Sister Pam Mueller: Mixing faith and laughter in service to others

“My brother called them and told them what I wanted,” Sister Pam said. “When I got there, Mr. Mills said, ‘Of course you can stay with us.’” It’s a story that always makes her cry.

When Hugh Mills died in 2006, his obituary listed Sister Pam as one of his daughters. “She’s still a member of our family today,” Nancy Mills said.

Sister Pam entered the Ursuline Sisters as a postulant in August 1969, and became a novice in 1970, making this her 40th jubilee year. “After I entered, I wondered if it was a free choice,” she said, or was it a chance to get out of the dysfunction her family life had been. “I’m pretty sure now it was the right choice.”

The changes from the Second Vatican Council were hitting hard when she entered, but her background helped her cope. “I grew up in chaos and I entered in chaos,” she said. “When I entered, we were rewriting the constitutions. We had guidelines rather than a rule, if not, I wouldn’t have made it. It was the right thing for me. I know God’s hand was in it all.”

Those rocky years cause Sister Pam to “live in the now,” she said. “I was probably in my 30s before I realized you could make plans. I thought you just survived what happened, not that you could control anything in life,” she said. A quote she likes is, “Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.”

Sister Pam talks with students at the former Catherine Spalding Elementary School in Owensboro while serving as director of vocations in 2002.

She always comes back to her faith and her sense of humor as her greatest gifts. “I wouldn’t have made it through without faith,” she said. “It’s a gift, I didn’t earn it. My relationship with God has been very personal, and that’s a gift.”

In the classroom

Her first ministry began during her last semester as a Brescia student in 1973, she was a student teacher residing at Precious Blood School in Owensboro. “I was privileged to live with Sister Mimi Ballard,” who directed the kindergarten at Brescia, she said. “She was very good in her example of how to live. She said we need to contribute where we lived.”

In 1974, she became an itinerant speech language pathologist for the eight Catholic schools in the Owensboro area. Using a “block” schedule, she worked every day at two schools for eight weeks, then moved on to the next two schools. Her interest in speech pathology was spurred during a career day at Mount Saint Joseph. “I thought it was the neatest thing I’d ever seen.”

Most of the students had problems with articulation. “Every time I thought I couldn’t take one more kid, one would come in more sparkly and full of life. I knew God was there,” she said.

After five years in that job, she attended the University of Louisville from 1979-81 to get a master’s degree in speech language pathology, so she could become an instructor at then-Brescia College.

“I taught two courses and did clinics, supervising students,” she said. “I was on call to go to hospitals or nursing homes. I moonlighted at nursing homes to pay for my continuing education, to maintain my license to practice.”

In speech language pathology, her favorite people to work with were people who’d had a laryngectomy. “You always knew there was something going on in the personal side, with a laryngectomy or a stroke,” she said. “I’ve always loved the challenge of helping someone.”

She got a master’s degree in deaf education in 1989-90 to earn tenure at Brescia, but by 1992, she felt the need to do something different. “I had been invited to St. Louis University to be clinical supervisor one summer,” she said. “I liked it and I got invited to be the first full-time clinical director at St. Louis University.”

She enjoyed living with Ursuline Sisters of the Roman Union in St. Louis. After two years at the clinic, a notice came across her desk seeking a director for the 1818 Advanced College Credit Program at the university. The program allows qualified high school juniors and seniors to begin taking college course work while still in high school.

“I knew I could do it,” she said. “I call it my leap of faith year.” She was hired as the first non-Jesuit director of the program, which she did from 1994-2000.

“I was going to high schools and watching people teach. I oversaw all classes, registered 3,000 students, and coordinated 20 faculty members from SLU,” she said. “It was like running a junior college.”