By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 6, 2018
CUMMING—In her 25 years as a consecrated woman of Regnum Christi, Kathleen Nichols has joyfully labored in formation and administration in Catholic schools around the world, from Spain and Argentina to the United States and Italy. And in giving herself to Christ and heeding his great commission, the Wyoming native has been rewarded a hundredfold in her apostolic mission.
Nichols now serves as director of formation at Pinecrest Academy in Cumming and director for her community in Atlanta. She lives with 19 other consecrated women of Regnum Christi in the Domus Mariae home on the Pinecrest campus graced with a Maria Mater Eccelsiae mosaic. Earlier this year Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III celebrated her 25th anniversary with a Mass with 300 family and friends in the community’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, accented with a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows and a stained glass window of the Holy Spirit. Nichols looks back with gratitude on the rich experiences and faith adventures that God has given her.
Along the journey she’s been affirmed in her conviction that everyone needs God, from the richest to the lowliest.
“Going from places like the Czech Republic where we did some work with college students right after the communist revolution and these kids didn’t grow up with God at all and they were just desperate for God. And places in Spain and in Europe in general where it’s very secular, almost anti-Catholic, and in Italy three years at a school in Rome, and even in Argentina where it’s a very family-centered culture, there’s not a lot of hope, everybody is grasping for God,” she said in a phone interview. “And so it just reinforces and confirms the whole sense of the meaning of consecrating your life to God so that you can give to God in a fuller way.”
Nichols grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and began to discern a religious vocation as she studied biochemistry with plans to do medical research. Then while attending a conference in Washington, D.C., of the Regnum Christi ecclesial movement she was drawn to its Christ-centered spirituality and apostolic energy. While medical research could impact the masses, the science lover realized that she could have an even more eternal impact by giving people “an experience of Christ’s love.”
“Really what attracted me is changing the world for Christ and that means setting people on fire to be his apostles,” she shared.
Nichols explained that consecrated life is essentially like a religious living in community and taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
“I’m a girl from Wyoming, and I’ve just been blessed with so many things, I could never repay him for all the great things he’s given to me. So I’m going to repay him with all that I have,” she said. “And with the consecrated life it’s with your whole being, your whole heart, mind, soul and time, everything.”
A witness across the world
Nichols earned advanced degrees from the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum in Rome, the University of Dallas in Texas, Anahuac University in Mexico, and she has worked at Regnum Christi schools from Rome and Buenos Aires to Valencia and Madrid. And she’s inspired souls through pilgrimages, retreats, missions and family formation.
“My platform is to bring God to people and it does give you a huge platform to do that because I think even if schools are not our main mission, what we do well is evangelizing and helping people to know what it means to know Christ and to be his apostles.”
Nichols worked previously in Atlanta at Holy Spirit Preparatory School from 1999-2003. Now at Pinecrest she oversees campus ministry, parent enrichment programs and family apostolic outreach and works with the principal to realize their community’s charism—while incorporating her science background in talks on bioethics.
“It’s supposed to give the kids a really well-rounded solid base to go out and be Christian leaders to transform culture,” she said.
Judy Guilfoil, who co-founded Pinecrest with her husband Bill, commended Nichol’s educational leadership that has helped shape the essence of the school’s mission and identity. And when Guilfoil’s husband was president, he attended a course in Rome where Nichols served as interpreter while living there.
“It was just the beauty of her connecting with the school already at its foundation not even being in the States,” she said. “It’s just her generosity, her witness, her goodness, the fulfillment of her really keeping faithful all the way to this point and having given so much in education throughout her years in many different areas of the world.”
Pinecrest parent Dr. Teresa Petros, a pediatrician and Regnum Christi member, volunteers in the family life programs. She said that Nichols truly puts Christ first and understands family life, having a “very close relationship” with women in the school, the community and movement.
“She’s so joyful … It’s very evident her passion for family life and how much she has to give and how much she receives from doing this ministry at the school,” she said. “To see individuals like Kathleen living out her faith and love for others through all the service just helps remind me to be grounded in my own faith. It’s been a real blessing to know her.”
Nichols was honored to have Petros, Guilfoil and her entire spiritual family celebrate her anniversary. It also meant the world for her to have her own family attend.
“For (my family) to come to Mass and see me renew my vows with Bishop Ned and also in the context of the community here at Pinecrest was huge for them so it was almost like allowing them to understand much more deeply what my life has been for the past 25 years,” reflected Nichols, whose brother served as a missionary at an evangelical American school in South Korea.
“An abundant life”
Today there are about 500 active Regnum Christi laypersons in Atlanta in a healing period over a decade after the devastating full revelations that the Legionaries of Christ priestly congregation and Regnum Christi founder Marcial Maciel Degollado sexually abused minors. In 2006 he was dismissed to a life of prayer and penance in 2006 after a Vatican investigation.
“We suffered a huge blow, which the church itself is still suffering, with the revelations of our founder who had lived a double life. It decimated Regnum Christi, called into question the whole trust factor. Who can you really trust if somebody like that is supposed to be a saint actually is doing exactly the opposite of being a saint? So in 2009 when it really came out there was a big decline even in our youth work,” said Nichols.
Eventually through general assemblies and Vatican direction it was determined that there was a true charism from God and that each branch within the movement should have self-governance, with the sisters becoming a Society of Apostolic Life.
“That’s a huge change and it’s a beautiful change. It makes more evident the feminine dimension of our vocation because we’re not Legionaries of Christ. They are priests, we are consecrated women, consecrated and women. So there are some really good things that have happened but it’s been tough,” she said.
Women in discernment spend a year living in the community, and three joined this year. “We do have girls who are still discerning the consecrated life which is really nice. Consecrated women of Regnum Christi are in Atlanta, and we’re happy,” she added.
The women work in different parts of Atlanta, are active in Holy Spirit Preparatory School and also do summer camps in the area.
Nichols fuels her ministry with about three hours of daily prayer, starting with morning Mass and lauds, evening compline and adoration with her community as well as an hour of private prayer and rosary. And she and other community members renew their spirits through nature therapy just 20 minutes away at Lake Lanier.
“I’m a huge outdoor person. I love kayaking, hiking if not climbing, mountain biking, so when I can I do that, I try to stay balanced. I think it’s from growing up in the Rockies,” said Nichols, who received two kayaks from her family for Christmas.
Now she looks forward to 25 more years of abundant life serving Christ.
“And he just gives back in such a full way. Who would have ever thought that I’d be able to serve in so many different countries, learn two more languages, and work with so many families through schools. He just gives back what they say in the Gospel a hundredfold when you give him a little bit.”