Proclaiming Jesus through education and Christian formation.

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

She did her student teaching at Ursuline Academy in 1971, but that was the last year the school was open. Ursulines began the school in 1896, shortly after arriving in Paola. “I’d hoped to have a future at the Academy,” she said. “It was heartbreaking for all of us.”

She was among five sisters who took classes at Avila during the day, then came home to be dorm prefects. By 1970, the population was declining and there were fewer sisters, partly because some of the sisters who taught at the Academy left the community. “Closing the Academy was sad, but it was necessary,” she said.

Lakemary Center

Sister Pat and Bill Ericson, a Lakemary Center resident, visit on Sept. 25, 2009. The former Ursuline Sisters of Paola were honored that day during the 40th anniversary celebration of the Lakemary Center in Paola, Kan. Sister Pat ministered at Lakemary for 13 years, and serves on the Lakemary board.

While the Academy was ending, the Lakemary Center was a new beginning for the Ursulines, opening in 1969. It is a residential facility for children with developmental disabilities.

With the Academy closed, Sister Pat worked at Lakemary in 1971-72 as a speech therapy aide. “I didn’t know speech pathology existed,” she said.

Sister Pat immediately fell in love with the children of Lakemary. She went to the University of Kansas to earn her master’s degree in speech pathology, and returned to Lakemary in 1974 as a speech pathologist. She filled that role until 1981, then served as education coordinator until 1986.

“Lakemary got bigger, it got better and better,” she said. It expanded to include adult services. “It’s still serving more than 500 people with disabilities now.” While Lakemary is no longer an Ursuline ministry, Sister Pat remains on the Lakemary board of directors.

“It taught me patience,” she said. “The eight years I did speech pathology, I would be astounded to see a 3-year-old talk, because I was so unused to that. I think they are a gift to me.”

Learning to grieve

After 13 years at Lakemary, the community asked Sister Pat to become the formation director. “I said, ‘I’d like to get some training.’ I normally did the job first, then got the training,” she said. She went to a Formation Institute in St. Louis, which offered her a chance to heal that she didn’t know she needed.

“It was like a sabbatical. I was tired, but I didn’t know it,” she said. “I was trying to pray, but I was having a hard time. Thoughts of my mother kept coming to me. God was helping me heal. I thought I’d done well in coping with her death, but I didn’t know I had all this grief inside me I hadn’t expressed.”

She took a grief seminar, and her spiritual director suggested she write a letter to her mother. She couldn’t write the letter. “The only memory I had of her is in the casket, or trying to climb on her lap,” Sister Pat said. “My mother’s family decided to have a reunion, they’d never had one before. I had a first cousin who wanted to go, I rode with her. I wanted to talk to people about my mother,” she said. “It was a rainy day, I looked over my shoulder, and there was a huge rainbow.”

Sister Pat Lynch, right, talks with Amy Fisher, one of the student outreach ministers at the Didde Catholic Campus Center at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan.

She found out her mother was very fun-loving. She learned her mother met her father when she worked at TWA, and helped him get home.

On All Souls Day, the presider at Mass was Father Joe Gillespie, the seminar teacher on grief. He quoted a poem that was discovered written in a concentration camp: “Go out into the woods one day, and weave for yourself a wreath of memories. And when the tears obscure your eyes, know how good it is to be alive.” Sister Pat wrote down the words in her bible. During that year, she said she cried in her room every night. “As I would pray, I would cry. I never felt alone, I always felt God’s presence. It just takes as long as it takes to mourn a loss. You have to get it all out.”

“At the end of the academic year in the institute, we were required to make a 30-day retreat,” Sister Pat said. “It was during that retreat that I finally wrote the letter to my mother. On Mother’s Day, I took my letter to the woods, buried it, and put flowers on it. That whole year was such a gift,” she said. “God wants us to be healed. When I went back to Paola, the sisters said, ‘You look different.’”

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