sister patricia cramer
June 27, 1940 – August 10, 2008
When I lived with S. Pat Cramer in the 1980’s, I often stood alongside her as she made holiday yeast stollen. I marveled at her attention to the process: dissolving the yeast in precisely the right water temperature; kneading and rekneading the dough, filling, braiding, baking it, and then joyfully giving it away. I cite this process of bread making because S. Pat was like that beautiful stollen, a handful of dough made holy, as Joyce Rupp would say.
Pat’s life began in Kickapoo, Ill., where she, George, Bob, Clarita and Mike and their parents lived on a 160 acre farm. Pat described the family as poor, but rich in love, and in this stable, warm home life, Pat was shaped and nurtured into a caring and generous young woman.
Pat attended St. Mary’s Grade School in Kickapoo, where she was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Her fourth grade teacher told her class to ask Jesus for something special after receiving him in Holy Communion. Pat took her teacher literally and began to nourish her life’s choice after each reception of the Eucharist by asking Jesus to give her a vocation. When she met her chemistry teacher, S. Ruth Margaret Raupp, at the Academy of Our Lady in Peoria, she knew instinctively it was with the Sisters of St. Joseph that she would give her life to God.
S. Pat joined the community in 1958. She taught grade school children at St. Mary’s in Bridgeton and at St. Viator’s in Chicago, but most of her teaching was in a secondary setting. While she spent some years in Hannibal and Kansas City, it was at St. Joseph Academy in St. Louis that S. Pat honed her teaching skills. She was there for a total of 24 years, broken up with a four-year term as a regional superior from 1982 – 1986.
Teaching came naturally to S. Pat, for she loved her students and never regretted becoming a teacher. She earned a masters degree in biology from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa in 1972, and that subject matter was her “in” into the lives of her students. At St. Joseph’s Academy she taught the human skeletal system around Halloween. Anyone who could name all the bones on the resident skeleton in the lab was rewarded with a skeleton sticker. S. Pat loved her subject matter, but she loved her students even more. She earnestly encouraged them to be kind and generous, to be their best selves. Her weekend assignments: help your little brothers and sisters with their homework; help your mom clean up the kitchen. She asked for an accounting on Monday.
S. Pat worked hard for the missions, too. During her years at St. Joe she ran a booth of homemade crafts, and, if you were lucky, you could get a jar of her famous pickles made with “TLC” and the old fashioned irreplaceable family slicer. She spent many hours making things to sell to help our sisters in Peru.
When S. Pat’s mother became too frail to be alone, S. Pat went to her home to attend lovingly to her mother’s needs. That 16-month span gave S. Pat a precious gift: a time to deepen sibling relationships and to join with her mother and Clarita at Red Hat Society outings. Yes, S. Pat loved well and was fiercely loyal to family and friends. She prayed her nieces through pregnancies and enjoyed teasing her several grand nieces and nephews. With Carolyn Henry, her dearest friend, she spent much quality time and many a happy week at Carolyn’s home at the Lake of the Ozarks.
S. Pat hungered for holiness. The constant reshaping of her life by her loved ones, the sisters she served as a regional superior, the students she taught, and the sisters with whom she lived was fashioning her into a saint, a goal she intensely desired. S. Pat learned she had multiple myeloma, bone cancer, on Good Friday in 2005. She exclaimed to herself: “Oh, Lord, this timing is really something!” She returned to St. Louis from Peoria and gave herself wholeheartedly to treatment. The cancer was in remission for about 18 months.
Throughout her illness, S. Pat knew God’s care for her through the love and support of her sisters at St. Joseph’s Academy Convent. She said of them: “I cannot begin to tell you how kind and loving they have been to me. It’s not just that they are doing it to me because I am sick. I see them giving that same lovingness and care to other people, too. It takes my breath away.”
Never frightened nor terribly upset, S. Pat lived her last days with love and joy and gratitude until, leavened completely with God’s unifying love, she gave over her life, her handful of dough, consumed to the very last delicious morsel.
By S. Rita Louise Huebner