A Interview with Sister Patricia Crowley

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism



Dr. Knight: Tell us about your background and your very famous family who listened to the Holy Spirit.


Sr. Patricia: My parents, Pat and Patty Crowley were in many ways an ordinary couple of mixed European descent (Irish, English, French-Canadian, and a bit of Austrian) who came of age after their college degrees, married, and had four children by 1948, of which I am the eldest. Each was influenced by their college professors, Patty by John A. Ryan at Trinity College and Pat by Charles Sheehy CSC at Notre Dame University, from whom they learned to appreciate the social justice mission of our Church. In the footsteps of a men's group of N.D. alums begun by Chick Sheehy CSC, they decided to launch a couples' movement that eventually became the internationally renowned Christian Family Movement (C.F. M.) When they were unable to have any more children after my mother nearly died in childbirth, they opened their home to many foster children and foreign students. As a result, I have brothers and sisters all over the world and we are six siblings that follow in the spirit of our parents. Recognized by the Church over the years, my father was invited to observe one of the sessions of Vatican II, and together they were invited to be members of the commission that studied the birth control issue prior to the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. In their role on the latter, they surveyed many couples throughout the world asking them to share their experiences of the church's current teaching. As you probably know, 90% of that commission recommended a change in the teaching. They were deeply hurt when that did not happen. In spite of that, hey remained very faithful Catholics until their deaths, my father in 1974, and my mother's in 2005. Throughout their lives, they listened well to the gospel message and to the Spirit.


Dr. Knight: What are some of the ways you proclaim the goodness of God? Did you ever hesitate?


Sr. Patricia: I hope that my own life reflects the goodness of God. In my life as a Benedictine Sister of Chicago and in my roles as a high school teacher of English, french, and theology, as an administrator of various social service agencies, as the prioress of my religious community, and now, as a spiritual director/guide/ companion, I am rooted in the gospel and try to be always open to the unfolding revelation of God in the Spirit in our world. After I finished my terms as Prioress of my Benedictine community, I was invited to consider spending a year in Namibia, Africa doing spiritual direction with young African women in Benedictine formation. I did hesitate... In fact, it took me several years to agree to do so. Having just returned to the States from that experience, I can say that I felt that the Spirit led me there and for that, I am extremely grateful.


Dr. Knight: When did you begin to tell your story? How did your relationship with God grow in your life?


Sr. Patricia: That is an interesting question. The process of telling my own story probably began in the late 60s in the wake of Vatican II when my own community sought ways to help us transition to new ways of being a community in the emerging sense of the Church as the "People of God". Several different facilitators were hired to help us, among whom was the psychologist Father Charles Curran and the Marist Brother Ronald Fogarty. We struggled and I know that I grew through those processes. Recently I led a retreat which I called "My story, God's story" inciting others to value their own stories as a way of listening to God in our lives.


Dr. Knight: Tell us about all the aspects of your Catholic ministry and why this is important to you.


Sr. Patricia: I am not sure what you are asking here. All of my ministry has been gospel-based. I have never ministered within the structure of the institutional Church as such. As I mentioned above, teaching was my first way of spreading the good news. Theologically, I had been formed at Mundelein College under the tutelage of Carol Frances Jegen BVM and Ann Carr, BVM, and through the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and then, while earning my Masters Degree in Catechetical Theology at Manhattan, under Gabriel Moran. In my teaching days at St. Scholastica Academy in Chicago where we planned service modules for our theology students, I heard a definite call to go and work with the poor, with people on the margins of society. In 1979, I followed that call at the Howard Area Community Center in Rogers Park about a mile from our monastery. After ten years in that role, I was given a service fellowship by the Chicago Community Trust and chose to travel to the countries of origin of the people of the Howard area. In so doing I was able to live among Central American refugees in Honduras and to observe the ways that women organized themselves based on their sharing of the gospel in their communidades de base in several Latin American countries.

Dr. Knight: Is social media important in regard to evangelizing? Does it cause you any concern?


Sr. Patricia: I use email and once in a while go on Facebook. Otherwise, I am not very skilled or prolific in the use of social media. Our community has had wonderful communication coordinators over the years and through them, we are able to use this means. Recently, one advantage I have seen is that I have been able to hear opinions that are very different from my own. In our divided world that seems very important to our eventual possible healing of the deep rifts with our church and in our world.


Dr. Knight: Could you tell us about how you keep your website up-to-date? What is the purpose of the website and how your use it?


Sr. Patricia: As I mentioned above, the websites through which we as a community and by which the organizations I have led are actually managed by professional staff. I do not have my own website.


Dr. Knight: How has your work as a religious woman changed over the time you have given to the Lord?


Sr. Patricia: Having inherited my mother's gift for organizing and having learned the joy of the spiritual search of God through my Benedictine life, I have moved from teaching to administration to my new role as a spiritual director in which I now practise listening to the Spirit in myself and in others. I have a deep longing for social justice to come for all people in our world and take steps to do my little part toward that end in everything I do. At the end of my terms as prioress, our country was faced with tremendous numbers of people seeking refuge here as they fled from injustices in their own countries. I decided I needed to act in response by calling a meeting of women religious leaders in Illinois. Some 25 women came on rather short notice to hear from people like the Young Center and Brother Michael Gosh CSV who was then working with the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants. Together, we formed a steering committee and within 8 months we opened a home for young women 18 - 22 who were seeking asylum in our country and whose only other alternative was to be incarcerated until their asylum hearings could be scheduled (sometimes this was years in waiting). Bethany House of Hospitality has welcomed nearly 50 young women and a few of their small children in a safe environment. I continue to serve as Board President for that ministry and therein work with many different women religious throughout the state of Illinois to assist young women asylees.


Dr. Knight: Your devotion to the prayer life of the Church is sometimes missed by people. How did you nourish this devotion?


Sr. Patricia: As a Benedictine woman, I treasure the liturgical life of our Church both in the Liturgy of the Hours, in Lectio Divina, and in the Eucharist. Our charism is to seek God and it is in that rich tradition that I have been nourished over the years. In the daily rootedness of that prayer life, I continue to seek God and to nourish that search.


Dr. Knight: What are some of your hopes for the future Church? What gives you hope?


Sr. Patricia: Trusting in the Spirit is what gives me great hope for our Church. Pope Francis has called us to reinvigorate our gospel efforts by reaching out to the margins of society and by being a people of deep prayer. I appreciate that. The many witnesses of gospel ministry offered by my fellow women religious as well as the energy of young people to seek deeper meaning in life through service and through prayer is encouraging. My hope is that our Church may continue to open up to new possibilities especially about the roles of women in our church. The hopes of so many young women nurture my hope in this regard. I pray that we, as a Church, might be open to the reality of the Spirit in our world and be truly transformed.