Proclaiming Jesus through education and Christian formation.

Sisters in Ministry May 2011
Sister Pat Lynch: A presence of joy for college students

“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 for high school, but she had to board with a family until she finished the 8th grade. (The bishop also sold the second orphanage). “In a way, I’ve grown up in institutions all my life,” she said.

She met the Ursuline Sisters 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, who is 95 and retired to the Motherhouse in Maple Mount, lost her mother when she was 9, and had three younger siblings. She took care of the Academy students when they were sick, and remembers Sister Pat as “a good girl.”

Sister Pat Lynch, right, goes over a financial matter with Vickie Hayes-Walworth, who she works with at the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University.

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. “One of the reasons I made the decision to stay that year was to have a normal family life.” The outpouring of support at such a vulnerable time in her life still makes her cry.

“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?’”

Joining the Ursulines

It was tradition for postulants in Paola to enter on July 16th, the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, but with all the controversy swirling in 1966, Sister Pat’s entry was delayed until Sept. 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“Sister Raymond (Dieckman) was appointed our novice director. She told me to pick out some scripture passage, and share my reflection with the whole community,” Sister Pat said. “I picked Jeremiah. Ever since I’ve been with them, we’ve been changing. We carry that flexibility with Saint Angela, she built change into the rule,” she said. “Nothing is set in stone. We do whatever we need to do to keep carrying out the mission.”

Novices normally stayed in Paola to work during their canonical year, but since Sister Pat was the lone novice that year, she was sent to Marillac College in St. Louis, a formation college for sisters that closed in 1974. “I got to live in Villa Angela with the junior professed,” she said. Not long after, all the sisters were called home, and Sister Pat went to Avila College in Kansas City, completing a degree in English and secondary education in 1971.

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