Sister Kathy O'Hagan
It’s a hard thing to hold in your mind, the contradictions. Notre Dame Sister Kathy O’Hagan does it all the time.
In the hollers, over the creek beds, through the patches of vegetables, she sees the beauty of the land, and its degradation. She sees people of steely independence, and people laid low with addiction. She sees wealth hauled off in coal cars, and families relegated to travel trailers. She’s seen these things everyday for 41 years.
When she first came to Appalachia, there was no school where she lived, so she and another Sister started one. It had three rooms, and in these rooms they educated the children of 150 families. When a public school at last did come, Sr. Kathy opened a food pantry, began after school programs, sponsored self-help programs for women. She started bible classes, and began a home-repair project. She hosted church groups and college students. She initiated summer camps for children – four each summer. And began 12-Step Recovery Retreats.
“I always felt called to be a missionary,” she says, “and this is what my work is about. I hear the message of Isaiah to be a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress. And I say, ‘Here I am.’”
It’s what our Sisters have always answered. They answered it fifty years ago in the cotton fields of Arizona, one hundred years ago in the immigrant neighborhoods of Chicago, one hundred seventy-five years ago when they walked the muddy banks of the Ohio, and into Cincinnati.
They answer the same today in Central America where our Sister Rebecca Trujillo works with families who are poor and who bear the additional weight of disability, and in Brazil where Sister Jo Anne Depweg witnesses to subsistence farmers deep in the Amazon.
“This is the work our foundress St. Julie asked us to take on,” says Sister Kathy.
About Big Laurel Learning Center
|Sister Kathy O'Hagan (left) with friends at Big Laurel|
2021 marked the 45th year of Big Laurel Learning Center. Since 1976, Big Laurel has cultivated a welcoming environment, living sustainably, seeking to be at one with the earth, and looking inward in order to reach outward to the broader community.
Started as a mountain school, Big Laurel continues today, offering educational outreach to local youth through overnight ecology summer camps at The Web of Life Ecology Center and through in-school environmental lessons at Kermit Pk-8.
Big Laurel also acts as a hospitality/retreat house, hosting visitors throughout the year, including high school and college student service trips, AA retreats, individual/family visits, and church groups. This past year at Big Laurel, they've been focusing on some serious repairs and improvements.