I, Patricia Ann Worley was born on June 4, 1933 in Roanoke, Virginia. My parents were Alvin Russell and Ella O’Brien Worley. I had two older sisters, Betty (Mrs. James Gill) and Martha (Mrs. Vernon Brock). My mother and father divorced when I was five years old. During much of my early childhood we lived with my mother’s sister, Aunt Kassie, and her six children. I attended Our Lady of Nazareth Elementary and High School in Roanoke.
My earliest memories include the presence and spirit of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. I always had Sisters as my teachers and I honestly believe that the Lord began to call me early when I was attracted so much to the deep, mysterious pockets that the Sisters often reached into and because I loved to watch them pull on and adjust their caps. I longed to see upstairs in the convent or to get the tiniest peek into their lives and satisfy a little of my urgency to be a part of them.
Frequently at bedtime I would put on the clothes I was going to wear the next day and sleep in them, so I could get to church in time to hold the door for the Sisters. It was a thrill for me to do this because I had great admiration for the Sisters. Not to mislead you into thinking that I spent my childhood “gazing” at the Sisters I believe that I should note here (and I am sure this could be verified by many Sisters who knew me as a youngster) that I was certainly a typical all-American girl. I was a real tom-boy and full of mischief. My early report cards can attest to the fact that my grades in conduct and deportment were not always satisfactory! My best friend Pat Brinkley (now a Carmelite Sister in Fort Worth, Texas) and I were the first ones to shed our shoes and run around the neighborhood parks. We were also the leaders of those who waited until dark to steal cherries in the summer time. Strangely enough, we were also the first at Mass in the morning and considered it the greatest treat to be asked by the priests or Sisters to do anything to help at school or church. Precious to my memory are Sisters Angelica Lohman, Alice Maria Goode, Mary Ellen Puryear, Sara Ann Abel, Martha Joseph Lenahan, Consolata Boyd (she left the community), Mary Florentine Wathen, Mary Veronica McAuliffe and Celine Carrigan. These beautiful women inspired us and called us always to be more than we were. I deeply treasure my memories of Sisters, school days and church life as a young child and as a young adult.
I had my share of dates and dances and had a full and happy adolescent and young adult life. There was always something inside of me that was restless, not satisfied. If asked at this time what I was searching for, I’m sure my response would not have been to dedicate my life to the church or to be a foreign missionary. I would not have answered that I wanted to help save hundreds of souls or any of the more inspiring or elevating responses to which vocation talks called us. I simply had an insatiable longing to spend my life growing in the knowledge and love of the Lord wherever else this would lead me. Even so, I did not enter the community right out of high school. I convinced myself that I was not ready. I wanted to play basketball one more year; I wanted to go to more parties; I wanted to work for a while and probably the strongest attraction that held me back was my mother—I just could not leave her right away. I graduated from high school in 1950 and for the next four years I accomplished all of the above and more. Finally in 1954 I knew that I had to leave my mother, I had to go. I entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky on January 18, 1954. Sister Alice Maria, my first grade teacher, met me in Louisville, Kentucky and put me on a bus for Nazareth. The first person to open the door and greet me at the motherhouse was Sister Mary Lucita Gholson. I shall never forget her graciousness nor the feeling of warmth and welcome that she conveyed to me. There were six of us to enter together in that January class, Dorlis Chandler, Mary Dwyer, Margaret McGinnis, Margaret Fowkes and Helen Cashman. The first evening we joined the novices for recreation and one of my first questions to Sister Mary Julia MacDougall was, “Where in the world do you wash your hair?”
We were the last class to have a six-month postulancy and it went by so quickly. I loved every minute of it! By Easter I had gained so much weight that I had to let out two or three pleats in my skirt. Even though I was terribly homesick at times I knew that the longing I had before was finally satisfied. Nazareth was my home!
