Remembrance of the Life of Patricia Kenoyer CoL (formerly Sister Marie Francis Kenoyer SL)
Patricia Ann Kenoyer was born on Flag Day, and each of her 95 birthdays she celebrated as though all the flags were flying for her! Her father John Jay Kenoyer of Leon, Kan., met her mother who was from El Dorado, Kan., when they each arrived in Kansas City as very young adults. Grace Spalding Kenoyer was a registered nurse, so highly skilled that even in her 80s she was invited back to work. John Jay Kenoyer was a postal worker, a federal employee of great integrity who “worked the mail” as it was being transported by train to Midwestern cities.
Pat had an older sister, who died in infancy before Pat was born. The family lived in a newly developed residential area of Kansas City, Dutch Hill. The original ownership papers for 2544 Cherry – which came to the Sisters of Loretto when Pat inherited the property – specify a “covenant” by which home owners agreed to exclude persons of color from ownership, tenancy or even being present after dark.
Pat began an autobiography in 1976 and updated it periodically. She tells her story this way:
“…Dancing was my first profession. Not until I was 15 did I think of the real profession of my life — the Lorettine one. As I grew up, attending public schools in Kansas City, many hours every day were spent training to be a professional ballet dancer. A few hours were squeezed out every week for horseback riding. Both occupations gave me joy, a feel for the value of discipline, and an appreciation of my own body and life-movement — that I shall always revel in.
“My only contact with Loretto during those years was … the religion classes for public school children with Sister Januarius Lysaght at Good Counsel for two weeks in the summer. ‘Sister Jan’ was a loving, warm first contact. … [I also caught sight of] Loretto Sisters in Pawhuska, Okla., where I spent most summers with my maternal aunt and uncle — Dr. Robert Barrett was a service provider on the Osage Reservation. My aunt Harriet Barrett was great fun, almost an older sister to me; we rode horses and barnstormed across the Reservation and into Kansas in her small plane.
“The death of the Barretts and my inheritance from them enabled me to attend Loretto Academy in Kansas City for my last two years of high school. … The example of the Sisters, a close friendship with Sister Matthew Marie Grennan, and [more] time to ride and be at school — because a fall made it impossible for me to dance for three months — resulted in my vocation to be a Sister of Loretto. Sisters especially influential during those high school years were Sister Theonilla Peake (gruff, honest, faith-filled), Sister Mary Florence Wolffe (gracious, concerned, introducing us to the history of Loretto) and Sister Louise Marie Haberl (a clown with great courage, faith, love for all of us).
“It was Sister Matthew Marie who spent hours with me, guiding my spiritual reading, helping me work through the opposition my mother had to my vocation. My mom and I had fun together, attended ballets together, and could wear each other’s clothes. But when I wanted to enter Loretto after high school, she did everything she could to prevent it — even invoking her status as my legal guardian until I was 21. Her stubbornness still appears in me.
“So I enrolled at Webster College and Sister Matthew Marie was transferred there too. During my four years as a ‘boarder’ at Webster, I was influenced also by Father Daniel Lord S.J., Father Adrian Corley, and many Sisters of Loretto. Those who probably influenced me the most were Sister Edmund Fern (a great lady and a classical scholar, of deep faith and a delightful sense of humor), and Sister Mary Louise Buettner (a brilliant English scholar, appreciative of dance and drama) …. Mary Louise was as ‘modern’ as Sister Edmond was ‘classical.’ Their rooms were at opposite ends of Webster’s main hall – symbolic of their being ‘polls apart’ in so many ways – and yet both true Lorettines and great women. And finally, Sister Frances de Chantal McLeese, (a great teacher, a chemist and educator) who pushed our vision far beyond Webster College.
“Also important to my growth during those years at Webster were friends and classmates who later became SLs: in my class Mary Fran Lottes, Peggy Jones and Ann Rita Willard; in other classes Barbara Gleason, Margaret Ann Grennan, Pat Manion, Marilyn Morheuser, Ginny Williams, Jane Clark and Jean Grennan.”
In her lengthy autobiographical remarks, Pat says little about her novitiate years. But in a letter published in the Webster College literary magazine, the Lorettine, Pat described her early months so cleverly that the letter was later republished as a small brochure. Pat entered Loretto as a postulant on June 15, 1945. Her father put her on the train on June 14th, her 21st birthday, still without her mother’s approval. Pat received the habit on Dec. 8 and the name Sister Marie Francis. She made her first vows two years later and was missioned first to Loretto Academy on Lafayette in St. Louis. Her autobiography continues from that point:
“It was on my first mission as a teacher at Loretto Academy, Lafayette, that I met Sister Mary Luke Tobin. Some years later when I was Dean of Studies at Webster College — having obtained my master’s at St. Louis University and my doctorate in psychology from Fordham — I faced a crisis and growth point in my life. I was suffering from severe depression and was told quite suddenly at Christmas time that I had been given a leave to go to the Motherhouse. I had planned to leave the congregation at the end of the school year. While I resented the “bull” that Christmas, … the support and understanding given me by Sister Mary Luke is responsible, in God’s providence, not only for my being part of Loretto today but even for my being alive – for there were times during the next two years that I thought of suicide, seeing no use in my life.
