Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 7, 2000
Sister called to serve the poor
Franciscan has direct experience of being called by name
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
It took divine intervention to get Lucinda May Patterson to trade her chalk for a religious habit 10 years ago.
While teaching high school in Georgia, Patterson felt restless as if a piece was missing in her life. She didn't know what it was until the Lord himself dropped a hint.
When she saw a vision of the crucified Jesus asking her, "What are you going to do for me?" she knew she had to get closer to the Lord.
Patterson, now 43, joined the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement in 1989 and she is happy she did.
"It feels right to me to have this commitment," she said in a recent interview. "I know I am God beloved. I know God has called me by name."
Patterson moved to the Atonement Home in Edmonton four years ago and made her perpetual vows as a Franciscan Sister last August at the congregation's motherhouse in Graymoor, N.Y.
Currently she is program director for the Lurana Shelter, a residence operated by the sisters for battered women and their children. She is also a member of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Patterson, one of 10 Franciscan sisters in Edmonton, was born in 1957 into a single-parent family in Lowell, Mich. Her mother, a real estate broker, was a woman of "great faith" and she passed it on to her three children.
She took her children to church regularly and made a point of giving credit to God for all creation. "Mom would see a flower and would say, 'Look at what God gave to us,'" Patterson recalled. "She laid a foundation."
After completing her education degree, Patterson moved to Douglas, Ga., to teach religious education at the local high school. She remained there for 10 years.
Teaching children in the rural South was eye-opening for Patterson, who was deeply moved by the poverty and social inequality. "They are very poor and they often don't even finish high school because their parents want them on the farm."
She wouldn't stay idle and organized many projects through the school and the parish to help the kids. She even volunteered as a Girl Scout leader in Douglas to be closer to them and to influence their lives.
Things in her own life, however, were not going well. Patterson felt a piece was missing from her life but she couldn't pinpoint what it was. It was like a longing, an itching for something deeper, more meaningful.
At age 21, however, she went through a crisis of faith and ended up leaving the Church. After two months of attending services in other Christian churches she was back at her parish, convinced the Catholic Church had what she wanted.
But the itching wouldn't go away until the Lord entered the scene. It all happened one night following a painful foot surgery. Patterson was feeling sorry for herself when suddenly she saw Jesus, the nails crossed on his feet, asking her "What are you going to do for me?"
She immediately knew what she had to do. She wrote to 13 religious orders requesting information and got a reply from seven.
After a thorough search, she picked the Franciscan Sisters "because I saw them as instruments to help people find joy and hope in the midst of all the brokenness in this world."
In addition to bringing relief to women and children, the Franciscans are dedicated to helping Christian churches find unity.
"Since I entered the congregation, I feel complete, totally connected to God," Patterson said. "I'm happy. My goal is to be the best instrument that I can be for whatever God calls me to do."
At Lurana Shelter, she often meets women and children who can't even look her in the eye as a result of the abuse they've suffered. Some cower when they hear a loud voice.
Clients sometimes feel intimidated by her brown Franciscan habit but their fear goes away as soon as they meet the kind sister, who always finds the right words to make them feel loved and safe.
"We are doing what Jesus would have done," Patterson said matter-of-factly. "Working here has changed my life even more. It has deepened my belief that all people need to know they are loved and respected and that it's never right for anyone to hurt them."