My mother came on July 18, 1954 when I received my habit and religious name of Sister John Francis. No words could ever describe the joy of seeing her again. I remember how kind and hospitable the Sisters were to her, especially Sister James Leo Goldsborough.
I had only two duties as a novice. The first six months were spent with Sister Emmanuella Glenn in the store room. She scared me to death at first but it wasn’t long before I discovered the warm, cuddly bunny inside that stern presence. Sister Emmanuella became a dear and respected friend and I loved my days with her. After six months I was asked to be refectorian for a “couple” weeks to replace another novice—I stayed for the next year and half! Just as Sister Mora Rose Marks had loved and guided us postulants, Sister Helen Frances Sheeran continued our direction during our novitiate days and I began then and realize more completely now that she is one of the greatest women our community ever had. I could never be grateful enough to her for the guidance and inspiration she gave me.
I made first vows July 19, 1956 and went to Saint Joseph School in Bardstown, Kentucky on my first mission to teach seventh grade. The inadequacy that I felt for this task is indescribable. I honestly used to hope that I might be hit by a car as I crossed the main street to the school. The first three months I just sat at the desk reading with the children one book after the other. I had no idea what a lesson plan ever looked like and if it had not been for Sister Marie Barbara King and Sister Ann Cabrini Hall who coached me each evening for the next day, I would never had made it!
After perpetual vows in 1959 I was assigned to Saint Bridgid School in South Boston, Massachusetts. I cried for days because I felt I was being sent to the other side of the world. I also knew I would be leaving Nazareth for a long, long time. Eight of the happiest years of my life were spent here. The convent and school were old and dilapidated but we had a spirit of love and community among us for which new and modern facilities could never make up. The children in “Southie” were unique and special and filled my life with many challenges and much joy. I stayed there from 1959-1967.
In 1967 I was sent to Saint Mary’s Parish in Richmond, Virginia as principal and superior. Once again I was nearly paralyzed with a feeling of total inadequacy and unpreparedness. I had no idea where to begin in either role. I had never spoken over a microphone before an audience and the first time I stood to address the parents I honestly believe a real and authentic miracle occurred. I opened my mouth and words came forth that were together and spoke the message. To this day I do not have any idea where those words came from except that I was helpless and totally dependent and allowed the Spirit to speak through me.
I remained in Richmond until 1971. At this time principals were being required to either have a Master Degree in Education or be pursuing one. I came to realize that I had no desire to remain in education. The teaching of religion and scripture had become very important and fulfilling to me and I wanted very much to continue in this field. I was given permission to study full-time at Saint Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. I graduated from there with a Master’s Degree in Theology in 1972. I returned to Saint Mary’s Parish in Richmond and was Director of Religious Education there until 1976.
From 1976-1977, I lived with my mother who was unable to care for herself. I taught religion at Saint Bridgid’s School. After settling my mother with my oldest sister in Richmond, I went to Clarksville, Virginia with Sisters Ann Maureen McGrath, Virginia Bauer, Janice Downs and two diocesan priests to do parish work in five different parishes in Southside, Virginia. For many reasons this venture did not work so we four Sisters left for other ministries.
I moved to New Hope, Kentucky to live with the Sisters there. I was employed by Holy Rosary Parish in Springfield, Kentucky and traveled a minimum of fifty miles each day to and from the parish. When I arrived at Holy Rosary there were very little activities in the parish. A parish “town hall” meeting was held where I heard from the people what was needed. A liturgy committee was formed and Eucharistic ministers and lectors were trained. I also formed and worked with the choir. A religious education program was started for the children. Gradually the parishioners became actively involved in their parish through the various opportunities offered. It was at this time that the Lord filled my life with the new and exciting experience with African Americans, their culture and heritage and the discovery of their unique gift to the church. I was blessed with the gift of coming very close to the experience of rural people and their love and appreciation for the earth and its fullness.
