After 45 years in education followed by six years in Province Leadership, Sister Patty Clune was poised for retirement—that is until two happenstance visits to locations worlds apart revealed a new call.
Sister Patty is living and walking with the women with whom she serves at the CSJ Mission in Gulu, Uganda, and at Journey House in her hometown of Kansas City.
“I never in my wildest dreams thought about a life like this,” she says. “I wanted to go where I could learn and be of help. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be in these communities.”
In 2012, while still in Province Leadership, S. Patty visited the mission in Gulu. “I fell in love with the people and the community,” she says. “I especially loved what the sisters were doing there.”
At the time, Sisters Jo Ann Geary, Pat Murphy and Marion Weinzapfel were serving there, working in health care, education and catechetical training, respectively.
After completing her leadership term, S. Patty felt that Gulu was calling her name. “We found a need there to be filled,” she says.
Through their work, the sisters discovered that dirty water was wreaking havoc on an area already struggling. Chemist and CSJ Associate Carolyn Henry lent her expertise to test the contaminated water. In response to the findings, the province embarked on the “Water with Blessings” project, providing water filters and training to women in the community.
“Water Women” are taught about the water filtration system and agree to purify water for their families as well as for three other women and their families. Sisters Patty and Pat Murphy are program trainers and work with a local woman who is a translator and presenter.
Cost of one water filtration system in American dollars is $60, but the payout is priceless. To date, 650 filters have been distributed in the area. Participating families currently number 2,500. Approximately 18,000 individuals are impacted. As a result, the schools are seeing good attendance. Sisters Jo Ann and Fran Voivedich at the maternity clinic have seen an increase in healthy births and babies, while the incoming patients for other sicknesses is down.
S. Patty has journeyed to Gulu four times, including her most recent stay that began in May. She went back with 100 water filters in her suitcase.
A self-proclaimed “itinerant minister,” S. Patty says, “You don’t have to travel far away to be in missionary work. Missionary work can take place wherever you are.”
This rings true about her work at Journey House in Kansas City, Missouri, a residential home for women recently released from prison. She was introduced to the ministry by Sister Rose McLarney, co-founder and board president of the parent organization, Journey to New Life.
Sisters Rose, Gabrielle Smits and Martha Niemann are full-time residents of the house, along with one laywoman and the 17 current residents. S. Patty is in residence there several months each year.
The residents typically have additional challenges such as drug and alcohol addiction and lack a familial support system—often their family members are either in jail or have addictions as well. During the 90-day stay, the residents work on learning how to function in society, recovering from addictions and finding employment and housing.
“When I pick up a new resident from the bus station, she has nothing,” S. Patty says. “I introduce myself and tell her that we are going shopping.”
She helps the women buy three outfits, shoes and, most importantly, a phone. “While incarcerated, the residents often lose touch with whatever family they have,” she says. “I have learned that family is so important.”
This restorative approach has proven to be successful. Since August 2013, the agency has served nearly 2,500 participants and has placed 224 people in their case management program. Not one of these 224 participants has committed a new crime and returned to prison.
The Grace of God
S. Patty views her ministries, while geographically worlds apart, as part of the same mission—the mission of building relationships.
Whether it be at Journey House or in Gulu, the women help her get in touch with the fact that others have different challenges. “It’s about the cards you are dealt. But, for the grace of God, we all could be in these women’s shoes,” she says.
And although the women she serves lack resources, S. Patty sees the intrinsic value of the dear neighbor without distinction. “There is so much beauty and depth with both groups of women I continue to deal with. I am inspired by them every day.”