Sister Kay (Ann Catharine) McMullen (1939 – 2018)

Born in Oakland, and a graduate of Notre Dame High School, Alameda, Sister Kay entered the Notre Dame community in 1959. She taught in Notre Dame schools in Salinas, Chico, Carmel, Yuba City, Belmont, San Francisco, and in Washington State. She received her bachelor’s degree in music from College of Notre Dame, Belmont, and a Montessori diploma and Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education to be better prepared to deal with young children with neurological challenges.

In 1979 her work shifted from teaching to advocacy work on social justice and women’s issues in both Washington, DC and San Francisco, including working for the Commission on Social Justice for the San Francisco Archdiocese.

While serving on the staff at the Notre Dame House of Prayer in the 1980’s, Sr. Kay volunteered with the Monterey County AIDS Project and John XXIII HIV/AIDS Services. She helped with AIDS education and peer counseling, and frequently accompanied those who were dying. “I learned not to allow my own beliefs to get in the way of their journey,” she said.

Open to ideas and new experiences, she loved participating in Retreats and projects with the Notre Dame Associates. Assisting with the Notre Dame Archives was also a joy for her, and she brought good stories from the past to share at prayer and on the website.

Steve Starr and Kay McMullen

“Addicted to libraries” since getting her first library card and book when she was four years old, Sr. Kay became a regular patron at the Belmont library, and loved sharing good books with friends. Click on the arrow below to see her tell her story!

Srs. Louise O'Reilly and Kay McMullen participate in a march for peace and justice.

She loved traveling to speak about the Sisters' work as Mission Appeals Coordinator, a role she had for the past 20 years. She was energized by the faith and goodness of parishioners and priests in parishes near and far. Inspired by Sr. Dorothy Stang, and committed to Notre Dame’s mission in Africa and Latin America, she encouraged other Sisters to speak of this work, and assisted them with materials and ideas.

Sr. Kay was re-energized by Retreat days at the Redwoods Monastery in Whitethorn, and by her occasional writing sessions with friends at Angela Center in Santa Rosa.

Chenna Bonequi and Sr. Kay box supplies to send to the Notre Dame =Sister in Zimbabwe for distribution to families in need.

In 2009, she celebrated her 50th year as a Sister by serving for three months in South Africa and Zimbabwe, where she assisted the Notre Dame Sisters there, and grew in awareness and appreciation of the people, the struggles, the beauty of this “beloved country.”

In the past four months, the courage and grace Sr. Kay showed in dealing with glioblastoma, an especially aggressive form of cancer, was an inspiration to everyone who knew her. She, who was so gifted with words, became unable to speak or communicate in any written form. She still found ways to express her care and appreciation for others while she was at the Province Center, then at Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland. As Sr. Jon Julie Sullivan described it, she was “getting ready for the spectacular journey to the other side of the stars.”

Sr. Kay with Notre Dame Associates Chenna Bonequi and Anne Hannigan

Sr. Kay will be deeply missed by her cousins, Patricia Burke, Susan Chaconas, Cynthia Giannini, Ann Vance, and Amy and Devon Chaconas, by other family members, her many friends and her Sisters of Notre Dame.

Special thanks to Ann Comer, Health Care Coordinator for the Sisters, and to Sr. Virginia Unger, a long-time friend who accompanied Kay through the early days of unexpected silence, frequent doctors’ visits and challenging treatments.

A celebration of her life was held at 11:00 a.m. on Friday, April 13th at the Province Center in Belmont.

These days . . .
“. . . never turning back, always propelled
Into birth, into a future
bigger than I can imagine,
quicker than I thought.”

But For Now

When I die, these bones, this skin
will nourish a tree, and learn at last to be still.
Small animals and birds will find shelter in me,
and the sinking moon will rest in my arms.

Or, maybe,
this blood, this heart will become the sea
beating with surf and tides
playing with otters and dolphins and the great whales
becoming mist and clouds,
becoming rain and falling to renew Earth.

But, for now, just for today,
I will love the moon, the trees, the otters, dolphins and whales,
the mist, clouds and rain.
I will be kind to Earth and all who live on her.
for now, today.

Kay – We remember you in so many ways:

Colorful paper cranes hanging by office windows, doors and unexpected places, your hand-made reminders to pray and act for peace;

Your Friday poems. Encouraged years ago by Don Marsh, a Carmel Valley poet and friend, you began to write poetry, and would email a single poem to a wide circle of friends and family, and encourage us to try our own hand at haiku

Your wide-brimmed sunhat, and your delight in tending to Belmont’s community garden, loving to share with others your fresh vegetables, flowers and the joy of gardening.

Your laugh that could raise spirits and eyebrows.

To make a memorial contribution in Sister Kay's honor, click here.