paul Church, North Beach, the Italian section of old San Francisco. Her parents were Italians who did not attend mass, yet Dorothy had been baptized according to the mandates of the grandmothers from Piedmonte, Italy who passed on the Catholic traditions. They spoke only Italian at home and there was no heat or hot water in the 1930's apartment. Dorothy understands well when Tom (future pastor and life-long friend of husband Clarence/Kelly and Dorothy) speaks of the lack of sound religious education. At age 7 Dorothy takes responsibility for her ailing sister, walking the 2-year-old to the Holy Family Day Home in the dark 6am hours. Eventually Dorothy drops out of school. Dorothy was 16 when she wed Mormon-born Clarence who after falsifying his baptismal certificate had entered the US Navy in 1948. Shirtless and with no head covering 17-year-old Kelly stands on the deck of an American warship and watches the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll. Kelly died 50 years later from congestive heart failure and troubled with years of Chrone's Disease. His father, learning to play the flute at age 92 died of Pneumonia.. No one in his large Mormon family ever had Chrone's. Kelly, along with Dorothy, was a pioneer and 25 year member of our home-based Community of Jesus Our Brother.
First born daughter Sharon was seriously injured in an auto accident and the future nurse begins to emerge during years of service to others and rehabilitation. Dorothy kept the family alive by working at an Ice Cream factory amidst much discrimination, herself knowing little of ethnic or social bigotry as Dorothy in grade school was one of four Caucasians in a classroom of 25 Chinese students. Dorothy learned early the equability of all human beings. At 19 Dorothy took catechetical lessons from now Monsignor John Foudy (ordained 1940) at Saint Monica's Church, San Francisco where Dorothy says "I fell in love with the historical Jesus".
She willingly as an adult joined the Roman Church. Thereafter Dorothy took lessons from then Monsignor John Scanlan (later on this great priest married) and Sister deLa Cruz, pioneers in catechetical work following Vatican Two. Before I came to Holy Spirit Parish an associate pastor had condemned her publically from the pulpit for teaching the updated version of the Moses' story in her home based CCD class. According to the aged priest no woman had the right to teach in the Catholic Church. Years before an alert group of Catholics (they had literally built together their church as community members) to whom Dorothy and Kelly belonged were betrayed by Bishop Floyd Begin of Oakland as they tried to get help for their alcoholic pastor. Floyd turned the matter over to the offending priest and the Vatican Two group was branded as traitors. The Vatican Two people of the parish actually drove 60 miles to the first public group confessions held at Transfiguration Parish, San Jose. Dorothy knew the human value of Vatican Two.
The Kjelstroms moved into Holy Spirit Parish at the same time Tom McMahon arrived in 1967. On his first Sunday Tom stood outside the church, dressed in slacks and Pendleton shirt. People passed him by looking strangely at this fellow who was greeting each family. Late two minutes after 9am starting time Tom went to the altar and proceeded to don Mass vestments; turning around Tom said "Hello, I'm Joe the garbage man and I came down to church today to worship with my fellow Christians. I said hello outside but no body had time to answer me." We were off to a great friendship and Vatican Two was the main subject of discussion for the next seven years. Dorothy and Kelly never missed Tom's mass as they were marked on the monthly calendar with a "TMC".
In 1975 the Vatican Two contingent moved to the 1898 old mission church in New Almaden. A new parish had been founded with a Vatican Two name, run by the people for the people. The church was riddled with termites and the community built foundations and retrofitted the old building according to its original interior and exterior setting, We fast became a family with outdoor mass in good weather under what we called the cathedral oak. We were family. Kelly drove the youth bus and Dorothy was chief cook at the 42 bed Soda Springs chalet that Tom owned. We lived and taught a Vatican Two church-community for five summers and winters. Dorothy and Kelly brought Tom's wife to the hospital as son Stephen was born. Tom was in Sonoma officiating at the funeral of his brother Judge Alexander McMahon. Virtually the whole community knew of son Stephen's birth on Easter Sunday of 1978. Archbishop Joseph McGucken knew of Tom's paternity and let the matter rest.
Matters changed with McGucken's retirement and death. When Tom was dismissed in 1980 for being married and father of two sons it took less than a month for a contingent of Christ Our Lord and Brother members to knock on his door and soon The Community of Jesus Our Brother was up and running. The Kjelstroms have been active members for 32 years, with Kelly dying 8 years ago. His departure was sorely felt and too many good members have died leaving us today a shadow of our once vibrant vitality.
Dorothy was not a Christian in reserve. The woman who dropped out of junior high had gone on to become with great difficulty a registered nurse at age 50. As a follower of Jesus, Dorothy heard the master's invitation to go into the world, loving and spreading the good news.
What a pity the Vatican can not see the value of such valiant women. Much of what Tom has written about lay Jesus' priests has come from being a member of a home-based Jesus' community.
Time and space are up. Let's finish this series with a final paper on women and the People of God next week.
Series Navigation: Part I | Part II | Part III
Tom McMahon, San Jose, Ca. 17Jul2012
Tom McMahon, ordained in 1954 and now married, lives a very fulfilled life in San Jose and continues to contribute voraciously to several Catholic discussion lists in the States. He has been an enthusiastic supporter and encourager of the Catholica initiative from the very beginning.
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