Sister Pat speaks fondly of her parents, Sylvester Hill and Elizabeth Meyers Hill. Her mother was born in Paducah, Kentucky, and later, the family moved to Louisville. Her father was born in the West End of Louisville. Sylvester and Elizabeth were both members of the church choir at St. Brigid Parish, and their love of music brought them together. The two married in 1913 and built their home in a new neighborhood of Louisville on Goddard Avenue in the Highlands where theirs was the fourth house on the block.
Sister Pat described her father as a wonderful provider. He was an electrical engineer by trade. Pat remembers him working on motors and alarm systems. “We called him a ‘GARF,” a General All Round Flunky, because he could do anything: electrical, plumbing, painting, carpentry, roofing, building and just about anything very well.” Since her father was an electrical engineer, he often did electrical work at the church. Pat remembers the beautiful chimes he installed to ring at the consecration at Mass. He added lighted stars around the head of the statue of Mary and put lights on the moon at her feet, which made the statue look lovely, adding to the devotion of those who prayed there.
She said her Mom was an exceptional homemaker. “She always had time for us despite the many hats she wore: mom, cook, doctor, psychologist, listener, teacher, budget maker. She could really stretch the money.”
The family was blessed with twelve children born at home, but sadly, two of the children died as infants. The ninth child was Patricia Marie born on August 23, 1931. Pat’s mother believed she saw a vision of the Blessed Mother in the corner of the bedroom at the time of the birth and thought this baby must be very special. The infant, Pat, was sickly and her parents feared they would not have her with them for very long. Her father desperately wanted a boy after having six girls and only two sons; so, he picked out the name Patrick for him. When the new baby turned out to be a girl, her father decided Patricia would be her name with Marie as a middle name taken after her godmother. Even as a young child, Pat knew her Dad was very fond of her and she loved it when he called her “my Patricia.”
At the tender age of five, Pat did not want to go to kindergarten as her older siblings had, so she pleaded with her Mother to let her stay home that year. By the time she was six, she was ready to start first grade at St. Brigid School where she completed all eight years.
Sister Pat described herself as a tomboy as she liked to wrestle with the boys, rub their faces in the snow and play “cops and robbers” with them. As she grew in age, Pat enjoyed helping her mother with the ironing and other household chores and working with her father to make things. Both parents were very active at St. Brigid. Her father was president of the Holy Name Society while her mother, who loved to sew, made a beautiful banner for the Society.
Money was tight, and clothes were passed down from older to younger children. As the ninth child and seventh girl, Pat had her share of hand-me-downs and always wished for new clothes as the other girls had. By the time Pat was seventeen the house was crowded with nine children, the oldest boy away in military service. The children slept in the attic with girls in the back and the boys in front. Grandmother Hill shared the attic with them and had her space on the side. Pat’s father covered the walls with plaster and wallpaper to make it look more attractive, but since there was no insulation, the space was hot in summer and cold in winter.
In her high school years, Pat attended Presentation Academy where she did well in class and was a star on the school basketball team which won several awards. She speaks of her varsity team with great pride as they won their league three years in a row. She was also a star on the volleyball team at the school.
Pat knew from her earliest years that she wanted to be a Sister after she met the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in her first year of school at St. Brigid. When her fourth grade teacher, Sister Mary Imelda, died, Pat was again touched by grace. She felt inspired by Sister Mary Imelda’s life and knew that was something she desired for herself. The desire stayed alive in her heart until her junior year in high school when the possibility became very real and very close. Perhaps it was too close, as Pat started praying against it.
During her senior year of high school, Pat attended a retreat at Catherine Spalding College. This experience renewed her desire to become a sister. The summer after graduation from Presentation Academy, Pat returned to the school to visit with Sister Louise de Marillac who had been her gym teacher and with whom she felt very close. Pat would often go to the convent on Saturdays to iron her habit so she could be with her. Sister Louise de Marillac asked her when she was going to Nazareth. Pat did not seem surprised by the question, but simply asked, “What do I do?” Sometime during that year, Pat felt a strong call to religious life. After this conversation with Sister Louise de Marillac, she knew it was time to tell her parents that she wanted to enter the community and worried how she would do that.
