Sister Ann Patrice was born Jane Cecil to Clem and Ann Cecil on a farm just outside Sorgho in western Daviess County, the oldest of 11 children, six girls and five boys.
“Growing up on a farm impacted my whole life,” says Sister Ann Patrice. “Farming was a way of life for the whole family. We lived off the land. While gardening, I learned to care for the earth and nurture the soil at an early age. She continued, “I admired my father. He was a good farmer. He could make things grow because he nurtured the soil. He depended on God for blessings on the crops.”
Rural schools back then worked around the farm schedules. School didn’t start until after Labor Day (after the tobacco was in) and let out the first part of May (to set tobacco). Sister Ann Patrice attended one of those rural schools, Saint Mary Magdalene at Sorgho. “Attending grade school there was actually a culture shock,” she recalls. “The school consisted of two white frame buildings. We had several grades in a room — there were six students in my grade. We had pot-bellied stoves, an outhouse and a well in the front yard!” These rather rustic conditions existed for six years before a new school was built for Sister Ann Patrice’s final two years of grade school at Saint Mary Magdalene.
After graduating from grade school in 1953, she continued her education at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, initially as a day student, riding a public school bus every day from the family farm to the Mount and then back home. The bus trips didn’t last long, however, as the Cecil family moved to another farm in the middle of her freshman year and she enrolled as a resident student, going home to the farm one weekend a month and between school years.
Sister Lennora Carrico was Jane Cecil’s freshman Latin teacher. “She was one of the best students in the class,” Sister Lennora recalls. “Coming from a big family, she was a leader and a great help to those in class finding it hard to be away from home.” She added, “And when it came time for national testing she was among the students who made the highest grades.”
Sister Ann Patrice also has fond memories of her Latin teacher. “Sister Lennora was an excellent Latin teacher,” she remembers. “So many of the English words are derived from Latin, and what I learned in her class has helped me throughout my life.”
During her senior year at the Academy, Jane Cecil was assigned to clean the principal’s office. That duty helped lead to the answering of her call to religious life. “I was working for Sister Joseph Therese Thompson,” Sister Ann Patrice recalls. “And she was the one who encouraged me to answer God’s call to religious life. The seed for my vocation had been planted early in my life by my parents’ faith. We knelt as a family each evening and prayed the rosary and night prayers together.”
Sister Ann Patrice entered the Ursuline community as a postulant in 1957. After attending Brescia College she began her teaching career at Saint Denis School in Louisville, teaching second grades for two years, first grade for five years. Her 22-year teaching career continued as she taught first graders at Lourdes Elementary in Nebraska City, Nebraska, for seven years, at Saints Joseph and Paul in Owensboro for four years, and then at Cathedral School in Owensboro for four years.
Sister Ann Patrice has never forgotten her love for the classroom, or her love for teaching children. She says, “First graders were so enthusiastic and eager to learn. As I taught them their prayers, I tried to instill in them a loving relationship with God.”
“I loved teaching them the skills to read. I personally love to read and I wanted the children to love reading also. I enjoyed introducing them to books. I would read to the children every day during storytime.”
With such a love for teaching first graders, why did Sister Ann Patrice leave the classroom to take on the secretarial ministry with leadership?
She answers, “I love my community, so when I was asked to serve as assistant secretary I said ‘yes.’ Also, coming home to work and live at the Mount was an opportunity for me to get to know our older sisters. They’re like grandmothers to me, like extended family. I love their stories.”