On November 25, 1936 I, Patricia Lee, was born in the Philippine Islands to my parents, Evert and Elvira Huitt. My father, a career army soldier who served in the military for thirty years, was stationed there in the Philippines. . My mother came to the Philippines from the Hawaiian Islands where her family, who were from Portugal, operated a tropical plantation. My mother never worked out-side the home. At the time of my birth, my parents already had two other girls. The three of us: Betty, the oldest, Pearl, the second and Patsy, myself, were only a year apart in age.
Soon after I was born, World War II began and the Japanese were threatening an attack on the Philippines. The Army officials ordered that all family members of the army personnel return to the States immediately. My parents, with two little girls and a baby in arms, returned to the United States. My father was assigned to go to an army base located near Brownwood, Texas.
My two brothers, Jerry, Thomas Walter called Tommy and my youngest sister, Cathy, were born in Texas. When my brother Tommy was seven years old they found that he had an incurable kidney disease. In order for him to be treated at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, my father asked to be transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Kentucky became our home. We were a tight-knit family who truly cared for each other. As a family, we did have one terrible tragedy that we experienced together. Although we came to Kentucky for him, Tommy died at age seven of his kidney disease. I was ten at the time and grieved for a long time, even experiencing nightmares.
Growing up, one of the challenges I faced, as did all my family members, was my father’s alcohol addiction. His drinking would happen only on weekends which I would dread, always hoping nothing would happen to disturb the family. Sometimes the family was disturbed, and sometimes not. Yet it was always a tension for me.
My mother was the strength that held our family together. She taught us how to care for and love one another. She was kind and gentle and smiled to welcome everyone around her. She reached out and helped her neighbors and got us involved in doing that with her. No one around her in need went without help. My mother gave me security and joy in my growing up.
I was educated in the Fort Knox School System. When I was ready to go into high school my father, then a Major in the Army, was assigned to the Korean War, which began in 1950. My parents decided to move to Louisville until he returned from the war. This is where I felt God took over my life by my mother’s decision to send me to Presentation Academy for my beginning year of high school. Here I met the Sisters of Charity and they had a great impact on the first two years of my life at Pres. I was touched by their care and love for me. After finishing my sophomore year, my father returned from Korea and we moved back to Fort Knox.
My father retired after thirty years in the Army, which was at the end of my junior year of high school at Fort Knox. We moved back to Louisville and I went to Presentation Academy for my senior year and graduated in 1955. After working a year, I enrolled at Spalding University to begin working on a Bachelor Degree in Psychology. Two teachers at Spalding who were SCNs had a great influence on me and I had my fist thoughts about religious life. When I began discussing this with Sisters Rose Agnes Greenwell and Alice Marita Kern, they were very encouraging. (Later Sister Rose Agnes went with me when I came to apply to enter the community.)
My call from God to religious life came unexpectedly. I was out with a friend named James one night and we were driving by a large building and he asked me who lived there. I said, “Nuns do.” I heard a voice inside me say, ‘I want you to be a nun.’ That voice never left me. I told God to call someone else since I planned to marry. As soon as James asked me to marry him, I said “Yes”. He put the ring on my finger but I knew at that moment that this was not the right decision for me. This was not what God wanted me to do. After days of prayer and talking to God, I knew I was being called to religious life and would not be happy in any other life. The hardest thing I had to do was to tell James that I could not marry him since I felt called to be a nun. He was shocked but was kind in his acceptance of it.
I went to the priest at my parish, St. Leo’s, and I talked to him about entering religious life and thinking about going to the SCNs. He surprised me with saying, “By all means, do that!” He shouted, “Whatever you do, do not enter the community of Sisters we have here.” I never expected to get such a great affirmation for the Sisters of Charity.
So on September 8, 1957, I entered the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth Congregation. Sister Mora Rose Marks was my Postulant Mistress. She was a kind and encouraging Sister. I felt very comfortable with her. In the novitiate, I had Mother Lucille Russell for my Novice Mistress and I was blessed that I felt very comfortable with her also. Mother was a person who expected you to take responsibility for what you needed to do and always encouraged you to be strong in your vocation.
