Kathy McNeely

COUNTRY: Guatemala and United States
FOCUS: Health, Education and Advocacy

Kathy was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She has a BA in Religion and Spanish Literature from Denison University in Granville, OH. She obtained a Master in Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. She was involved in Witness for Peace in Nicaragua from July 1986 to August 1987. She worked as an Associate Chaplain at Williams College In Williamstown, MA from 1987 to 1990. After she left Maryknoll Lay Missioners she married on May 3, 2008 to Rick Ruggles in Laurel, MD. She also obtained a MS in Nutrition and Integrative Health at Maryland University of Integrative Health . She worked Part-time in nutrition education and health coaching at Center Point Healing during 2013. She worked Part-time as a Nutritionist at Proyecto Salud from 2014 to 2016

Although her contract as a lay missioner was from 1991 to 2004, she served the Maryknoll community for a total of 20 years. After leaving contracted membership with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2004, she was hired by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in 2007 first as the Election year project coordinator and in the 5 years to follow, she served as The MOGC’s Faith Economy and Ecology Program, and then as the MOGC’s Interim Executive Director for 1.5 years before she left her service with Maryknoll to become a full time nutritionist in 2014.

She was attracted to Maryknoll because of Orbis Books. As a freshman in college she read James Cone’s Black Liberation Theology, as well as Gustavo Gutierrez’s A Theology of Liberation. Because she couldn’t read enough on the topic while she studied religion and Spanish literature she began planning for one day to live and work in Latin America. Her first opportunity was an internship she did at Latin American Press in Lima Peru while attending Harvard Divinity School. There she worked with Maryknoll Lay Missioners Betty Ann Donnelly and Larry Rich, translating Spanish articles into English for Latin American Press’s July and August editions.

Later she joined Witness for Peace for a deeper immersion experience into the struggles of members of small base communities in Nicaragua. She also led delegations of US visitors mostly from the faith community and worked on reports they eventually sent to the US congress to reveal the negative impact of US foreign assistance to the contra. She returned to the States after a year and worked as a campus minister at Williams College for three years. There, her focus was on exposing Williams College students to the experience of rural and inner city people living in impoverished communities. She often designed work study experiences where students worked side-by-side with individuals struggling for survival, giving them a new lens with which to understand complicated issues like entitlement programs, unemployment, and to begin to radically accept the “other.”

In 1991 she joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners with a strong interest in serving in Central America. She continued to put herself in places where the individual and collective experience of the people with whom she worked was vastly difference from her own, and assisted the Maryknoll Sisters in continuing a women’s leadership program teaching some catechism while giving women some skills to become community leaders in health and hygiene practices, preventative health, human rights and some practical business skills.

She returned to the US in 1996 because Maryknoll decided to consolidate its mission in El Salvador and she was the last Maryknoll lay missioner to leave Guatemala. She continued to serve Maryknoll applying her theological and teaching training to programming and planning for the orientation program, and later at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

Along the way, she became more and more interested in US food policy as it is implemented overseas, and as it plays out in important US programs like The school lunch program, WIC and SNAP benefits. This interest combined with a curiosity about how many Guatemalans were able to live healthy lives in spite of their lack of economic resources, prompted her to take a closer look at the nutrient value of their mostly-plant based diet. This interest led her to take a few core courses in nutrition studies, which eventually led her to obtain a MS degree, licensure in nutrition and current nutrition counseling practice.

She currently works as a Full-time Nutritionist at Unity Health Care, Inc. Washington DC since 2016. She currently maintains a small private practice in nutrition and her own blog and website: www.heartynutrition.com. Her main interest is in how people use what truly nourishes them to thrive. This entails eating a good and balanced diet, but also surrounding themselves with loving, supportive people, giving and receiving from the surrounding community, and from the bounty of the earth; and finding meaning and purpose in how they spend their days.

Her admiration for Orbis Books brought her to Maryknoll and she carried out a 5 year project of collecting reflections on the Sunday Readings from Maryknoll Sisters, Fathers, Brothers, Lay missioners and Affiliates. Judy Coode and Kathy edited the reflections and were the co-editors for three Orbis’s books, Covering liturgical years A, B and C.

She continues to teach and work with people in a one-on-one setting helping them to define and carry out lifestyle changes to help them thrive with chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and anemia.