Pat had a great love for the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux. She was attracted by the rose petals often associated with her as Pat loved flowers, especially roses and tended the ones in the family garden. Once she had made her decision to enter the novitiate at Nazareth, Pat walked outdoors looking at the flowers and wondered how to tell her parents of her decision. She decided that if she saw three roses it would be a sign to her that she should tell them. As she looked at the rose bushes, she saw no buds at all. The next morning after breakfast, she returned to the garden and found three roses blooming. She was so amazed that she felt the blood drain from her head and knew the time had come to talk to Mom and Dad.
After the evening meal when her brothers and sisters made plans to go to a movie, Pat stayed in the kitchen to help with the dishes so she could talk to her mother. Her mother did not make it easy for her, but told her to talk with her father.
Pat entered the living room where her father was reading the paper. Once she told him of her plans, he got out of the chair, newspaper and all, and went to the kitchen to her mom. Her parents together told her they were honored to have her join the Sisters of Charity even though they had mixed feelings about it.
As Pat made her preparations to enter the novitiate, her mother made her clothing, the long black skirt, top and cape, and even the black apron. Pat worked for just one day at St. Joseph Infirmary to earn money for the dowry required for the Novitiate which she entered on September 24, 1949. When she received the habit on March 24, 1950, she received her own name as her religious name.
The novitiate years were a time of growth for Sister Patricia Marie as she became more conscious of the spiritual life. She worked very hard to conform and admits she may have over-done it a little. One instance, which caused great consternation, occurred when her family came for an unscheduled visit. As her mother and sister were in the front parlor asking for her, the young postulant was walking on the grounds and spotted her father in the car. She happily joined him in the car leading him to a parking space near the front entrance and together they walked up the front steps. She remembers having a very nice visit, but once her family left, she was pulled aside by the novitiate directors, who warned her about her unorthodox behavior. Pat pleaded “I will do anything, just don’t send me home.” This showed how much she valued her vocation.
In November of 1951, Sister Patricia Marie received word that her father was dying. Her brother-in-law came at midnight to get her and drive her to St. Anthony Hospital in Louisville, where her Dad was under an oxygen tent. His face lit up when he saw her and he said, “Patricia, my Patricia, it’s worth more than a million dollars to have you with me.” That moment is still treasured as he died that evening.
March 25, 1952, was vow day at Nazareth and at the very moment Sister Patricia Marie was making her first vows, there was quite a stir of activity on the balcony as Sister Clotilde Lebeau died suddenly. That moment of beginning a new life as a religious, coinciding with the end of life moment for Sister Clotilde, made a deep impression on the newly professed sister.
As a second year novice, Sister Patricia Marie had studied courses at Nazareth College and later, after several years of summer school and Saturday classes, earned her bachelor’s degree in Education at Catherine Spalding College in 1968. Her first teaching assignment was at St. Vincent de Paul School in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where she taught first and second grades. The teaching sisters lived down the street from Our Lady of Mercy Hospital and often joined the hospital sisters for feast days and other celebrations. She remembers attending a meeting in Bellaire, Ohio, traveling by train and breathing in the dirty coal dust and hoped she would never have to live there so close to the coal industry.
Five years later, Sister Patricia Marie was transferred to St. John School in Bellaire, Ohio, where she learned to live with the coal dust air. She taught first grade there for the next eight years. It was a happy time and Sister enjoyed the local community of twenty sisters. Since she was in charge of the kitchen, she had the difficult challenge of planning meals for those with special diets. Fortunately, for the sisters, Pat succeeded at this.
