Theologian and singer-songwriter of sacred songs
Kathleen Deignan was born on December 17, 1947 in Bayswater, England. That same day, she was baptized at St Mary of the Angels Church. She was confirmed in New York on May 13, 1959. Having chosen to enter the Congrégation de Notre-Dame, she began her postulancy in September 1966. She became a novice in March 1967; pronounced her temporary vows in August 1969; and made perpetual vows in May 1976. After completing a BA in English at the University of Sacred Heart in Connecticut in 1971, she taught high school English and Religion in Waterbury. She pursued her studies at Fordham University in New York under the aegis of her mentor, Thomas Berry, a pioneer in relationship between religion and ecology. She completed a master’s degree in Christian Spirituality in 1980, a doctorate in Historical Theology in 1986 and a diploma in Spiritual Direction in 1990. A GreenFaith Fellow, Kathleen completed a two-year postdoctoral training for religious environmental leadership in 2008.
In 1981, she became professor of Religious Studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. There, she founded the Iona Peace and Justice Studies Program and the Iona Peace Institute in Ireland (1988-1995) as well as the Iona Spirituality Center that sponsors different spiritual development programs (since 1992). Following Father Berry’s death in 2009, Kathleen and three other students of the famous geologist launched the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue. In 2019, this Forum was honoured by the Thomas Berry Foundation and the Yale Forum for Religion and Ecology for its ten years of commitment to transmitting Thomas’s message regarding sustained life and teaching. That same year, thanks to a generous donation from an Iona Alumni benefactor, Kathleen founded the Institute for Earth and Spirit, a collaboration among three current endeavors – The Iona Spirituality Center, The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue and The Thomas Merton Contemplative Initiative. This new institute is committed to fostering an integral and peaceful Earth community in the light of religious faith, the evolutionary cosmology, environmental science and comprehensive justice.
Kathleen is also the singer-songwriter of over 200 sacred songs and a dozen CDs produced by a cooperative venture she founded in 1977 – Schola Ministries. Refounded in 1997, it is in service of the contemplative and liturgical arts and provides a platform to produce and share the musical compositions and creative works of Kathleen Deignan, CND and other artists.
Under the guidance of Father Thomas Berry, Kathleen began her doctoral dissertation that was published in 1992 by Scarecrow Press: Christ Spirit: The Eschatology of Shaker Christianity. Past President of the International Thomas Merton Society, Kathleen devoted her later writings to transmitting the spiritual and intellectual legacies of the Trappist monk through a variety of academic, artistic and pastoral formats. Among other things, she edited Merton’s writings devoted to nature: When the Trees Say Nothing (Sorin 2003) and Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours (Sorin 2007). The latter is in its seventh edition with 44 000 copies sold. Her articles on spirituality have appeared in numerous periodicals including The Way, Franciscan Studies, Review for Religious, Sisters Today, Sacred Journey, Fellowship of Prayer, Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Bulletin, Journal of the Canadian Conference of Religious, The Journal of the American Benedictine Academy, Diakonia, CrossCurrents and The Merton Annual. An article on the challenge that Thomas Merton represents for transformative education won an award from the American Academy of Religion.