November Alumnae Spotlight, 2018 Distinguished Alumna Karen Yuratich Jakiela

In what ways did your Ursuline education prepare you for the work you’re doing now?

Since my time as a student at Ursuline, my life has always included Serviam. Working in nursing homes for over 12 years doing music therapy and social services was never merely a job. It was daily living our motto of Serviam attempting the make the lives of others a little better because of my presence. Teaching at Ursuline for 21 years, attempting to model Serviam for my students was both a challenge and a total joy. It was a gift to me to be able to pass the values I learned at Ursuline on to younger generations. As a daughter, a mother, and a grandmother, I have lived Serviam in very special and intimate ways. Being an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist has been the greatest privilege of my life, and bringing Eucharist to the elderly and infirmed is a most special way to live out our motto. Serviam can never be merely a motto we learned as students; it is a daily decision. Because it is a decision we all make on a daily basis, as Ursuline Alumnae it is who we are.
Please describe the most significant value you learned from Ursuline Academy.

I believe the most significant value I learned at Ursuline is the ideal of Courtesy. There is a holiness about Courtesy when we acknowledge it as a response to the dignity of the human person as one created in God’s image. It also includes a deep respect for the sacredness of all God’s creation. Courtesy demonstrates the Holy Spirit working in our lives, for what is Courtesy if not for love? Courtesy demands that we respect the uniqueness of each individual. It is essential for any educator in an Ursuline school. St. Angela Merici leaves advice for us as Ursuline educators in her 2nd Legacy:
“Have engraved on your mind and heart all your dear daughters, one by one; not only their names, but also their condition, and their character, and their every situation and state…Have them wholly fixed in your hearts, all and each one separately, because this is how real love works…”
Courtesy isn’t always easy – that is why we call it an “ideal.” When we read the words of Angela, I believe we can recall many of our teachers who modeled those words. Until she left for Alton, Sr. Joan Marie introduced me to people as “one of my first graders.” Every time I visited Sr. Joan Marie and Sylvia Probst in the Archives, no matter how busy they were, they stopped what they were doing and treated me as though I was the only person in the world. Some years ago, I asked Sr. Ruth Marie to pray for me for something that seemed important at the time. I don’t remember what I needed, but I certainly remember her response. She replied, “I pray for all of you every day – by name.” This is how real love works.
Describe Ursuline in one word. Explain.

To describe Ursuline only requires one word – home. Home is where we are loved. Home is where we are kept safe. Home is where we learn our values. Home is where we return again and again and are always welcome. Ursuline is home.


Karen Yuratich Jakiela 1965 has been chosen by the Ursuline Alumnae Association of New Orleans, with the approval of the Academy President and the Ursuline Sisters, to be the 2018 Ursuline Distinguished Alumna. This award is annually bestowed upon a graduate of Ursuline Academy or Ursuline College of New Orleans who demonstrates the core values and ideals of an Ursuline education in all aspects of her life. Since 1986, 50 women have received this honor, making it one of Ursuline’s most prestigious awards.

Karen attended Ursuline Academy for 13 years, four of which were spent in high school choir, and graduated as a Skipperette of 1965. Music was her first love. Karen states that after watching Mother Vera Marie play piano and teach little songs to her kindergarten class, she “knew she wanted to play the piano for people to sing.” She remembers listening to Mother Elizabeth Marie play the organ. Playing the Hymn to Our Lady of Prompt Succor on the organ as an Ursuline teacher was a dream come true for Karen. Following her Ursuline graduation, Karen received a Bachelor of Music Therapy with a minor in psychology from Loyola University. Her major instrument was piano and her minor instrument was classical guitar. She became a Registered Music Therapist in 1972 and earned a Master of Arts degree in Music Theory and Composition from the University of New Mexico in 1975. She later received certification from the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a high school religion teacher.

For 12 years, she worked as a social service designee and activities director at Long Leaf Nursing Home in Ruston, Louisiana. She began teaching high school religion at Ursuline Academy in 1990. She was the accompanist for the Academy choir, a retreat leader, and class sponsor. Classmates Mary Ellen Gillaspy Denning and Distinguished Alumna Mary Beth Drown Meacham note that “Karen was the go-to person for the Ursuline nuns for years and years, driving them to appointments, and visiting ailing sisters in the hospital. She did these things because she loves every aspect of Ursuline.” Former students say that Ms. Jakiela was their favorite teacher, compassionate, and understanding.

Karen is a woman of strong faith. Archbishop Tom Rodi writes of his childhood friend, “Karen has always exhibited a deep spiritual life and she is an active member of the Third Order of St. Francis of Assisi. Her faith, dedication, and talents blessed the students of Ursuline who were fortunate enough to have her as a religion teacher.” Fr. Cassian Derbes, O.P. taught at Ursuline in 2001-2003 prior to his ordination. He states, “In the absence of an abundance of religious vocations, it is no overstatement that a school with a history and mission as Ursuline Academy could not exist without a teacher like Karen Jakiela. The fruitfulness of her hard and dedicated work has benefited generations of Ursuline women.”

After several years of formation, Karen was professed as a member of the Secular Franciscan Order in 2007, almost 500 years after St. Angela Merici obtained that same distinction as a young woman. After retiring from Ursuline in 2012, Karen worked as the intake and activities director of Covenant Home in New Orleans. She recently moved to Michigan to be closer to her family.

Throughout the years, Karen has lived the Serviam motto she learned as a student at Ursuline Academy. She was a member and Assistant Director of the Symphony Chorus of New Orleans. She served as a Eucharistic Minister at St. Thomas Church, Covenant Home, and Tulane University Catholic Center. She has always had a special devotion to the elderly as a worker, volunteer, and devoted friend. Her children, Greg and Allison, share that their mother was a scout leader and trusted confidant of their friends. She showed them “how to have a gentle spirit towards others and to enjoy doing things for those in need.” She has exemplified the Ursuline ideals of courtesy, loyalty, and courage throughout her life. Ursuline Academy of New Orleans is proud to call Karen Yuratich Jakiela a Distinguished Alumna.