In 1965, she was then assigned to the Cathedral school in Covington, Kentucky, where she taught first and second graders. She lived with the sisters at the community-owned La Salette Academy. Another thin letter assigned Sister Patricia Marie to St. Mary School in St. Clairsville, Ohio, where she was superior, principal and teacher of first grade. This was followed by an assignment to St. Joseph School at Wolfhurst, Ohio, where she taught first grade for the next three years. It was at this time that Sister Patricia Marie’s brother, Dr. Sylvester Hill, died in February of 1971. His death greatly affected her and she grieved this loss.
After twenty years of teaching children in the primary grades, Sister Pat became very aware of the uniqueness of each child and the necessity of meeting the needs of each one. She tried very hard to address the individual needs of each child.
When Sister Patricia Marie learned that Montessori was child-centered education, she became very interested and began her studies in this method at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. As part of her internship, she taught at St. Joseph Academy in Columbus, Ohio, and lived with the sisters at St. Agatha Convent. The next step was a directed internship at Drayton Plains, Michigan. After the completion of the internship in 1972, Sister Pat received her master degree from Xavier University and certification as a Montessori teacher by the American Montessori Society.
Upon her return to Kentucky, Sister Pat pursued her dream of starting Montessori at Nazareth.
When asked later about the hardest part of starting the new school, Sister Pat responded that it was the fear of doing something she had never done before and worried if the school would be successful. She found both supporters and doubters among the community members but felt she had the support of Sister Barbara Thomas, Superior General of the Congregation. She believed so strongly in the Montessori Method and its benefit to young children that she was able to overcome her initial fear.
Under the direction of the King Education Center at Nazareth, the new Montessori school opened its doors on August 23, 1973, with eighteen children, three and four year olds, and three teachers. By its second year, the school included a kindergarten program for five year olds. The school was affiliated with the American Montessori Society. In a report to the Director of King Center, Sister Pat wrote, “I believe in Montessori education. It has brought life to the Nazareth campus and has been an asset to the Bardstown area.”
Sister Pat, along with many other sisters, worked with King Center to develop a summer program for children from low-income families. The free program offered a Montessori experience to 24 three, four and five year old children. Transportation and lunches were provided with the help of a donated van and many volunteers. The summer program continued for the next few years.
In its beginning years, Montessori occupied space on the ground floor of Spalding Hall in King Center. It soon outgrew this space and moved to the Sullivan Lodge building in 1976 to accommodate its growing enrollment, and began operating under the name Nazareth Montessori.
Once established the next hurdle was to gain state approval, which Sister Pat managed to get without difficulty. The state of Kentucky approved the school for 120 students, although the largest enrollment for any one year was seventy-six students.
In those early years, Sister Pat was the only fully trained teacher as well as Director of the school. She had to do much of the office work and bookkeeping until the school could afford office staff. Since money was so tight, Sister Pat spent most of her evenings creating materials to use in the classroom, as purchasing Montessori materials from Europe was very expensive with the added cost of duty for the imported products.
Since the Montessori School at Nazareth was the first in Nelson County, much effort was needed to inform parents and schools about the benefits of this individualized style of education. Sister Pat gave talks to various groups such as the Lion’s Club, the Rotary Club, and even spoke at Gethsemani Abbey. She gave presentations at local Catholic schools to acquaint parents and teachers with the Montessori Method. Students were recruited through advertisements in The Kentucky Standard. The editor of The Standard, Elizabeth Spalding, was very helpful with featuring the school in articles and photographs.
Meetings scheduled with parents of prospective students consisted of two-hour interviews to discuss the Montessori philosophy and to instruct the parents in ways they could support their child’s educational activities. Montessori materials were explained and demonstrated.
Since the program designed by Marie Montessori called “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” was not accessible in English, Sister Pat designed her own program. She called it “Christian Friendship,” and included it in each day’s schedule. It was a non-denomination religious education for the kindergartners. She stressed the Christian values of love, peace, and care for the Earth. In the fall of each year, Montessori sponsored an ecumenical service in St. Vincent Church with the Sisters. Sister Pat invited pastors from the area’s churches to participate in the evening service.
