She imagined hiding the Eucharist on her so she could deliver Communion. “I was influenced by reading ‘The Lives of the Saints,’” she said. “I thought, ‘What can I do?’”
Shortly before she turned 11, her father died, leaving the children with her mother who was not capable of caring for them.
“My dad died in June, my uncle came in February and brought us back to Kentucky,” she said. There she became a ward of the state, and her Ursuline vocation story began.
She returned to Owensboro and attended St. Pius X School for the sixth grade, where she met her first Ursuline, Sister Vivian Bowles. Sister Philomena Cox taught her seventh grade, and Sister Cecilia Jean Lonergan taught her eighth grade. Jean Lonergan left the community in 1970, but she made the greatest impression on Sister Pam.
“When I realized I should be an Ursuline, I went to Jean first,” Sister Pam said. (Jean Lonergan died Dec. 31, 2009.)
Sister Vivian was in her first ministry at St. Pius. Sister Pam enrolled late and was quiet at first, but that didn’t last long, Sister Vivian said. “She told me I didn’t look like the sisters she’d seen in Florida,” Sister Vivian said.
Sister Pam’s aunt and uncle were not fond of Catholics, but Catholicism was so important to Sister Pam and her brother Ron that they asked the court if they could live with a Catholic family for a summer. They lived with Hugh and Pauline Mills in Owensboro.
Nancy Mills, now an Ursuline Associate, was in the third grade when Sister Pam came to live with her family. “I remember the priest from our parish called and asked Dad if he could take in two children. He said ‘sure,’” Mills said. “It was the kind of thing my parents would do. I thought it was cool.”
Once she was finished with elementary school, Sister Pam’s aunt and uncle refused to sign a letter allowing her to attend Owensboro Catholic High School, she said. Both Lonergan and the court system intervened, and Sister Pam ended up attending Mount Saint Joseph Academy. “The court decided the Academy would give me some stability,” she said.
Sister Pam equates her years at the Academy as similar to the 1966 movie “The Trouble with Angels,” about two girls and their years of pulling pranks at their Catholic school for girls. She made good friends she’s still in contact with, and it was during those years that she began considering religious life.
“Someone has to take an interest in you, and those Ursulines did,” she said.
Sister Amelia Stenger was a year ahead of Sister Pam at the Academy, and the two are in a bonded community now.
“She has a remarkable sense of humor. We always called her ‘Sister Pun’ because she can come up with a pun about anything you talk about,” Sister Amelia said. “In high school, she was always having fun. She was the life of the party and still is. She’s always involved in helping people be happy.”
When Sister Pam graduated from the Academy, Sister Vivian and Lonergan “went around the world” to be there, Sister Vivian said. She was ministering in far western Kentucky, so she flew to Louisville where she borrowed her father’s car, then drove 70 miles to Marion County, Ky., to pick up Lonergan, and then they drove 150 miles to the Mount for the two-hour graduation ceremony.
“Jean was very proud of her,” Sister Vivian said. “I don’t know anyone else we would have made that trip for.”
After graduating from the Academy, Sister Pam began mulling whether religious life was her calling. At Christmas in 1968, her aunt and uncle told her they’d heard she was thinking about becoming a sister. “I told them I was thinking about it, but I hadn’t decided anything,” she said. “They said, ‘If you’re even thinking about it, you have a week to get out.’”
Unsure of what to do, she called Pauline Mills and asked if she could come visit her. The two had a nice conversation, and when Mrs. Mills invited her back, Sister Pam replied “How about Friday?” She planned to ask her then if she could stay with the family until she got on her feet. She wrote her brother Ron to tell him of her plan.