When Sister Ann Patrice Cecil was growing up on a farm her father managed along the outskirts of Owensboro, Ky., the two constants in her life were faith in God and an appreciation of the land.
“I was fascinated by watching things grow,” she said. “In the evening as a young child, I would stand in the front yard and watch the sunset. I love the freedom of being outside. It’s part of who I am.”
Her parents instilled both a love of the land and a strong faith in their oldest child, who would go on to have 10 siblings.
“I come from a very religious family,” she said. “My dad had four aunts in this community. Sister Alicia, Sister Celestine and Sister Mary Clement were all Cecils, and Sister Rose Beatrice was a Murphy. We had the rosary every night before we went to bed. Any time they had a function at church, we were there.”
She remembers when the family’s faith was put to the test several years later when her father owned his own farm.
“There was a terrible hail storm that destroyed the tobacco crop,” Sister Ann Patrice said. “Dad said, ‘God is going to take care of us.’”
Sister Ann Patrice is now in her 57th year as an Ursuline Sister, and despite a limited number of women interested in joining religious life, she is not worried about what will come next.
“I don’t have any fear for the future,” she said. “I know God is going to take care of us.”
She was born Jane Elizabeth Cecil to Ann and John Patrick Clement “Clem” Cecil. The family attended St. Martin Church in Rome, Ky., while Jane went to grade school at St. Mary Magdalene in Sorgho.
“The Ursulines taught me in grade school,” she said. “The sisters lived at the Mount and didn’t drive, so families from the church picked them up and brought them to school.”
She earned a scholarship to Mount Saint Joseph Academy as a day student, meaning she went home after school each day. These days a car ride from her home place to the Mount would take about 10 minutes, but in the 1950s, young Jane rode a bus and had to transfer three times.
“In November of my freshman year, my family moved to Owensboro to farm,” she said. “Sister Lennora Carrico was my homeroom teacher, she helped me become a boarder.”
During her time at the Academy, Jane became drawn to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and joined the Blessed Mother Sodality, which had a special devotion to Mary.
The sister she admired the most at the Academy was Sister Joseph Therese Thompson, who was principal her senior year. Sister Ann Patrice’s job as a senior was to clean Sister Joseph Therese’s office, and the two became close.
“She had a sense of humor. Even though she was principal, she was down to earth,” Sister Ann Patrice said. “She encouraged me to think about becoming a religious.”
Jane Cecil graduated from the Academy in 1957, and in July that year she had a job offer from the telephone company. But she also had a strong call to become a sister, so she turned down the job and entered the community that September.
“My mom was pregnant when I left. My sister who is a year younger than me cried when I left, she knew she was going to get stuck with all the ironing,” Sister Ann Patrice said with a laugh.
Joining the sisters was a new adventure for Jane, but it was so emotional for her mother that her dad had to bring her to the Mount. “In those days, we couldn’t go home,” she said. “It was hard, but I felt strongly about the call.”
The community already had a Sister Mary Jane, so Jane Cecil had to submit three possible religious names. One of her choices was Ann Patrick for her parents, but Sister Mary Wilfrid Hayden, the mother superior, changed it to Ann Patrice. Only two other sisters who joined with her remain, Sister Vivian Bowles and Sister Rose Karen Johnson.
Sister Ann Patrice had never thought about becoming a teacher, but that was her ministry from 1960-82, serving in Louisville, Nebraska and Owensboro. In 1982, Sister Joseph Therese was secretary to the leadership Council, but her health was failing her and she needed help. Sister Ann Patrice came to the Mount as her assistant until 1983, when Sister Joseph Therese retired and Sister Ann Patrice took over. She was secretary to Sister Mary Irene Cecil as superior for the rest of her term, and one year of Sister Mary Matthias Ward’s term in 1989.
For the following seven years she served at the Mount Saint Joseph Conference and Retreat Center, in family ministry and home health, and at the Brescia College library. In 1996, she once again was asked to be secretary for the Council, serving during the terms of Sister Rose Marita O’Bryan and Sister Michele Morek.
“I started out with an old typewriter with metal keys,” she said. “I typed the minutes of the meetings and had to make five carbon copies. If I made one mistake I had to correct it on all five copies. When we got a computer, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”
She decided to leave that role in 2010 with the leadership change, but stayed on as assistant to the secretary, Sister Nancy Murphy, since Sister Nancy was also an elected Council member.
In February 2013 she had to take over as postmaster three days a week when Sister Francis Joseph Porter was diagnosed with cancer. “She tried to teach me everything in a month’s time,” Sister Ann Patrice said.
She continues to handle both positions today. She also continues her love for the land by serving on the Ursuline farm committee and volunteering her time as a trained water tester with Kentucky’s Watershed Watch.
Sister Ann Patrice said she would gladly make the decision again to join the Ursuline Sisters.
“It’s been a good life. The best part has been the support I have from my sisters,” she said. “I had a very strong call and it never left me. I never wavered, I knew this is where God wanted me to be.”