Ursuline Sister Pat Lynch is at her happiest when she’s listening and talking with someone in need.
The welcoming smile that so easily comes to Sister Pat’s face is all the more remarkable considering the number of tragic events that occurred in her childhood.
She spent her early years in Pennsylvania, but when she was 3, her 6-week-old brother died, and the family moved to Kansas City, Mo., where her maternal grandmother lived. When she was 5, her mother died two days after giving birth to her younger sister, and the family moved back to Pennsylvania. At age 7, at her grandmother’s request, the family moved back to Kansas City.
“My father had to earn a living, he couldn’t take care of us. I guess my grandmother couldn’t take care of us,” Sister Pat said. She remembers being in her grandmother’s living room when some people came from Catholic Charities, and soon she and her two older sisters were staying at St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Kansas City, Mo. “My father lived down the street. We waved to him on the way to school,” Sister Pat said. “We would go home to visit my father or my grandmother on weekends and holidays.”
When she was 10, the bishop sold the orphanage, so she moved to a second orphanage until she was 13, about halfway through her 8th grade year. She planned to attend Ursuline Academy in Paola, Kan., for high school, but she had to board with a family until she finished the 8th grade. (The bishop also sold the second orphanage).
She met the Ursuline Sisters of Paola when she went to the Academy. “Sister Virginia (Sturlich) was close to all three of us, she lost her mother when she was young,” Sister Pat said. (Sister Virginia moved to Maple Mount after the 2008 merger with the Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph, and died in 2012.)
Sister Pat began thinking of becoming a sister at age 7. She had experiences with three religious orders during her early schooling and orphanage years, but she did not find a group that she wanted to join until she met the Ursulines.
“There was a spirit about the Ursulines, they were loving, fun, genuine,” she said. “There was authenticity to the sisters that I had not seen before. They seemed to like each other. I finally found the group where I would fit. Sister Johanna Huettenmueller was my Latin teacher, she had a big effect on me. I had many wonderful examples.”
At age 16, Sister Pat knew that when she graduated from the Academy, she would join the Ursuline Sisters. But that year, tragedy struck again when her father died.
“My Aunt Catherine said at the funeral, ‘You can come live with us,’” in Philadelphia, Sister Pat said. “She had three sons, and had a little girl who had died. She always wanted a daughter,” Sister Pat said. “It was hard to be away from my sister, and I missed Paola,” she said, but she knew she would return there in 1966 to enter the Ursulines.
Those were turbulent days, both in the country and in religious life, as the impact of Vatican II was beginning to be felt. The Ursuline Sisters of Paola had inadvertently launched the “habit revolution” among religious communities in 1964 by being the first group of sisters to appear in public without the habit. The ensuing firestorm became international news.
“My aunt showed me a picture in the Philadelphia newspaper about the change of habit,” Sister Pat said. “She said, ‘Is this the order you’re joining?’ When I said ‘yes,’ she said, ‘Well, what are they doing?’”
Sister Pat’s varied ministry career includes serving as a speech pathologist and education coordinator at the Lakemary Center, a residential facility for children with developmental disabilities in Paola. She served as a campus minister at the University of Kansas, as vocation and formation director for her community, and served in elected leadership for 22 years, including eight years as superior of the Ursulines of Paola from 1994-2002.
Since 2009 she has served as the office manager/campus minister at the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University, in Emporia, Kan.
“My vocation as a sister has brought me much happiness,” Sister Pat said. “I love my community and I love being a sister.”