Campfire Ignites Girl for Life of Ministry
By Evelyn Fugazzi, SCN
It was on a warm August day in Wilmington, Delaware when Victor and Virginia Patnoe Miller welcomed their baby daughter, Vicki Yvonne, into this world! Her youthful days were happy and carefree as she and her little neighbor friend enjoyed many hours in their sandbox and played in their two-seated swing. Vicki had a decided talent for music and she was serious about her piano lessons and academic subjects when she started school.
“Vicki, I have a wonderful surprise for you!” exclaimed her mother. “I have registered you for the second last two weeks at Camp Maria, Leonardtown, Maryland!” Tears welled up immediately in the twelve year old child’s eyes; she had no desire whatsoever to be a camper. Nevertheless, her mother insisted that she go. Thus she found herself far from home surrounded by a large group of campers chatting, laughing and ready to “roll.” When it was time to gather around the evening camp fire and all was quiet, Vicki could hear only the sounds of crickets, frogs, and other campsite creatures and watch the fireflies in the surrounding meadows. She shares: “A sense of peace and serenity came over me as I experienced the beauty of Camp Maria on Breton Bay. I so enjoyed Camp Maria that after just one week there, I wrote home asking to stay for the last week of the camping season.” The next two summers Vicki spent the entire eight-week sessions at Camp Maria. This experience was her first encounter with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. She felt right at home with SCNs Rose Carmel, Charles Louise (Mary Fedler), Frances Ann McGaughran and many others.
Although she was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Franciscans, and Benedictines during her grade and high school years, when it was time to decide on a College, Vicki had already made up her mind to attend Nazareth College. As far as she knew, there would be no familiar faces when she arrived at Nazareth, but to her surprise she met Judy Raley, a former camper friend, who arrived from Maryland as a freshman that year. During two years of college a yearning for religious life as an SCN grew within her.
On September 8, 1959, Vicki entered Nazareth Novitiate, was later given the name, Sr. Mary Elizabeth SCN, and made her vows on July 19, 1962. She was well grounded in the field of music and ready for a life time ministry in this field. Indeed she did teach music at Nazareth College and Academy. While teaching music in Memphis, TN she also took classes at the University of Memphis and earned a Masters in Education with a concentration in Counseling. In August 1972, she joined the faculty at St. Mary Academy in Leonardtown, MD, where she taught Music, Religion, served as Guidance Counselor, and was part of the three-member team who began SCNews. Providence had other plans for S. Mary Elizabeth when she was called to serve as Principal of the Academy from 1973-1980. Next she studied full-time at Weston School of Theology, and after earning a Masters in Divinity she moved into Pastoral Ministry at St. John Chrysostom Parish in West Roxbury, MA. During this time, a desire to work directly with the poor was growing within her. After six years in parish work, she applied for a position as Counselor at St. Francis House, a Day Shelter for the Homeless in Boston. After five years there, she accepted a position as Associate Director of the Harbor Area Support Housing Program, working with chronically mentally ill adults, who had been or were homeless, in a new program which offered rent subsidies and support for these people. Mary Elizabeth shares that serving this population was my “most cherished ministry. Walking with our clients, offering empathy and understanding, was a true conversion experience for me.”
From 1998 to 2003 Mary Elizabeth served as Vice President of the SCN Congregation. Next she became Director of the Office of Sponsored Ministries. Currently she is Director of Finance for the Congregation.
Bright, diligent student plus happy camper! Mary Elizabeth likes walking, reading, swimming, and visiting friends–attributes reflecting a balanced life. Or is it the ongoing sense of serenity experienced first at the campfire that keeps Mary Elizabeth going?