After 13 years as the business manager of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Cookeville, Salvatorian Sister Pat Russell has returned to Milwaukee, the home of her order’s U.S. province.
“I really loved Tennessee,” Sister Pat said. “There’s something about being in a mission diocese. The people are really connected to each other when you have only one Catholic Church in town instead of 30 like in Milwaukee.”
But as the only Salvatorian sister in the Diocese of Nashville, Sister Pat was missing a sense of community life. “The reason I’m going back is I’ve been living on my own for 13 years. It’s time for me to go back to a community setting,” she said.
Although the Salvatorian priests in the diocese invited her into their circle so she could build community with them, she was missing the support of her fellow Sisters. “I joined the Salvatorians so I would live a community life.”
Sister Pat grew up in Corning, N.Y., where she made a Cursillo weekend. “My spirituality was helped through knowing people in that Cursillo community,” she said. “They helped bring me into my adult faith. They really mentored me and supported me.”
After two years of college, she moved to Washington, D.C., in 1972, where she got a job as a secretary for the U.S. Department of Justice. With the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, “it was an exciting time,” Sister Pat said.
Eventually, she started thinking about religious life. “I thought, ‘Well, this will go away.” When the thoughts remained, she decided to write to some religious orders “and find out this is not for me.”
One of the orders she wrote to was the Salvatorians and she attended a retreat with the Sisters. “I was really touched by the people and the spirituality,” Sister Pat said. “The Salvatorians were one of the few groups who asked more about me and less about what are you going to do” for the community.
She joined the Salvatorian in August of 1979 and took her first vows in 1982. She was working in an urban parish as the secretary, but had started taking on new responsibilities. The pastor suggested she go back to school to earn a degree in business or parish finances. She made her final vows in 1988 and graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a degree in business administration in 1989.
Her next stop was as the business manager at St. Francis Xavier Church in Birmingham, Ala. She was there until 1992 when she became the sponsorship coordinator for her province, working with the lay people working at the institutions sponsored by the Salvatorians, including a girls high school, hospital and two nursing homes.
As the number of Salvatorian sisters fell, they relied more on lay people to run their institutions. Her job was to lead workshops on the charisms and mission of the Salvatorians so the lay people could continue to carry them out, Sister Pat explained.
“We believe Catholic sponsorship is important … our charism is important,” she said. “We don’t want to lose that.”
Her next job was as the province treasurer while she also was earning a master’s in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
In 2003, she went looking for a post that required a finance background, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ pastor at the time, Salvatorian Father Peter Coffey, hired her to be the parish business manager. The parish was in the process of building a new church and he wanted Sister Pat to aid in that effort as well as make sure all of its financial policies and procedures were up to standard.
“It was a very interesting time” with the construction of the church under way, Sister Pat said. “It was exciting. I enjoyed doing that.”
Over the years, she has taken on more ministries, such as helping with religious education classes and sacramental preparation for adults and children. Sister Pat hopes to do more of that kind of work after she settles back in Milwaukee this month.
Part of the Salvatorians’ charism is to be amongst the people, she said. “We’re a very down to earth kind of community,” Sister Pat said. “We like to be among the people and work with others.”
She added: “Our line is to bring the goodness and kindness of Jesus to everyone and in every way that the Spirit inspires.”