Former hostage promotes peace, reconciliation

Kathryn Koob speaks at The Canticle in Clinton Sept. 21.

By Celine Klosterman

CLINTON — Few people will find themselves held hostage as Kathryn Koob and 51 other Americans did for 444 days in Iran beginning in 1979. But many people can become prisoners to resentment and bitterness, she observed.

During an International Day of Peace celebration Sept. 21 at The Canticle, Koob urged about 100 people to work for peace within themselves. “We have to start with our own hearts before we can be at peace with others,” said the Jesup native and retired professor.

A Lutheran, Koob described how the verse from Luke 6:27 — “But to you who hear, I say love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” — challenged her after Iranian militants seized the American embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979. Then serving as director of the Iran-America Society two miles from the embassy, she was captured a day later. “I had to deal with Jesus’ teaching in a very real way.”


Guarded by Iranian students, she found solace in faith. Once as she rested alone during her early days as a prisoner, she felt someone sit on her bed. “It was my guardian angel,” she said. “Jesus promised we’d never be alone … the Holy Spirit was there as my comforter.”

She longed for Communion, which she received on her first Christmas Eve in captivity during a visit from Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Most days she passed time praying, reading from a Bible that her captors gave her and reflecting on Scripture verses such as Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Quoting from Carlo Carretto’s book “In Search of the Beyond,” Koob said Jesus wouldn’t have been crucified if justice had been done in human terms. “But Jesus went beyond justice to the will of God. Could I go on without bitterness, as he did?”

She chose to try. In harboring resentment, “the person you destroy is yourself.”

“People have asked me, ‘Do you love your enemies?’ I told them, ‘If the absence of hatred, anger and bitterness means love, then yes, I do.’” While teaching on reconciliation at Wartburg College in Waverly 25 years after her Jan. 20, 1981, release, Koob realized she loved her captors only through God’s power. She’s still thanking him for her safe return to the United States.  

Her message resonated with Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis in Clinton, who invited Koob to speak. “You have inspired us to get rooted in our own faith so when we face tough times, we will turn to the values we have committed to,” Sr. Cebula told her.

Sister Michael Marie Burns, OSF, said she was impressed by how Koob relied on a deep religious devotion to get through a trying time. “She was very inspirational.”

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