In 1960, I made first vows and we were the second class of professed young women to be held back by the congregation in order to get our first degree. It was a hard decision that the Congregation had to make to enabler young Sisters to get their degrees before going out on missions. (We knew that some or our Sisters worked on getting their first degree for fifteen or twenty years while they carried on in their ministries.) Sister Mary Rosine Callahan was the Director of this Formation Program. We remained at Nazareth for two years and then went to our first mission with a Bachelor’s Degree in hand.
In 1962, I was assigned to St. Clara’s Academy in Yazoo City, Mississippi. I loved my first mission of teaching and being with the Sisters there, yet it was an eye-opener for me because I did not realize that the problem of racism was so prevalent. Wherever I went in the city of Yazoo, there were signs up saying “Whites Only – Blacks Not allowed!” whether at the water-fountain or at restaurants. Once I was in a hurry and went into the train station to buy a ticket to Louisville and the ticket seller looked at me with disgust and told me to get over on the other side if I wanted a ticket. I looked up and over the counter was a sign that said “Blacks only”. I knew if I wanted a ticket I would have to go to the other side. I felt much shame as I went to get my train ticket on the other side.
In 1966, I was transferred to St. Lawrence School in Louisville. There I taught a third grade class for three years. In 1969, I became principal of the school for ten years. I loved being principal and working with the teachers and students. Those years were very happy and blessed.
While still a principal at St Lawrence, the teachers and I made a major decision regarding our stand on racism in the Archdiocese. This was the time in Louisville when the practice of busing black children to different schools where only white children were began in order to begin integration. It was a terrible time in Louisville for people were against the government and much violence was witnessed. The teachers and I decided that we would show our support for integration of blacks and whites in schools. We decided with Sister Pauline Albin, a Sister of Loretto, and her faculty at Christ the King School in the West End who had all black students, that we would sponsor together a six week Exchange Program. Ten black students from Christ the King and ten white students from St. Lawrence would exchange places within these two schools. Only those students who volunteered to become the exchange students would have their schooling for six weeks at the other school.
Meetings were held to explain the program to the parents. There was much anger from parents who expressed very negative racial feelings about blacks and whites mixing. At a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) meeting, some parents tried to vote the program down, but finally the vote of the group was to sponsor the program and go on with it. The program was very successful. The Exchange students seemed to adjust very well in their new school and felt sad to go back to their original school. It was a very stressful time of standing for what we believed. We got many angry, hateful calls and there were protests at our school by some parents but afterwards all gave praise to God for the blessings all felt and received from this Exchange Program!
In the middle of my years at St. Lawrence School, the Congregation sent me a letter informing me that I was chosen to study theology at Spalding University, Louisville. I was very surprised for all I ever heard was only the bright ones got to study theology and here I was told to study theology. “O God, help me, I prayed.” This was the greatest blessing that the Congregation ever gifted me with. I was deeply transformed and changed as I studied theology over those years. This study deepened my religious and spiritual life.
In 1979, after I received my degree in theology, I felt called to use my degree and to work in a parish therefore I moved from being a principal to being a pastoral minister in a parish. There was an offering for a pastoral minister at Holy Family Church in Ensley, Alabama so I applied. It was a beautiful interview and at the end they said to me, “Can you work with us?” I said in reply, “I would love to!” I was hired! Holy Family was an all-black Church.
My experience working with the parishioners at Holy Family was beautiful and uplifting. They were so open to God and ministering with the Church in so many wonderful ways. I found much love and acceptance with the people and was greatly inspired by their deep faith especially in their forgiveness of others in their racial prejudices and put-downs.
