On January 1, 2020, Sr. Maryellen Kane assumed the role of executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Get to know more about Sr. Maryellen who has worked with the United Farm Workers (the union originally started by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta) and co-founded houses of hospitality that have spread throughout New York City and the surrounding area. As she looks forward to bringing her community organizing skills to the U.S. Federation, read more about what brought her to this new path.

a portrait of Sr. Maryellen Kane

What ministries have you previously been involved in?

Sr. Maryellen: For the past 15 years I served as Parish Life Coordinator at the Parish of St. Mary Magdalene in Queens, New York City. Before that I served as Pastoral Associate in a number of parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn.

From 1994 to 2000 I was a member of the leadership team of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, N.Y., coordinating their office of Mission and Ministry. During this time, I served as a member of the national board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and chairperson of the New York State Conference Region 2. Additionally, I served on the Advisory Board of the N.Y. State Labor and Religion Coalition, National Advisory Board for New Ways Ministry, and the Governing Board of the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph.

Since 1982 I have had extensive practical experience and training in Community Organizing, including Industrial Areas Foundation National Training and mentoring and supervision in action and strategies. While serving on the pastoral team at St. Barbara Parish in Bushwick, Brooklyn, I was a leader in East Brooklyn Congregations. While on the staff of the Intercommunity Center for Justice and Peace – in conjunction with the Industrial Areas Foundation – I worked with local churches to develop broad-based community organizations in the South Bronx, East Harlem, and the westside of Manhattan.

In 1978, along with three other sisters, I co-founded Providence House Inc., houses of hospitality for homeless, abused, and formerly incarcerated women and their children. I lived as a core member in three different Providence Houses for 18 years.

My professional life began as a teacher in elementary schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn. I served for 4 years as an organizer with the United Farm Workers in California and Florida.

What are some of your passions?

I think the things that I have the greatest passion for come from the two great influences of my life. I was a teenager during the time of both Vatican II and the Civil Rights movement. Our religion teachers in high school used the documents of Vatican II as our textbook. The understanding of the Church as the people of God and the universal call to holiness were particularly important to me. The desire to share this vision of Church with others lead me to get a degree in pastoral ministry and to work for many years in parishes where we could make this vision a reality.

Of equal influence was the Civil Rights movement. I was very involved as a young person in local civil rights activities. When I was a sophomore in high school, two sisters from the Brentwood congregation answered the call from Dr. King and went to march in Selma, Alabama. One of those sisters was my religion teacher, Sister St. Thaddeus. When the sisters returned from Selma the students were invited into the gym to hear the sisters speak of their experience and why it was important that they went to Selma. It was on that day that I decided that I wanted to be a Sister of St. Joseph.

I think these two influences lead me to understand the passion of my life to live the love of God and neighbor without distinction.

IMG 2303How have you previously been involved in the Federation?

I have had wonderful experiences with the U.S. Federation that have enriched my religious life. In the years 1994 to 2000 – while serving on the leadership team of my congregation – I was a member of the Governing Board of the U.S. Federation. I spent two summers studying our foundations at the Bearers of the Tradition Program. Along with Sr. Dolores Clerico (Philadelphia), I gave several presentations to the Atlantic Region of the Federation. I was a mentor at one and presenter at all three cohorts of the Leaders as Leaven program. I recently served on one of the subcommittees in the organizational audit process of the Federation and at the request of Sr. Patty Johnson – the former executive director of the U.S. Federation – gave the first Together in Mission (TIM) talk for the Federation. I was also blessed to have attended two different programs at the International Center in LePuy, France.

Federation note: you can read more about the premiere of Sr. Maryellen's TIM Talk here

What made you apply for the position of executive director?

I was encouraged to apply for the position of executive director by my great love of and appreciation for our collective charism of active inclusive love. More than ever as militarism, terrorism, and racism tighten their grip on our way of life we need to support each other in the task of unconditional love.  This moment in history requires us more than ever to not just talk of, but also to realize the power that we have in our relationships. In a society fueled by the politics of difference – where some people are valued more than others, and some are not valued at all – unity and reconciliation are in great need.  I see the Federation as the vehicle through which we can join with others in the healing of a broken world and broken lives.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role as executive director?

I believe in the power of relationships and believe that the U.S. Federation’s commitment to expand its membership and widen its tent is the opportunity and challenge of this time in our history.

During my years in ministry, I have been blessed to work with people of different races, cultures, and faith traditions. All these relationships have enriched my life and helped me to look at life and situations from various perspectives. I have had extensive training and experience in community organizing, which is really the art of building public relationships. I have seen the power of these relationships bring about real change in the public arena. I bring that experience to the role of executive director. I look forward to developing new relationships here in the United States. I am also excited about continuing to expand our relationships internationally.