Remembrance of the Life of Sister Patricia Jean (PJ) Manion SL
This remembrance is just a little bit shorter than PJ’s long life. I could blame the length on PJ, who insisted on living life to the full. I certainly did try to make it shorter. As PJ the journalist knew well, distilling a long, rich life takes time and talent. So here is PJ’s story, occasionally paraphrased from PJ’s writings, but mostly in PJ’s own words (in italics), for as she herself has written:
“I have always classified myself as a reporter, which I believe I came by naturally. Both my parents had a gift for writing wonderfully newsy accounts in letters, starting from the time they first met in the summer when she was 13 and he was 15. Visiting her Aunt Lily in St. Louis, Ruth Thomas, from a small town in Illinois met her cousin’s best friend, Joe Manion. From then until they married six years later, their friendship grew by sharing brief summer holidays and a continued correspondence that bridged the miles when they were apart.
“The fall before I was born my mother and father and their 2-year-old son Jimmie moved into a new bungalow … in St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in what is now Pagedale, a northern suburb of St. Louis. Sisters of Loretto came to the parish about the same time. My home and St. Catherine’s School, and the people who came and went to and from them, shaped and directed my life as surely as if they had set out by design to collaborate on its plan. … I sometimes think of myself as having been born both Manion and Lorettine. My awareness of both arise in my consciousness at about the same time.
“Key to my sense of being loved and at the same time held tentatively was the death of Jimmie on December 23, six weeks before my birth — an older sister Ruth had also died in infancy. I grew up with the awareness that I was precious because I survived, that I came into the lives of two loving persons who had already experienced the deaths of two children.
“By the time I was school age, I was pretty confident and independent, having guided my brother Tom, younger by two years, to look to me for decisions. Early I was tagged a ‘cabin hunter’ by my maternal grandmother who delighted in my willingness to spend weeks at a time with her in her big, old house in Marine, Ill. … Going to school was another adventure. … I entered St. Catherine’s first grade, taught by Sister Mary Andrew [Schweers]. My recollections of grade school are pleasant. I was never the best — except at times in drawing and composition — but I was better than average, with a great propensity for talking, particularly to my best friend Elsie Lee Beck. Mostly I liked being with other kids.
“A highlight of third grade was missing the first semester because my grandmother took me and my mother and Tom to Czechoslovakia to visit my aunt in Prague. … I saw real castles and mountains for the first time and I did not get seasick. All this established early my desire to see different places. In eighth grade I was awarded a scholarship to Nerinx Hall …
“I will not detail the happiness of the days at the old white house that was Nerinx Hall and later the three years I spent at Webster College up the street. Riding buses and streetcars for an hour and a half each way was well worth the joys of those years between 1939 and 1946. I hated for vacations to come. I liked my Lorettine teachers and finally was influenced by Sister Mary Louise Beutner’s seemingly happy and exciting life to try the Loretto life myself.
“From grade school on I had had a fear of convent life. I recall in 7th grade deliberately not praying for vocations since I did not want one. … I dreamed of being a journalist … and eventually writing a great novel. I had debated about entering Missouri University’s School of Journalism but decided to attend Webster. I worked as a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in the summers of 1944 and 45. My second summer on the job, while on supper break I made a visit to the Old Cathedral on the St. Louis waterfront and had a clear experience of saying I would follow the call to join the SL’s … In the late fall of that year, I decided to go to Loretto as soon as school closed in June. I felt that if it turned out not to be my vocation, I would be back in St. Louis by fall and could finish college with my class. But by fall of my postulant months my fear of staying had turned to desire to stay and I was at Loretto for as long as they would keep me.
“…When I decided to become a nun. I remember thinking that I was giving up my dream of being a journalist…. While I was still a postulant Sister Dafrosa gave me a Christophers pamphlet announcing a book competition. ‘Why don’t you write a book’, she suggested. ‘…Go over to the archives and talk with Sister Matilda. There must be lots to write about over there.’ At the same time Sister Dafrosa made the same suggestion to Peggy Jones. Peggy and I decided to write the life of Mother Praxedes jointly. But in three months Peggy asked to be excused, feeling burdened by her jobs in the laundry, directing choir and writing choral programs for the novices. Work on Mother Praxedes’ biography was part of my life for the next fourteen years.”
I was professed in December 1948 and in January I was sent to St. Joseph Cathedral School in El Paso, having Mother Edwarda’s kindly assurance that she would tell Sister Mary Richard Nolan to see that I had time to work on the book. From then until the publication of Only One Heart in 1963, I carried the manuscript with me, working on it during vacations and holidays as I moved in 1951 to teach fourth and fifth graders at Blessed Sacrament in Denver, then in ‘53 to Santa Fe to teach high school English at Lady of Light Academy, and to Newman High School in Sterling from 1955 to ’61. The only concentrated writing I did of any duration was a six-week period at Notre Dame in the summer of 1961. There I met several times a week with a young English professor, Dr. Don Costello, and I wrote 10 to 12 hours a day in a marvelous book. euphoria of full-ltime writing. The title of the book was decided by Don. He asked if we had a motto and I recited ‘The Morning Manna.’ ‘Only one heart,’ he said. ‘That’s it!’
I left Notre Dame and went to Loretto Heights College that fall. I had the help and encouragement of my college writing teacher, Sister Mary Louise Beutner, as I completed the writing and dealt with the publisher.
“… In the spring of ’61, just before going to Notre Dame, I had received my MA in English from Marquette. My life took a new turn when I was assigned to Loretto Heights in July. I went there to write publicity and teach in the English Department. … The1963 publication of ‘Only One Heart’ marked the end of an era for me … and freed me to immerse myself in the Heights. It was an exciting environment. I was energetic, bright, ambitious, and I experienced myself as creative. I liked the intellectual climate and the prestige, as I saw it, of being assigned to a college.”
