There’s a song that contains the lyric, “There’s a longing in my heart for God,” which summed up how Ursuline Sister Angela Fitzpatrick felt while growing up.
“I was always yearning for something more,” she said. “I felt God near me and calling me.”
Fifty years ago this week, Sister Angela took the first step toward answering that call when she became a postulant with the Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Kan.
“It’s been the best decision,” she said. “The community support I’ve had and all of the love I’ve felt from parishioners. I’ve been able to love God freely and love others,” Sister Angela said.
In 2008, those sisters merged with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, and Sister Angela continues to feel accepted and blessed.
“Scripture says, ‘And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,’ (Matthew 19:29),” Sister Angela said.
“Wow, is that ever true. God will not be outdone in generosity,” she said.
Sister Angela was born Dorothy Irene Fitzpatrick in Emporia, Kan., about 90 minutes south of Paola, to Mike and Irene Fitzpatrick. She was the fifth of nine children born into a strong Catholic family.
“We prayed the rosary at night, we always went to church,” she said. “Mother decorated the church with flowers she grew and made cinnamon rolls for the priests and sisters. We were taught to respect the priests and sisters.”
She first thought about being a sister in the first or second grade at Sacred Heart School, but it was the Franciscan Sisters of Colorado who taught her, not the Ursulines. “The Franciscans wore the habit, I was attracted to that,” she said.
“My first experience with Ursuline Sisters was when we had vocation week” during her middle school years, she said. “My mother had two first cousins in the community in Paola, Ursuline Sisters Dorothy and Lucille Sterbenz. She suggested I write to them. They sent me a nun doll and vocation information.”
“The sisters suggested to my mother that I go to high school at Ursuline Academy in Paola,” Sister Angela said. “I thought it was too expensive. Being one of nine children, I didn’t think I should be the exception. My parents were barely making ends meet.”
Instead she attended public high school and nothing more was said about Paola. After graduating she attended one year of what is now Emporia State University.
“I decided that I didn’t want to have children,” Sister Angela said. “The idea of joining the convent was tugging at my heart. I figured one of the nine of us would have a religious vocation, it’s like tithing.”
“One day I saw a vocation poster that said, ‘You’ll never know unless you enter.’ That really spoke to me,” she said.
While the Franciscans had a huge impact on her during her early years, joining that community meant moving to Colorado, too far away for her family to visit, she said. So on July 16, 1965, her parents drove her to the Ursuline convent in Paola. She was one of nine postulants and the only one who is still a sister.
“At the time I had a ‘Jesus and me’ attitude,” Sister Angela said. “That has changed. Now I want to be more like Jesus and love others. I want to know how I can be more Christ like.”
When she entered the novitiate in 1966, Mother Superior Charles McGrath gave her the name Sister Angela Marie. Sister Angela later learned that Sister Dorothy Sterbenz’s baptismal name was Angela.
“I feel privileged to have the name of our foundress,” Sister Angela said. “She founded us at the age of 65 and I try to live up to her words, ‘Have hope and firm faith in God, who will help you in everything.’” (Prologue to the Counsels).
Like all the other Ursuline Sisters of Paola, Sister Angela began as a teacher, but she never felt comfortable in that role.
“I was feeling a different call to work in parish ministry,” she said. “It almost seems like a miracle that I got permission to leave classroom teaching and risk taking a different path. This was 1971, there were very few pastoral associates, if any.”
She spent nearly 30 years in parish ministry and loved all the places she served. She has also served as a Hospice chaplain and as an administrative assistant at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan.
“These experiences of love and support have enriched my own religious life,” she said. “I count on daily Eucharist, communal and private prayer, the rosary, scripture reading and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to sustain me in my vocation. I want to be a faithful servant and put love and joy in everything I do.”
Since 2010, she has served as a CSJ caregiver for the elderly in metropolitan Kansas City, helping them stay in their homes by providing various services. It’s a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Whether it will be her last ministry remains to be seen.
“I want to continue to seek God’s guidance,” she said. “When I took final vows I had engraved on my ring, ‘Open to the Spirit.’ I’m still open to God leading me to something else. Who knows what it is?”
Becoming an Ursuline Sister was a great choice for her and Sister Angela challenges other young women to come see what religious life is about.
“My longing has been filled by being open to the way God loves me,” she said. “Yours will be too.”