I began very early in 1981 to anticipate my Silver Jubilee. I celebrated whenever possible! My final and most meaningful celebration was on August 2, 1981 in Richmond, Virginia. My entire family, fifteen Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, many priests and lay friends came to celebrate with me. It was a day to remember! I praised God for calling me and I praised Him for keeping me!
Toward the end of my fourth year in Springfield in 1982, I was asked by my community to discern about the role of Vocation Director for the community. After months of prayer and discernment I said “yes” to the call and was blessed with the privilege of preparing for a year for this position with the current director at that time, Sister Julie Driscoll. I began the position in August of 1982. It was a very successful time. During this time the community did an experimental approach with the candidates who lived with the Sisters. I was with a group of Sisters at Saint Ignatius in Louisville, Kentucky and six candidates lived with us. They experienced community life from day to day. Sisters Amina Bejos and Nancy Gerth who entered during this time are active community members. This formation model is still being used today.
There were great expectations among the Sisters for vocations. Our Sisters wanted large numbers of women to enter since India was experiencing large numbers coming to the community. But in the United States fewer babies were being born and Sisters were not as prevalent in the schools as in the past. Thus young women did not know the Sisters. I loved meeting the young women as Vocation Director and enjoyed my time in this ministry.
In 1986 during the last part of my year as Director a new emphasis on serving the poor and oppressed was motivating many Sisters to switch to social justice jobs in the secular community. I had mostly served in middle-class or upper middle-class white areas.
That all changed in 1986, when I heard about Saint John Center, a day shelter for homeless people in Louisville, Kentucky. It was not a church job, although it was being run by Mary Kathleen Sheehan, SCN. It was a secular job at a private shelter sponsored by the Coalition for the Homeless.
My experiences to that point were working with Catholics in church jobs. Saint John’s didn’t need teachers, preachers or recruiters. It needed people willing to serve the city’s rootless and unwanted citizens.
I was intimidated, I am not denying that. But after one meeting for volunteers I was hooked. I loved what I heard. All that year while completing my job as Vocation Director, I would drive to town at seven in the morning from where I lived, way out on Rangeland Road, and serve the men coffee before I went to work. I felt I was in the real world, the real world!
When Sister Kathleen offered me a full-time job as coordinator of volunteers I had some misgivings. The tough part was wondering how I would fit in—would they like me, would I be able to relate? Everybody told me it would be so stressful and it was. Nobody who knew me well thought I would be there thirteen years but I was!
I eventually became Associate Director of the Center. I had developed a fierce bond with the alcoholics, drug addicts and mentally ill street people who poured into the center by the hundreds, seeking coffee, comfort and companionship.
Not to sound overly religious, but I felt what kept me there was that I had an opportunity every day to really manifest love to people who don’t very often get that from society or their families.
After leaving Saint John’s Center in 1999, I returned to Nazareth and became coordinator for Russell Hall. My time there was uneventful but I did find it challenging trying to meet the varied needs of about forty Sisters who lived there.
I served on the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Associates Core Council. This was a rewarding experience, I found the Associates so inspiring and dedicated and they gave new life to the community. They were intense on carrying out projects and educating themselves. My time on the council provided me a means to get to know many of the Associates. I was saddened when my time was completed because I enjoyed working with the Associates so much.
In 2003 I moved to the Motherhouse where I assisted Sister Sarah Ferriell in various ways in preparing for the liturgies. I worked on getting permission from companies to use songs for services. I was a lector a, Eucharistic minister and helped wherever help was needed. I also spent a couple of years working the switchboard at the Motherhouse. Today my health limits my involvement in activities.
I love living at Nazareth and want for nothing. I call it, “The Love Boat”.
I find myself hopefully ready and certainly willing to continue my exciting journey as a Sister of Charity of Nazareth and as a woman in the Church. Both roles fill me with an excitement and enthusiasm for life. I loved yesterday, am really enjoying today and am filled with hope about the surprise of tomorrow!
Sister Pat Worley wrote from 1933-1983
Sharon Cecil, SCNA interviewed 1983-2017