Sister Anna Kearns doesn’t wear the habit of a nun. And she doesn’t really have to — the light and love she projects clearly sets her apart in a crowd.
“It’s not about what you have on,” she said, smiling. “When (people) meet you, hopefully something comes across and they know you’re different. You just take it from there. People are so wanting ... it’s hard not to resonate with that.”
The 88-year-old Brunswick resident has been sharing her special spark for quite a while, recently marking 70 years as a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, based in St. Louis, Mo. That is where she took her vows in 1947, when she was just 17 years old.
“I’m from a Catholic family so my parents ... not my dad, but my mom, always prayed that she would ‘give one back to God,’ so I think I’ve had the call since I was little. My sisters were glad I made the choice because only one of us was going,” she said with a laugh.
“There were five girls and four boys in my family. In those days though, (parents) thought it was time to give back to God. We were brought up with that in your mind and heart.”
She has certainly served with both — her mind and her heart — all of her life. Kearns taught school in low income and minority neighborhoods in Boston, Atlanta and St. Louis. Kearns even went to Hawaii to serve.
She was recently honored by Bishop Gregory Hartmayer in Savannah. She was also celebrated at a local Mass and the Brunswick mayor issued a proclamation honoring her. Pope Francis even issued a proclamation of his own to honor Kearns.
In grand nun fashion, she is not concerned with accolades. She sees it all as simply doing her job.
“It really is a perfect fit for me. It’s about unity and reconciliation with the people you meet ... where you go and how you act,” she said.
Humble and vivacious, Kearns is a local celebrity whose fingerprints can be found throughout the community. She served as an elementary school teacher at St. Francis Xavier (previously St. Joseph Catholic School) for many years, touching the lives of countless students along the way.
“Now when I go out, I see students everywhere. One gave me a Shingles shot ... one rented me a car ... they’re everywhere,” Kearns said. “One of my students, she’s now a teacher at St. Francis and since I’ve ‘retired’ I’ve been teaching with her on Fridays all year and last year and the year before that. It was great to see her, hopefully and in a good way, mimicking what I would have done. But she’s a beautiful teacher. She’s doing a great job.”
While she still puts in appearances at the school, she also takes communion to those who are home bound. Outside of church, Kearns is an experienced volunteer, lending her hand to multiple causes in the community. She volunteers at Hospice of the Golden Isles and The Well, a day shelter for the homeless in downtown Brunswick — both are very special to her.
“(Volunteering) is important. Sometimes people just need a little nudge to start. It’s mostly about your presence and your being there. Your heart just needs to be in the right place,” she said. “I know with The Well, some people are scared to walk in ... but I’m not scared of anyone. You have to trust yourself and trust the people around you. There are some really good guys and dolls there. They just need someone to pay attention to them and love them.”
Kearns takes the charge to love her others seriously. She often shows new volunteers the ropes when they first come into The Well.
“I do the early shift at 7 a.m. and they’ve asked me if new people can come follow me around ... and I say ‘sure, if they can keep up,’” she said with a laugh.
Coastal People appears Tuesday. Contact Lindsey Adkison at email@example.com or at 265-8320, ext. 346 to suggest a person for a column.