Story of Justice: Sr. Paddy Lorenz

Unglamorous Work for the Least of the Dear Neighbors


By Sister Mary Flick, CSJ Justice Coordinator

Being a board member is not glamorous work. And serving on a board of an institution that works with drug and alcohol rehab clients who are also ex-felons is even less so. Yet, Sister Paddy Lorenz has chosen to give her time to the Heartland Center for Behavioral Change (HCBC) in Kansas City, Mo.  She sees it as a way of caring for the dear neighbor – the very least of them. 

Board membership has been a ministry of Sister Paddy’s for more than 35 years. She has served HCBC for the past four years. She has 35 years of experience serving on the boards of several CSJ-sponsored institutions in Kansas City: St. Joseph Medical Center, Carondelet Health and Avila University. 

“A lot of people don’t enjoy board work,” she says, “but it’s an important role in the function of an organization. The board, with input from administration, determines the overall desired outcomes for the people served and then holds the institution accountable, ensuring that it functions legally and ethically as it provides services to achieve the outcomes for its clients.”

Her time on the Carondelet Health board taught Sister Paddy a lot about the Carver model of Policy Governance where, as chair, she led the board in implementing this model. Board policies are developed to establish ends to be achieved as well as executive limitations within which the chief executive officer (CEO) must function. Other policies specify the governance process and board-management communication. “As board members, our role is to see that the CEO achieves the ends, without violating the limitations.”

Her experience on the Carondelet Health board led S. Paddy to support adoption of this model of board governance by the HCBC board. “It’s a learning process, you have to get board members to buy into the system. When used correctly this model helps the board concentrate on governance instead of day-to-day operations.

S. Paddy knows something about learning. Coming from her own educational background in biological sciences and radiologic technology, she taught biological sciences to post-secondary nursing and allied health students for more than four decades. This included teaching positions in Kansas City at Avila, followed by 37 years at Metropolitan Community College–Penn Valley, the last eight years as a part-time instructor.

Like any good teacher, S. Paddy was initially shocked to hear a speaker at the 30th anniversary celebration of HCBC state that HCBC’s client results were “just average”. However, the speaker went on to say that HCBC has the most challenging population of any other agency in the comparison group and for HCBC to achieve the results it does is truly extraordinary!

Research shows that to be effective in treating offenders with substance use disorders, the criminal behavior also needs to be addressed, S. Paddy shares. In addition to evaluating substance abuse issues, criminal risk, criminogenic needs and responsivity are also assessed. Individual treatment plans match level of service to level of risk, target specific needs identified and provide cognitive behavioral treatment and approaches designed to maximize the offender’s ability to respond to the intervention   “Changing attitudes and behaviors can help them move forward,” she says. “You can’t treat everybody the same.”

Successful rehabilitation for the client includes not only being drug and alcohol free at discharge, but also having appropriate housing and permanent employment, as a part of being reinserted into society. At the time of admission alcohol is the primary drug of choice for HCBC clients, only one third are employed and many are homeless.

Though she does not work directly with the clients, S. Paddy believes that through her board work she is helping those who actually serve some of the most neglected members of our society. She has great admiration for those who work directly with the HCBC clients. “The people who work in our facility take pride in the successes but also see the failures which can be heart-breaking,” she says. “They are not the highest-paid. But they really care for their clients. I couldn’t do what they do, day after day. But I will do anything I can do to support them.”

It’s more interesting to hear about what is going on day by day than the details of governance, S. Paddy acknowledges. But she sees board work as a way to use her gifts to benefit indirectly the people who really, really need it. And it’s the “how” of her work that makes a difference, a difference she brings as a Sister of St. Joseph. “But this is not a difference restricted to me as a CSJ,” S. Paddy says. “The people with whom I have the privilege to serve on the HCBC board are an inspiration to me—to a person, they truly care about our clients and are committed to doing what they can to help HCBC do the best possible job to help those who come to us.”

“I’ve always felt that what we do is not as important as who we are, how we relate to people,” S. Paddy says. “In our early days, everybody [our sisters] worked in our sponsored institutions. Some questioned it when sisters first began working outside of our institutions, even outside of Catholic institutions. They asked how it could be the work of a religious. I always believed that it didn’t matter where we worked; a checker at a local grocery store could live our charism as well as a teacher. It’s about how we talk to people, how we treat people that makes a difference. That’s the core of who we are as Sisters of St. Joseph.”

This, S. Paddy believes, this is what connects the community’s origins with the works of the Sisters of St. Joseph today.

“When we started in those small towns in France, our first sisters looked at what needed to be done and did it. Not a lot of people want to do what I’m doing, but it is something that needs to be done. We have to be sure to treat people fairly and equitably, and see that they get what they need. It’s what I help to do on the HCBC board,” she says. “And it’s the basic part of our charism, our care of the dear neighbor.”

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