In 1985, the Congregation asked me to be Director of Ministry for the Congregation. At this time the Congregation became open to our Sisters who wanted to search for ministry opportunities for themselves. These SCNs would come to the Director of Ministry for help in finding the right ministry. I would help them find the suitable ministry for themselves. It was a wonderful way of getting to know some of the Sisters and assisting them in their search for their next mission.
In 1991, I began my Doctorate study on Leadership/Ministry Formation in the Church. I attended McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. This great program helped me develop so many skills in ministry formation so I could pass them on to lay people who wanted to minister in the Church. My greatest joy of all was that my mother and sister, Cathy, came to my graduation ceremony in Chicago when I completed my Doctorate.
From 1991 to 2000, I did leadership development and ministry formation at Sacred Heart Southern Mission (SHSM) in Southaven, Mississippi. One of my joys was that SCN Maria Vincent Brocato was the Executive Director of SHSM at this time. I covered seven counties in Mississippi for SHSM, teaching the parishioners in these counties how to best minister in their churches. It was a marvelous faith challenge to help them develop skills to be ministers of God in their own churches. The movement of God in my life was very powerful as I worked with all of the churches and their parishioners.
In the year 2000, the Congregation called Sisters to discern about going to Botswana, Africa. My faith group came together to discern about the call. One Sister kept saying over and over, “Who would want to go?” A voice inside of me said, “Tell them you will go!” I told that voice strongly, “I do not want to go!” Of course, I know whose voice it was and that was God’s voice calling me to go to Botswana. I did not want to listen to this voice so I very much struggled with the call. The congregation set up a weekend for those who were willing to discern about going to Botswana. After much resistance to God and going to the weekend, I surrendered to God and called our Provincial and told her I was planning to attend. My provincial’s response was, “YOU, I have not heard your name being mentioned at all!” I told her, “God and I have been struggling with it.” So I went to the weekend. God won and I shared with the group which was gathered that I wanted to go to Botswana. Angela Hicks and I were the two sent from the United States and three came from India: Sisters Ann Muthukattil, Nalini Meachariyill, and Sarita Manavalan!
I ministered in Botswana, Africa from 2000 to 2014. The moment my foot stepped on the ground of Botswana I knew this is where God wanted me and I was home. I had great peace and joy in my ministry in Botswana. I did pastoral work in the parish church of Kayne and later became Director of Catechesis for the Diocese of Gaborone. I served in that capacity for ten years. It was such great and satisfying work. The catechists were lacking a feeling of adequacy and spiritual satisfaction. I began a catechetical program to support and develop spiritual nourishment for the catechists. The catechists flocked to this program. Bishop Valentine once asked me how I got so many catechists to come to the sessions of this program. I said, “Bishop, it is their yearning for learning and spirituality that is bringing them here not me.”
My ministry in Botswana as Director of Catechesis was so beautiful and nourishing for me. I loved teaching the catechists, of course, always through translators. Once, I said to them, I going to get someone to teach you this topic in Setswana so you will not need a translator. They said to me, “Oh no, Sister, we want you to teach us even if you are translated for we understand you the best. Sister, please teach us!” I felt very affirmed by their wanting me to teach them.
One hardship I experienced in Botswana was receiving word of the sudden death of my brother, Jerry, from a massive heart attack. A great gift that the Congregation gave me was to allow me to go home for his funeral. My going home for his funeral was a great step in a healing process for my family’s acceptance of his death. My heart will always be grateful for this treasured time of sorrow and love with my family.
After thirteen years in Botswana, my yearly discernment began to open me to discern that God was calling me home from Botswana. I began to feel that my work for God in Botswana was finished and now I needed to go home and carry my learnings from Botswana home to Kentucky. I knew God was calling me home. It was a very sad day when I told the Diocese and my catechists that I was going home. It was a very hard day for me since all did not want me to go. It was hard for them to let go and it was hard for me to say my good-byes.