“I was granted an exclaustration and lived in New York City for those two years, working as a research psychologist at the IBM Watson Research Center and renewing old acquaintances in the ballet world. I also taught a class in the graduate school at NYU on Washington Square. Those two years were a time of growth through psychotherapy and my work at IBM. [Yet,] one of the greatest experiences of my life was my return to Loretto, warmly welcomed at the Motherhouse and later by Jacqueline and my former faculty members at Webster.
“My next learning experience involved post–doctoral study at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., a service practicum in pastoral psychology followed by a year is a teacher and counselor at Jefferson Community College in Louisville. During those years, 1963-1970, in New York, St. Louis, Topeka and Louisville I was getting more and more involved in the civil rights and peace movements. While working at IBM, I had gone down to Washington for the march at which Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a Dream” speech.
“With the inauguration of the new Loretto government in 1970, I took a position on the staff and traveled during the next four years, giving workshops, testing, and counseling Sisters of Loretto. I was asked by Ellen Hummel for the Medical Mission Sisters to give workshops in both East and West Pakistan. Sister Mary Luke traveled [with me and] on the way home we attended the Paris Peace Conference — South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese, French and Americans; what a learning and joy-filled experience! We could not speak to each other but we could eat and dance together! With other SLs I have since been active in many peace demonstrations, once spending a night in a Washington D.C., jail as a result of a protest.
“Besides the Loretto staff position, I have been privileged to be a member of the St. Louis provincial council, a delegate to the special chapters, an assembly member and delegate, an executive committee member. While serving on the boards of our private high schools I became especially interested in Loretto in Kansas City and therefore applied and was hired as Coordinator of the Upper School, After three years in that position I resigned to pursue related interests more directly serving the middle and poorer classes in Kansas City. ”
Pat’s autobiography breaks off here, as her active life picked up: In the late 1980s Pat taught for two years at the Center for Spiritual Renewal in Kumasi, Ghana, West Africa. In Kansas City, Pat’s home-base, she filled administrative and organizing roles at the Metropolitan United Citizens for Prison Reform, the Nuclear Freeze organization, Economic Literacy Project and Loretto’s Economic Conversion Committee. In 1991, Pat became Loretto’s first nongovernmental representative at the United Nations, completing a four-year term in 1995 and serving for several more years as an alternative representative and volunteer. As the NGO rep, she was a participant in the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the U.N. Social Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. She also served on the peace caucus, in the women’s caucus, and at the preparatory meetings for U.N. conferences on human rights, population and women’s issues.
Pat lived twice at the Motherhouse, serving as a volunteer. She returned to the Motherhouse as a retiree in 2004. But in two years Pat decided to return to Kansas City, at the same time asking to be dispensed from the vowed life to which she had been faithful for 60 years. She wrote to Loretto President Mary Catherine Rabbitt:
“… Freedom from my vows will enable me to expend my energy as I truly want to do. I want to ‘put my money where my mouth is’ — more completely depending on God as I experience the meaning of that dependence. … When I get truly infirm and need care, I want to be with others who have to manage without a Congregation responsible for them — to really live what I think I believe about ‘God will provide’ by doing as many women my age do — riding the bus and experiencing the inconveniences and privileges of being on a ‘fixed income.’
” As you know, I still have lots of energy and ideas about making things better wherever I am. I’m no leader but can be a helpful participant in the ‘right’ place. Where I see myself best suited — by gifts, interest and limitations —i s in the present U.S. political field. I’ve already made arrangements to volunteer in Clare McCaskill’s campaign for U.S. Senate.”
Just one year later, Pat wrote again to Mary Catherine: “After a year of living without canonical vows I know I want to continue that freedom. But … I feel a need to affirm my continuing Loretto Commitment which involves relationships and accountability. Therefore I am now requesting co-membership.” Pat’s co-membership was enthusiastically endorsed on July 9, 2007.
Finally, in 2016, at the urging of Loretto friends, Pat traveled again to the Motherhouse, believing she could build her strength and return to Kansas City. It was not to be. She left a final message in her records: “People should celebrate my life and know how grateful I am for it.”