Call to the Altar

By Enise Olding

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Established in New England since the 1600s, Kim Sylvester’s English ancestors had solidly laid the foundations upon which future generations would grow and thrive. Kim, the middle child, inherited a deep appreciation of nature from her parents. She was intrigued by her family history and she “wanted to learn anything and everything.” As curious, energetic and interested as she was, she was acutely aware that she was different.

“I was on a path from the time I was young.”

Music has always played a major part in Kim’s life. As a child, she started with the piano at seven, cello at 10 and singing lessons at age 12.

“I rose like a star and I loved it. I was in plays, operettas, singing in concerts and performing musically, and it was a source of great pride to the family,” says Kim. “And I was an excellent student!”

She attended a Baptist church, went to Sunday School and memorized scripture, as well as learning to pray – all of this was very important to her. At that time, she felt that “God was leading me. I was convinced that I had keep going with this. I began to pray a great deal, talking to God, saying I don’t know what to do, please help.”

Kim was in her teens when she became interested in the Roman Catholic Church and, at the age of 16, amidst anguish within her family and a thorough grilling by a protestant minister with whom she engaged in heated debate, she remained resolute. Eventually, when she was baptized as a Catholic at the age of 19, her family grudgingly accepted it. Two years later, she entered a religious order as a postulant and novice on the way to becoming a nun. But, she says, “Something was not right, I wasn’t clear yet.” At the elementary school attached to the convent, Kim began to teach music and learn to play the organ, but she was particularly drawn to Gregorian Chants. But, ultimately, she began to doubt her vocation, feeling a sense of unease and so left the order.

Kim decided to pour her energies into post-graduate education. Over the years, she achieved a B.Ed and a B.A. at the University of Maine, an M.A. at Indiana University and pursued doctoral studies and research at Indiana, McGill and Carleton. During this time, she taught as a graduate teaching assistant. When a job as an art historian became available at the University of Manitoba, Kim jumped at the chance.

“I was 30, an independent woman, I had a career, I travelled and went to conferences. I was in demand as a speaker and sang in a semi-professional choir; nothing stopped me from doing what I wanted to do,” she says.

At that time, she was not experiencing any obstacles to achieving what she desired. Feminism was not important to her, but justice was.

Although not participating at regular church by the late 1960s to 1970s, Kim was trying to gain a better understanding of the changes in the world and in religious values. After in-depth discussions with a colleague, Kim again became aware that “something was going on within me and I didn’t know what it was. I was going through all kinds of stuff from the past,” she says.

Later, and coinciding with the changes wrought by Vatican II was Kim’s inspirational feeling of “literally being taken out of myself,” as she experienced through music and poetry a creative force such as that which was blowing through the Roman Catholic church.

When Kim met her French-Canadian husband, she moved to Quebec and lived there for 25 years. “It was one of the rightest times of my life,” she smiles. Already fluent in Italian, after living in Italy on and off over the years, she quickly picked up French and became integrated into both the language and culture of Quebec. She continued teaching at university but returned to singing in church choirs and immersing herself in the rich atmosphere of the post Vatican II Catholic church, taking training in liturgical music.

Moving to Vancouver Island brought Kim and her husband close to the children and grandchildren, and to warmer weather, but it was a cultural shock. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Kim responded to the need for voice teachers and, within half a year, opened a music studio, at long last, her own 1918/1920 Kimball grand piano.

Not alone in seeking some type of spiritual renewal, Kim has noticed that many people today seem to be exploring, reading and searching for more spiritual paths that might lead to a more complete, comforting and satisfactory understanding of their place in the world - and within themselves. Like them, she was aware of the possibilities but wasn’t sure of her path.

An experience of God during mass on her birthday in 2007 provided Kim with clarity. She felt herself moving away, surrounded by the music, time slowing down and she says, “I felt lifted up. It was peaceful, protective.” After a moment, she looked around and all seemed normal but, “there was a sense of something that I understood, and it was that I must serve.”

She eventually discovered Roman Catholic Women priests, which Kim describes as a progressive movement for reform in the RC church and was accepted into the program of preparation leading to ordination into a different model of church and priesthood: one of justice, non-violence, inclusivity. For the many who are experiencing a spiritual stirring of their own, Kim says “our world is experiencing a profound awakening, and people everywhere are recognizing that the old ways are no longer working. Many people are going outside their former religious boundaries and finding that God is within. God is not "up there"; God lives in us and we in God. This changes everything and is bringing about new awareness and a rebirth of all things.”

More than ever, Kim’s life is full with spiritual training, reading feminist theology, exploring current theology, being a music teacher and participating in yoga. “Yoga feeds me in many ways, both physically and spiritually,” she says. “I love it!”

Within the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Kim is now a Deacon, completing studies and preparing to be ordained as a Priest in the spring of 2010.





To find out more about Roman Catholic Women Priests:

To find out more about Kim’s music:




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