I returned to Nazareth in February 2015, and felt very welcomed by our Sisters here. It was a great loving homecoming for me. After several months home, the Motherhouse community was looking for new coordinators to serve them. Many asked me to consider putting my name up for being one of their coordinators. They were seeking three. I prayed a long time over it and did say “Yes” to putting my name in to be considered as a coordinator. The Motherhouse Sisters accepted me as one of their coordinators. The position was very time consuming since you had to be present to the Sisters and to help them when they needed help. Many times you followed the ambulance to Flaget Hospital when Sisters fell or became very ill. This job was very demanding on my time, but I loved being with the Sisters especially when they were very ill. After my term of office as coordinator was up, I began looking for ways to work with parishes in the Archdiocese since I longed to get back involved with pastoral work.
It took me a while to connect with the Archdiocese. God sent me a message through one of our Sisters for she said to me, “Denise Puckett, Director of Catechists for the Archdiocese, was here at Nazareth for a retreat and is now going back to Louisville.” Those words from her said to me that God wanted me to call Denise Puckett so I did. All things worked unto good after that.
I called Denise Puckett and she said that she would love for me, Art Turner, the Director of Faith Formation for the Archdiocese, and herself to meet and see what we could work out> The idea was for me to give retreats or workshops for the Archdiocese. HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD! I have given an Advent Retreat, a Lenten Retreat and on June 27th gave a Catechist Retreat. Everything worked out so wonderfully. I had around twenty-five or thirty people for each retreat. I loved sharing deeply in a spiritual way with all those retreatants.
Another way I got involved with the Archdiocese was by volunteering to be a facilitator in the Parish Discernment Process called by Archbishop Kurtz. Sal Della Bella, Archdiocesan Director of Leadership Development, assigned me to work with two small parishes which would be taken together.
I was happy to facilitate the parish discernment process for the small parishes of Saints Ambrose and Ignatius in small towns outside of Elizabethtown, Ky. These two small parishes were the outgrowth from the very large parish of St. James in Elizabethtown. We had a listening session with both parishes, where we heard the parishioners speak of how their parishes needed to grow and become vibrant for the future. Afterwards, the Core Team, which I formed from the two small parishes, and I gathered to formulate goals. These were notes taken from the reporting back from each table of parishioners present at the Listening Session. The Core Team Members and I finalized these parish goals, gave them to Father Ben Brown, the Pastor, who sent their parish goals to the Archbishop. The parishioners will begin to work on carrying out their goals in the next few months.
After completing the discernment with these two small churches, Sal Della Bella called me and asked me if I would facilitate another parish in this same discernment. I said “Yes” and” I would like a small parish near Nazareth.” He writes me an email and tells me he wants me to do this parish discernment with St. Joseph here in Bardstown, a large as well as the main church here. I called him to say I thought I asked for a small parish near Nazareth. Sal responds, “Sister, one out of two is not bad!” I accepted it.
At the end of June, I formed the Core Team at St. Joseph and we gathered to formulate goals from the notes taken from the reporting back from each table of parishioners present at the Listening Session. We presented the parish goals which came from the Listening Session to Father Terry Bradshaw, the Pastor of St. Joseph. Father Terry sent their parish goals to the Archbishop and the parishioners will begin to work in carrying out their goals soon. I am so happy and satisfied in doing parish work. What a joy it is to work in pastoral ministry again!
As I look over my life as a religious in this SCN congregation, I praise God that my life has been blessed and joyful. Yes, I had heartaches and pain, but God always helped me through them with my SCN Sisters by my side. Through love from my community, I became a stronger and more secure person in God. As I look over my missions, I feel how blessed I was to be there in all of them. They were the places where God wanted me to be so I could teach, train, and celebrate in a great way how God helped me to minister to God’s people in care and love. I could rejoice that I was able to help them become God’s ministers wherever they were.
All I can say about my life as a religious and an SCN is “Thank you, God, thank you a thousand times over”! My heart is full of gratitude to God for all the ways God has blessed and helped me to live this wonderful religious life in the SCN Congregation. Our God is magnificently kind and loving. Holy is God’s name. Blessed be our God forever!