Profiles in Service: Sr. Mary Patricia Quinn, CSJ
In all…things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. Romans 8:37
Q. How did you discover your vocation?
A. Upon reflection, I realize that discovery is an ongoing process. Even at seventy-nine years of age and sixty-two years as a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ), I am still discovering it. Formal religious life was no stranger to me growing up. My Aunt Gen was a CSJ; two first cousins, Ed and Dick Quinn, became Maryknoll priests; and my older brother, Dick Quinn, is a Redemptorist priest. My immediate family consisted of my dad, Richard; mom, Josephine; two brothers, Dick, and Frank; and an aunt, Mary. Although we were not a perfect family we were very Catholic, supportive of the Church, and full of love, affection, and acceptance toward one another, our friends, and the stranger.
It was important to my parents that we all attend Catholic schools. The Sisters of St. Joseph, who were our instructors, devoted time and interest in their students. Additionally, my family regularly participated in Perpetual Help devotions, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, school retreat days, and Redemptorist missions. All these “sacramentals” created a climate in the 1950s conducive to fostering the idea of becoming a nun! While I was interested in knowing more about religious life, I also dated some. I was especially fond of one young man who I discussed marriage with, although we were only seventeen! In my senior year, I sought out one of my friends, who also happened to be our principal, and spoke with her, ever-so-carefully, about the possibility of entering religious life. I had not, however shared this information with any of my family or friends. Sister was helpful. She promised to stay in touch and suggested I continue to pray about it.
And then my mom died toward the end of my senior year. I was so sad. I began to see ordinary things in a new light. I shared with my dad that I might be thinking of entering the convent. He was encouraging, though I knew he would miss me, especially since my mom had died so recently. Young and not sure what it meant to discern one’s vocation, I began to feel more drawn toward entering the convent, and I pursued that goal.
Q. What are the signs of God’s presence in your vocation?
A. Let me count the ways! There are so many. From the chaotic last days preparing to leave Kansas City, beginning on July 10, until I arrived at the motherhouse of the sisters in St. Louis on September 15, 1959, God was present. Present in saying goodbye to family and childhood friends and present while I prepared to live the life of a postulant, including my first purchase of “nunnie” shoes! It was a whirlwind.
A new life began, one that seemed strange and kind of mysterious while also goal-directed. Times were challenging. Many of us didn’t have a clue what we had begun. Yet, there were most definitely signs God was present. Our days, weeks, and months took shape. We prayed, scrubbed floors, kept silence, took classes, and we were introduced to communal prayer. We attended Mass and Examen every day. We were encouraged to spend time in private prayer and read spiritual books. The process of formal religious life began to unfold.
Friendships were forged, opportunities to study at Fontbonne College (established by CSJ) were offered, and growth in singular spiritual life began to develop. At the same time, we prepared to become formal members of the community. The first step was to “get the habit,” an outward sign we were one step closer to becoming a vowed member. After two years in the novitiate, depending on certain criteria, first vows were professed—promises to commitment, obedience, celibacy, and the simple, communal life (poverty.) Further formation followed. Time spent in what was called the Juniorate, where we took part in spiritual and academic pursuits. I pronounced my final, perpetual vows in 1967.
Q. How have you experienced God’s goodness in your life of ministry?
A. I have experienced the goodness of God in my ministerial life and in every other aspect of life. From my first teaching assignment of twenty-five precious first-graders at Immacolata Elementary School near St. Louis in 1964 until my last duties at Nazareth Living Center (co-sponsored by CSJ), which ended in 2017. It was established by my own CSJ sisters in 1872! I worked part-time in the spirituality department for nearly ten years. This ministry was especially sweet for me since I ministered to my own sisters as well as other women and men.
During those years, I adopted this version of a Russian proverb as one of my favorite mantras: “Without God, not over the threshold; with God, over the sea.” I often began each day with this as a prayer. While the ministries in which I have engaged over fifty-plus years are varied, God has accompanied me in and through all of them. I have had marvelous opportunities in education, retreats and more. While God the Son has accompanied me in these ministries, God has been present in my wonderful sisters, who are my friends, as well as the women, men, and youth with whom I have ministered!
Q. What role does prayer play in your life at this time?
A. Like many of the good things in my life, my appreciation for developing a deep, personal prayer life has come gradually. Having learned to pray as a child at home and in school, it became second nature. Eventually, it went from seemingly automatic to a practice I wanted to do. In my formative years as a Sister of St. Joseph I had tremendous opportunities to enrich my prayer life. In our convents we typically pray together at a set time, depending on our ministries and responsibilities. And each year we are expected to attend or “make” a retreat.
My most nurturing time for prayer is early in the morning. Through reading, reflection, and sharing my thoughts with other sisters, I’ve deepened my prayer life. Words do not seem to capture what I experience in my own prayer, nor do they often relay what happens in communal prayer. Even when prayer is done in community, a certain isolation is present that I find life-giving. Over the last several years, I have frequently added journaling to my prayer time. For me it helps to see it in writing—often leading me to get to the heart of the matter.
This past spring, I made a directed retreat. A Jesuit priest walked me through the Jesuit practice of the Examen and suggested I try it for several months and see what happens. While I had been introduced to the practice when I was a postulant, I did not continue it. So, I began again on July 22, 2021, and still continue! It has become a blessed prayer practice for me.