SALT LAKE CITY — Holy Cross Sister Karla McKinnie will be honored at a Mass celebrating her Golden Jubilee at St. John the Baptist Parish in Draper May 31.
After various ministries at schools in Utah, Sr. Karla became the director of the Special Needs Program in the Diocese of Salt Lake City in 2012.
"In the last 50 years, I have noted God’s direction of my life from childhood to the present," said Sr. Karla. "I have learned that being open to the promptings of the Spirit has made my life one of peace and happiness. I have lived with many wonderful women who have been witnesses of faith and fidelity, and I have worked alongside many dedicated teachers to provide education to our young people."
Sr. Karla has always felt that education is a worthy ministry because it provides the avenue for people to grow in wisdom and knowledge, she said.
When Sr. Karla was 6 years old, her parents became teachers on the Fort Belnap Indian Reservation in Montana, where she lived and went to school for six years. In 1956 her life changed when her family moved to Redwood City, Calif., where she attended a public school with 1,000 other seventh- and eighth-graders.
"I was in shock going from a two-room school house, where my parents had been my teachers," she said. "Providently, I went to the new Holy Cross High School in Mountain View, Calif., and was in the first graduating class of 1961. I was attracted to the Holy Cross Sisters’ spirit of working happily together, establishing a school with hard work and dedication. Several of my classmates had decided to become sisters, but I did not feel the call until the last week of school. I equate it to St. Paul’s conversion one minute I was preparing for graduation, the next I could not eat or sleep, thinking of the possibility of a religious vocation. I expected the sisters to discourage me, but they welcomed my decision. I came from a strong Catholic family, but it shocked my parents."
Sr. Karla boarded the train for Notre Dame, Ind., with nine of her classmates to become a postulate. She graduated from St. Mary’s College in 1966. Her first assignment was Saint Agnes School in Los Angeles, Calif.
"I was apprehensive facing 50 first-graders, but received a lot of support from the sisters," she said. "I always wanted to be a teacher like my parents."
Sr. Karla’s initial formation began pre-Vatican II, but by the time she made final vows in 1969, much had changed. "We entered with 76, and 14 of us made final vows," she said. "I had to pray, discern and trust taking that huge step when so many were choosing other paths. Fifty years later I am still at peace and feel called to live the life of a sister."
Sr. Karla taught kindergarten and first grade in inner-city schools in California and Washington from 1975 to 1984, during which she obtained a master’s degree in Private School Administration. From 1984 to 1988, she was principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School in Salt Lake City.
"It was a cultural shock from wet Washington to dry Utah, but I grew to love this area quickly," she said.
From 1988 to 1998 Sr. Karla was principal of Saint Agnes School in Los Angeles, which was financially poor and 97 percent Hispanic. She then returned to Utah to open Saint John the Baptist School, where she stayed until 2006. Following a one-year sabbatical, she agreed to become principal of Saint Andrew School in Riverton. She accepted her current position after the 2012 school year. She is grateful to the Skaggs family for building two new schools and providing the endowment to help with tuition assistance in her most recent ministry, she said.
"Religious life is a different call than marriage or being single," said Sr. Karla, "so every day I say ‘yes’ because each day is a journey to God, to grow closer to God."