“Two years after Only One Heart came out, I was appointed assistant to the Heights President Sister Eileen Marie Heckman and directed to prepare myself for administration. Following a 9-month internship at Antioch College and another year of full-time work on a Ph.D. at the University of Denver I succeeded Sister Eileen Marie, taking office in the fall of 1967. I stipulated that I accepted for five years. …The first three years of my term were the most creative and personally satisfying of my life; the last two were personally devastating.
” Early in my term, Elaine Prevallet became my friend, a discrete, wise and caring confidant. … A loving home community — including Elaine and Gabriel Mason, later Adele Muto and Sue Kenney, later still Elaine and Jane Godfrey and Susan Carol McDonald — kept me sane and able to function. … The details of those years are in newspaper clippings and minutes of meetings, but the story of the joy and pain runs below the surface of what was ever recorded. … The details of my own personal struggle during this time and in the years since are recorded in a series of journals which I have kept rather continuously since 1969.
“ I completed my term as Heights president in May 1972, resigned and left Denver in June. I went to Grailville in Ohio where I spent six weeks living in a tent. During that time I came to know that I had done everything I had set out to do: I had written a book and I had been president of a college. I had no more ambitions except to be a person. The years since have been a time of introversion. … In this search for my own humane-ness, I read extensively in Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, and I became interested in the phenomena of dreams and the inner journey as explained by Carl Jung. I lived in Santa Fe for two years to do my own dream analysis with a Jungian analyst. In 1977 I accepted a traveling position with the Union Graduate School; shuttling between Santa Fe and Yellow Springs, Ohio, suited me fine. My grandmother had been right: I was a ‘cabin hunter,’ always looking for a new place to be. Wherever I am is soon home, but I am always ready to go somewhere else too.”
PJ wrote that last sentence in 1987, by which time she had spent a decade traveling, settling down, moving on and settling down. Living in Denver, she helped set up the Catholic Worker house and thereafter considered it her home whenever she returned to Denver. Studying dream analysis, she made herself at home in Zurich, Switzerland. A cozy place in the oldest house in Bardstown, Ky., served as home and office for PJ, the dream analyst; an apartment in Louisville shared with Susan Carol, and later a small house for herself were bases while PJ traveled to give dream workshops for Loretto groups, and many retreat centers. “My work with people on their dreams is satisfying but I try to balance so much inner work both for myself and for others by also working on the issue of peace and disarmament. This is far less satisfying because far less effective at the individual level. … I have most frequently participated in demonstrations and prayer gatherings: Rocky Flats … The Ribbon project …Women’s peace camps at Greenham Common and Senaca Falls … the Heartland Peace Pilgrimage. … I joined a group traveling in the Soviet Union with the Fellowship of Reconciliation “because I believe that every person that makes an effort to be in touch with the actual persons of our so-called enemy lessens ever so slightly the feelings of alienation. I contacted Raisa Gorbacheva, the wife of the Soviet President, and in 1988 we organized an exchange of children’s peace art as a bridge between our countries.
“Working with my dreams gave me permission to be a writer again. … My unconscious told me wonderful stories, far more fascinating that any I had ever created myself. By 1985 I started writing annual Christmas stories, prompted by the gift of Birdie made for me by Anna Koop and the Catholic Worker folks in Denver.
“I also wanted more of our Loretto writers to write about our Loretto story, so I got a grant to finance the work that became ‘Naming our Truth,’ published in 1995, for which I wrote a chapter about our sisters’ early years in China. … Mary Ann Coyle encouraged me to write the whole story of the years in China and saw that I got to go there. So, I visited China twice and the Columban Fathers’ archives in Ireland as well, often traveling with my brother Tom. In the late ’90s I moved back to Santa Fe to attempt to finish the work on China. … but stopped, to write ‘Beyond the Adobe Wall ‘ to celebrate Mother Magdalen Hayden and the 150th anniversary of Loretto in Santa Fe, 2002. Then I returned to the China book; Venture into the Unknown was completed in 2006. Finally, anticipating Loretto’s 200th anniversary, I proposed that a group of us write Century of Change, to which I contributed and which I helped edit.
PJ Manion entered into everything with all her self, often inviting, encouraging, enticing others to join her. PJ entered sympathetically into the lives of individual persons, both historical and contemporary. In 2004 she wrote a piece for Loretto Magazine about how she approached writing, which describes equally well how she approached individuals. “I get into a person’s world and let go. … I forget me and go with the subjects where they are.”
PJ gave a precious gift of non-judgmental attention to many, many individuals. She was an energetic, compassionate teacher and mentor of young people; she worked one-on-one with doctoral candidates as they wrote dissertations; she sat with and supported adult seekers as they examined their dreams; she immersed herself in the peoples of other countries to know and appreciate their lives as individuals; she walked in demonstrations as a true companion of those oppressed and those protesting.
Within Loretto, PJ was incredibly generous, serving as interviewer and documentarian of the lives of close to 150 members; she volunteered to be grant-writer, publicist, promoter, and reporter for many Loretto characters whose work and way of being she encouraged; she wrote and edited dozens of stories of Loretto lives for Interchange, Loretto Magazine and the public press. She entered fully and faithfully into individuals’ lives, and sometimes she would, as she said, “… even leave my space and move into the person’s world. … I love writing about real Loretto persons whose lives are in their own way beyond imagination.“
Of all of us Loretto characters, whom PJ has written into the book of life, her life has been in her own way unimaginably, single-heartedly Loretto.