Sister Pat felt it was important for the children to experience nature and learn to appreciate the natural life around them. As Sister Pat led the children around the Nazareth grounds, she taught them about the wild life around us, explaining how even the little bugs are important to our plants. Sister Pat taught them not to kill insects just because they are smaller than we are. When a cricket appeared in the classroom, they were taught to take the cricket outside to free it. Sister Pat once found some children stepping on ants because they thought it was fun. She used this opportunity to teach a lesson about how we treat all living things. The children learned to leave the bigger bugs alone as some of them were dangerous. On their walks in warm weather, many of the kindergarteners learned to recognize as many as twelve different types of trees identifying them by their leaves.
The classroom always had some species of live animals or birds. A very smart little hamster was called Houdini because he knew how to open his cage door and would disappear into the room. If a rug was unfolded, Houdini might roll out of it. If a book was taken from a shelf, Houdini might be found hiding there. All of this brought much amusement to the class and they became very fond of Houdini.
Caring for animals was an important lesson. A parent brought in a baby squirrel which he found after the mother squirrel was killed in an accident. The children used a doll-sized bottle to feed little Bushy until he was grown. Rabbits were kept in outside cages, and the children learned what to feed them. An incubator built by one of the parents allowed them to watch the hatching of chicken and duck eggs.
A colorful bird named Pretty Bell had the freedom to fly around the classroom and land on someone’s shoulder. One minute he was climbing up the drapes, the next he was swooping over their heads. One sad morning, Sister Pat arrived to find Pretty Bell floating in the fish tank. The fish lived, but poor Pretty Bell had a funeral complete with a procession to the pet cemetery.
Sister Pat was ingenious in finding talent among Sisters and friends who generously contributed to the learning of the children. One of these especially talented persons was Sister Cecilia Clare who composed four different songs for the children to learn. One was about butterflies, and the most noted one was “Welcome to Montessori” which greeted each visitor.
Sister Pat’s most faithful companion and assistant was Sister Lucy Carrico who spent twenty-three years as a model teacher and continued her ministry to Montessori as a volunteer once she retired from teaching. Lucy was an ambassador for Montessori. The staff remembered her as being most hospitable, very loving and caring of the children. As she walked to the school each day, she would stop to pick up a colorful leaf or a flower to show the children.
Sister Pat was honored for her tireless work with young children. Praises in recognition of Sister Pat’s work and devotion poured out from friends, co-workers and students whose lives she has touched. It was said that Sister Pat continued to get excited when a child learns something new. She has been the recipient of many awards. In 2005, she was inducted into the Bardstown-Nelson County Hall of Fame.
In 2007, Sister Pat received the distinct honor of being accepted into Presentation Academy’s Hall of Fame. In her acceptance speech she said, “I am so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way to minister as an educator these 54 years. The testaments that I now receive from parents, former students and their teachers, as well as from the public, convinces me of the power of prayer, dedicated service and earnest efforts to love, nurture and possibly influence others.”
An article in The Kentucky Standard appeared at the time of Sister Pat’s retirement. “Sister Pat was voted the Best Teacher in Nelson County for three years in a row. She is the foundress of St. Joseph Montessori, formerly Nazareth Montessori. She has influenced the minds of more than 1,000 students, all while helping them to grow spiritually.” Sister Pat was quoted as saying, “We address the diverse needs of the young child within a Christian atmosphere. The center develops the whole person by leading the child to a respect for self, others, and the environment.” The Kentucky Standard, 2012.
Sister Pat had the gift of making each child feel special as she truly loved them. When Sister Pat retired in 2019, the staff of PLG-13 TV, As It Happens, interviewed her. When questioned about what her favorite memory of Montessori was, she responded “Every day, as every day brought something different. When asked about her favorite student, she replied “Every Student.” And that speaks to how she treated each child believing that each was beautifully and wonderfully made by God to be special and unique.
Sister Patricia Maria Hill was called to her final resting place on July 28, 2020 where she is basking in the glory of the God whom she loved.
Written by Theresa Knabel, SCN
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