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Sr. Katie Norris leaves DePaul to serve the homeless

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Friends, co-workers and students listen to speakers who honored Sr. Katie Norris before she left DePaul this week to serve the homeless in Macon, Ga. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Friends, co-workers and students listen to speakers who honored Sr. Katie Norris before she left DePaul this week to serve the homeless in Macon, Ga. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

Her name is recognized across campus and students struggle to find the words to describe her. Sister Katie Norris, who came to DePaul only four years ago to be the director of Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM), is leaving on a new mission this week to serve the homeless in Macon, Ga.

Norris, 68, is a Daughter of Charity, who, unlike other nuns who vow to observe poverty, chastity, and obedience, takes an additional vow of service. She came to DePaul in 2011 after serving at the St. Vincent de Paul Center in Lincoln Park for 25 years, and received the call for the new mission this March.

“It came as a big surprise,” Norris said. “When the call came about this opportunity I was just completely taken off guard. But sometimes that’s how things happen.”

“I cried,” junior Katie Ackerman said. “I remember her telling me and I was kind of in shock. I didn’t understand what she was saying when she was being missioned.”

Norris said nuns are often moved around to fill positions as they arise, such as the case with DePaul USA, the parent organization for the Daybreak homeless shelter in Macon, which needed to fill positions at their new location in Little Rock, Ark.

“I said, ‘Let me think about this and pray about it,’” Norris said. “I wasn’t really sure that I had the energy or the will for a covered-wagon experience, starting something from scratch.” Norris said she was likely chosen for her experience directing new programs at the St. Vincent de Paul Center.

Students from Catholic Campus Ministry sing an Irish blessing song as a farewell to Sr. Katie Norris, who left DePaul this week to serve the homeless in Macon, Georgia.

When CCM Assistant Director Jackie Posek found out about Norris leaving she said the office “freaked out.”

“We were pretty shaken up by it because we know it’s going to change the whole complection of our department a great deal,” Posek said. “We’re really going to miss her. We’re going to miss that pastoral presence. We’re going to miss that Vincentian authority that she has being a daughter of charity. She’s passionate about Saint Louise and the Mission of the Daughters.”

Despite hating hot weather and humidity, Norris was won over by the innovative work at Daybreak and the opportunity to serve the homeless population. At the end of the day, “this is what I signed up to do,” Norris said, “to go where the needs are.”

What she will miss however, is working with students at DePaul.

“It’s like watching those time-lapse videos of a flower budding,” Norris said. “Some of them absolutely come into their own and you can just tell they are so pleased with themselves. And you can tell they’re going to do wonderful things to contribute to our world.”

Fr. Memo Campuzano, the Chaplain and Catholic Priest at DePaul, said it was Norris who contributed something special for the students.

“I think she has been a very gentle, pastoral presence at DePaul. It’s a woman, it’s a daughter of charity, it’s a religious person, she has been such a great leader,” Campuzano said. “I think that our work needs more of that kind of leadership, the feminine leadership. It’s less competitive. It’s more compassionate. I think she was doing that in that office.”

“I guess the best thing that we can do in tribute to her is take what she taught us and keep sharing it with students since we learned so much from her,” Posek said. “She may not be here in person but she’s left us with so much to bring to students, so her impact is going to be felt for a long time.”

For senior Christina Teach, Norris was like a grandmother away from home.

“Though she is cute and almost grandmotherly, she’s one of the strongest ladies I’ve ever known,” Teach said.

Days before Norris left, she gave Teach a necklace from Italy with a small locket called the Miraculous Medal. Inside was the Virgin Mary, which Teach described as the symbol of a loving mother.

“It was special that it was the Virgin Mary and not anything else because it’s a woman. It explains the strength that could lie in being female and being a Christian woman,” Teach said. “I was humbled by the fact that she wanted to give me something that was special to her.”

Students said Norris was an inspiration.

“It’s hard to see her go, but I think just the very fact that she’s answering yes to a call that’s very hard to answer yes to is something I want to strive to,” sophomore Elise De Bie said.

For all that Norris has done for students at DePaul, they were glad that those in greater need could meet her.

The Miraculous Medal, given to senior Christina Teach by Sr. Katie Norris before leaving DePaul this week, represents the strength of women in the Catholic faith. Teach said she and Norris had a special friendship and that her presence at DePaul will be missed. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

The Miraculous Medal, given to senior Christina Teach by Sr. Katie Norris before leaving DePaul this week, represents the strength of women in the Catholic faith. Teach said she and Norris had a special friendship and that her presence at DePaul will be missed. (Megan Deppen / The DePaulia)

“I think that it’s really special that someone would still say yes and move across the country — away from everyone you know — to go direct something at the age that she is,” Teach said. “I think a lot of people would feel that they’re not capable, but she’s inspiring. She’s starting another chapter in her life. And it’s just very affirming. She’s just been very brave.”

Ackerman, who met Norris when she started working in CCM last year, said they grew close when Norris was her spiritual guide for a retreat. Ackerman said Norris played a huge role in guiding her spiritual thoughts, like where she wanted her life to go and what was most important to her.

“She’s just such a welcoming person. She has this presence,” Ackerman said. “If you need to talk to somebody you can talk to her about anything.”

“it’s great that other people will get to experience what she’s done for us,” Ackerman said.

DePaul Student Affairs is leading a search committee of faculty and staff to hire a new director of CCM, who Posek said will hopefully start working by the end of the summer. Norris said they would not hire another Daughter of Charity, and that they “weren’t looking for another St. Katie.”

But students said the replacement should be as similar to Norris as possible, having qualities like accessibility, kindness, good listening skills, and commitment.

“We’re very confident that we’ll find somebody great,” Posek said, but “in some ways trying to replace Sr Katie is a futile effort. She’ll never be replaced.”

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