Sr. Karen Pourby’s journey to becoming a Sister of St. Francis of Philadelphia followed a somewhat circuitous route. She grew up in Binghamton, New York, where she attended public schools. During those same years, she also attended parish CCD classes. After graduating from Broome Technical Community College, she entered the Angelic Sisters of St. Paul, an Italian congregation. She went through the typical formation program—even spending her canonical year of novitiate and the year prior to final profession in Italy. “This was a whole new adventure,” she explained. “I was the first and only American in the community. The hardest challenge at first was the language.” Karen later attended and graduated from East Stroudsburg University and earned a degree in elementary education.
So…how did Karen meet the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia? During her years in Easton, Pennsylvania, she lived near Easton Catholic Elementary School. The school was staffed by three congregations of sisters, one of which was the Franciscans. “A new school year was approaching and I needed a job,” Sr. Karen recalled. She visited the principal (our Sr. Kathleen Groome) and was offered a position teaching fifth grade. The initial connection was made and Sr. Karen’s work in education began.
In 1987 Sr. Karen transferred from the Angelic Sisters of St. Paul to the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. She explained her decision and the journey that led to it and confirmed her decision to transfer. “I honestly must say I loved the Angelics. However, there was a struggle within me over a two year period where I sensed a difference in my relationship with the sisters, with God, and with life. I knew I still desired my religious vocation—but not where I was in this present state. I felt lost. I had spent time with the Franciscans. I attended retreats at the Franciscan Spiritual Retreat Center in Easton and felt a renewed spirit every time I was there. I always had a deep sense of admiration for St. Francis’ life and teachings. I found myself reading more about him and the Franciscan way of life. Through much prayer and discernment, I asked God for some kind of an answer as to which direction I should follow.
“And then I had a dream. I was on a high mountain and suddenly I began falling. I had no control. I passed out and fell into “something.” When I came to, I was in the arms of St. Francis. I had my answer. I left the Angelics and entered the Sisters of St. Francis. It was one of the hardest things I had to do. Yet I feel this is where God wants me to be. I have no regrets.”
During the years since her transfer, Sr. Karen ministered in education and healthcare. Currently she serves as a financial assistant in the congregational finance office. “I was ready for another challenge,” she explained. “My work in the finance office varies daily.” Her main focus is taking care of the car fleet which includes approximately 260 vehicles. This involves checking with the sisters in the various convents throughout the congregation with regard to registrations, licenses, maintenance, recalls, accidents, insurance, etc. She researches and publishes schedules for sisters required to take update courses either online or in classes. Each issue of our Community News publication (the sister’s internal newsletter) carries Sr. Karen’s “Car Corner” article containing helpful tips and reminders—plus a car-related joke which demonstrates her ever present sense of humor!
In addition to car-related activities, Sr. Karen also assists with medial insurance matters and budgeting. She finds everyday a new adventure, especially with the ever-changing insurance companies. And in spite of challenges, she feels blessed in this “different” position. “I’ve gotten to know many of the sisters and I do my best to meet their needs. I’ve learned a lot and truly appreciate my coworkers. And I’ve learned patience—realizing that I have to be on an even keel to deal with everyday situations.”
Sr. Karen’s life experiences—her willingness to journey into the “unknown,” her ability to cope with challenge, and her wonderful sense of humor—all, I assume, do much to maintain that sense of living on an even keel. They also, without a doubt, reflect the Franciscan heart that “drives” her life!
Ann Marie Slavin, OSF