Sister Pat Conway
It was evident that they were happy women.
Just recently a young woman came to see me to talk about the Sisters of St. Joseph. She is from the Niagara Peninsula but is attending college in Northern Ontario where she is acquainted with the Sisters of St. Joseph. Before the conversation went too far she said that she would like to hear "my story." Much of what follows is what I told her.
My parents, both Americans, lived in Detroit, Michigan, where my father began a lifetime career in the automobile business. His work took him to various cities in the States and eventually to Canada. I came from a family of four children — my two older brothers were born in the States and a younger sister and I were born in Windsor, Ontario. My second oldest brother died when he was nine years old, and I was three. Jack, Honey and I grew up together but he was always the big brother who looked out for his kid sisters. While the death of their son was an emotional strain on my parents, their faith and trust in God never wavered. In difficult times, Dad’s comment always was, "The good Lord will take care of us." Their simple faith and good example were early lessons that have influenced my life.
Meeting the Sisters of St. Joseph
When we moved to London, Ontario, I attended the parish school where the Sisters of St. Joseph taught each of the grades from one to eight. I vividly remember each one of those Sisters but my grade one teacher was my favourite. We met some 30 years later when we attended summer school in Toronto. What a happy surprise for both of us! My dad was transferred to Toronto when I was ready for high school. There was no question about what school I would attend. My five years at St. Joseph’s College School hold many happy memories for me of the Sisters who taught and challenged me academically. It was evident that they were happy women, and I was also attracted to them by the Sisterly care they had for each other.
I believe this association with the Sisters during my formative years influenced my decision to become one of them. God was calling me to think about being a Sister of St. Joseph. Of course during these years I was involved in and enjoyed the normal teenage activities of sports, CYO, Sodality, dances and parties and hanging out with friends, but when decision time came at end of high school, it was not a difficult choice to make.
Making a choice
Unlike some vocation stories, mine is a simple one and one that I would not change. My story is much like the story of a seed that is planted, watered, nurtured by the sun and carefully tended by a gardener. I believe that God planted the invitation in my heart and it was nurtured and cared for by my loving parents, the good Sisters and longtime loyal friends — all under the guiding hand of the One who planted it. There was no doubt that I wanted to be a Sister of St. Joseph.
What have I done
On September 7, 1943, along with 11 other young women, I started my postulancy followed by a two-and-a half year Novitiate. This was a time of prayer, studying, adapting, discerning and preparing for First Profession. If and when difficulties arose there was always someone or some support to help me over the rough times. This, I think, was a taste and experience of community life.
Before making final profession in 1949, I obtained my Teacher's Certificate and taught five years in St. Catharines
Before making final profession in 1949, I obtained my Teacher’s Certificate and taught a year in St. Catharines, a class of 48 boys in grades I and 2. That was the first of the happy 39 years that I lived, off and on, in the peninsula. My teaching ministry extended from 1948 to 1986, taking me from St. Catharines to Toronto, Thorold, Vancouver, Colgan, Prince Rupert and back to the Peninsula to teach in Fonthill, Niagara Falls, and Welland. I had experience in each grade, and was given many assignments other than the actual academics. Over those many years, lasting friendships developed, and I always had the good example and support of the Sisters with whom I taught. For this, I am very grateful. The most rewarding experience was preparing the children for their First Communion.
Where am I today
Since taking early retirement in 1986, I have been working full time at the Catholic Marriage Tribunal in the Diocese of St. Catharines. My main work is interviewing witnesses in annulment cases. It is a ministry of compassion, reconciliation and healing. I am in touch with people of different faiths, non-practicing Catholics and often the parents of the parties who are hurting. When I am asked if I enjoy my work, my response is that I find peace in helping others to be peaceful.
For the past 16 years I have been a member of a parish R.C.I.A. team. I have found that sharing my faith with others has strengthened and challenged my own faith. It has been a good experience and I have enjoyed it, even though it requires weekly preparations and meetings.
For about 10 years or more, my Sister and I have been Eucharistic Ministers to the home bound and to the Catholic residents in two nursing homes. Each Sunday morning we use the Sunday Liturgy to pray, sing and receive the Gospel message with them before distributing Holy Communion. To witness their joy, simple faith and appreciation is beautiful and the highlight of our week.
What keeps me going
I believe that my trust in and dependence on God leads me to be open to His call of “Come follow me” each and every day. Through daily prayer and reflection on the gospel message of the day and the Eucharist, I experience peace, knowing that He is with me and reaching out to those who are elderly, poor and seeking reconciliation and peace at this time and in this place. This is fulfilling the commitment made as a CSJ to love God and my dear neighour.
Photo by Julie Joscak