Ursuline Sister Pam Mueller is starting her fifth year as a campus minister at Brescia University in Owensboro, Ky., someplace she never imagined herself when she was training as a speech language pathologist.
“Become an Ursuline, your faith will take you where you never intended to go,” she said with her trademark laugh.
Faith and laughter are Sister Pam’s calling cards, two traits that got her through a tumultuous childhood and led her to join the Ursuline Sisters 40 years ago.
“They say a vocations director should stay two or three years, I did it for six,” Sister Pam said. “They say a campus minister should stay two or three years, I’m starting my fifth. I’m either stupid or I really do have faith.”
Ursuline Associate Karen Siciliano and Sister Pam have been friends since they met in 2004 at the Ursuline-led Spiritual Direction Institute. “One of the best gifts is that our friendship is really rooted in God,” Siciliano said. “Most people see Sister Pam as this flashy, energetic, bubbly woman, but she has an incredibly deep spirituality.”
Sister Pam has a special attraction to the “least of those” in society, Siciliano said. “She’s most effective at Brescia when students come to her with a serious problem. She really rises to the occasion when a lot of us would step away,” she said. “Whatever she is called to do, she puts her whole self into it.”
Father Larry Hostetter, president of Brescia University, said the purpose of campus ministry is to ensure that Brescia is a place to get both an outstanding education, and an opportunity to grow in faith.
“Sister Pam is really good at meeting the needs of students who perhaps need extra support,” Father Larry said. “Maybe it’s a student who is vacillating, or a student in crisis. She finds helping ways to live through that. She’s really good at recognizing individual needs.”
Sister Rose Marita O’Bryan ministers in the office next to Sister Pam in the Contemporary Woman program, and sees how she fills the needs of the students.
“Sister Pam is very selfless with her time and energy in interacting with the students,” Sister Rose Marita said. “When one or more students come to her office door, she immediately changes her plans and is totally present to them. I think that is the essential piece of campus ministry and she does that extraordinarily well.”
Sister Pam wasn’t educated as a campus minister, and said that has made the journey more challenging for her. “I hope I’m modeling patience,” she said. “I rely on my faith a lot.
“My favorite thing to do is journey with young people who are in the midst of struggle, and be a help to them,” she said. “I’m concerned about them and their faith life, and I try not to be judgmental.”
She has learned to not take it personally when students she has helped through a crisis don’t see a need to come back to campus ministry, or to a Mass or penance service.
“If they have issues with God, religion, the Catholic Church, or had a bad experience with another sister,” that affects their relationship with her, Sister Pam said. “I hope the word is out that ‘She’s OK, you can talk to her.’”
Her official title is director of campus ministry and the Christian Life Experience Program at Brescia, but the future of that program is uncertain.
“It started as a discernment program for men, for vocations to the priesthood, then it was broadened to other vocations,” she said. Sister Pam was supervisor of the Women’s Discernment House at Brescia while she was director of vocations, and that evolved into Christian Life Experience.
“We worked on being a disciple first,” she said. “When you learn how to be led, then you work on where you’re going.”