Remembrance of the Life of Sister Patricia Anne (formerly Sister Mary Richelle) Cullen
Sister Pat Cullen left us several autobiographical sketches, which provide the substance of this remembrance. Pat begins her life story thus:
“When the spring cleaning of Heaven took place one year in the reign of FDR, an 8-pound Piscean was sent as a St. Patrick’s Day gift to a couple at Mercy Hospital in the heart of the Mile High City. Two weeks later, St. Philomena’s Catholic Church accepted the baby girl as a member.”
Named Patricia Anne, the eldest child of Richard James Cullen Sr. and Elsie Faye Beeler Cullen, Pat tells us, “I was the child-boss of the family after a baby sister was born (Mary Margaret) and later a brother (Richard James Jr.).”
Of her early schooling Pat says, “Mastery of the ABCs was attempted under the tutelage of the Dominican Sisters at St. Dominic and the Josephite Sisters at St. Catherine in Denver. The high school diploma from Holy Family in Denver was placed in jeopardy when, on a senior class picnic, a dare, for any girl — just one, to pick up a small snake and dangle it before one elderly nun, was accepted. However a forgiving faculty awarded the parchment anyhow.”
In 1952, following her high school graduation, Pat wrote to Mother Edwarda: “Since my sophomore year at Holy Family I have been seriously considering the religious life [and] the realization that the invitation is genuine has grown stronger. My acquaintance with the Lorettines has made me prefer your order.”
Pat wrote much later, “[When I applied to Loretto] I never gave much thought to the mission statement of the Sisters of Loretto. … I felt drawn to them by the example of several individual sisters. … The House of Studies and practice teaching didn’t present a problem for me: I just knew I wouldn’t be venturing into a classroom. And I remember presenting myself to Sister Helen Jean and offering to fill in at ‘offices’ for those who were going to teach. … Sister Helen Jean’s laughter was jovial, but she shared with me how I’d be spending time at St. Pius with Sister Cabrini and second graders. So it was that having entered a Community dedicated at the time primarily to classroom education, I, too, somehow by the grace of God, entered the ranks of an educator.”
Describing her work as an educator, Pat gives a colorful account of the era before the changes familiar to many of us: “My first assignment was St. Rose in St. Louis, just a hop, skip and a jump from the House of Studies. I taught there for three years. Then one more year in Missouri — I joined Sister Ann Christopher (Therese Delich Stawowy) at Mary, Queen of Peace. We faced 60 first graders on opening day. … Just our luck, the auxiliary bishop wanted to help out the Cardinal, so he called to have the first graders confirmed as well as the second graders. Yes, our children had another sacrament added to the list of initial consonant “c” sources of grace: Confession, Communion and Confirmation. By May of that year, I was even tempted to confuse their names.
“Teaching summer school at Visitation Parish, I received a bull to Loretto Academy, El Paso — first grade — where I spent two years testing the patience of my principal, Sister Adrian Corley. Next the second graders at Nativity in Los Angeles were my charges. I really hated giving up the sandstorms of El Paso, but Sister George Mary (Georgia Williams) had arranged a trip for the Sisters in the five California houses to Catalina Island.
“After California, it was one year in Bernalillo. The high school had closed, and I was told that the one year was to close out the grade school. In between, I did the usual refectory duties and dusted weekly the extra bedrooms of the 15-bedroom convent. We were only about seven in the community. On the side, I tried unsuccessfully to prepare to take comps for my master’s degree at Loyola the next summer. I had to beg, but finally received an extra year to study and did, eventually, obtain my master’s. Then it was back to teaching in El Paso for about two years. I helped Sister Adrian with boarder recruitment and later pursued the truant and the tardy students at Loretto High School.
“Around the time we were beginning to find our own jobs rather than being assigned, it became apparent my Dad was in need of more care. [In 1971] I moved to Albuquerque because I had New Mexico certification [and] at least I was 500 miles closer to Denver. After two years at Annunciation in Albuquerque, I answered a call to move to Englewood, Colo. I taught at All Souls two different periods of time, [worked for county social services doing] 24/7 child-care during family illnesses, and followed that with work as executive secretary at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.
“Sister Carlos Marie Lubeck asked me to tutor at Rhodes Tutoring Center in the early 1990s; I did that until Rhodes closed and then continued, finding my own students. Having had some training in grief ministry and being in Denver for more than 30 years, I have had ample opportunity to share time, energy and presence with co-workers, and friends who have lost loved ones, as well as being present for deaths in my own family.”
Pat concluded one autobiographical sketch with a humorous catalogue of the ups and downs of aging: “[Starting in] April 2002 and continuing for 18 months, I entertained myself under the lights of operating rooms. The right shoulder was totally replaced on April Fool’s Day. I had set the date for February as a Lenten penance, but a need for a root canal was God’s way of laughing as I made plans, and He moved the surgery date to Easter Monday, April 1. The surgery went so well that the left shoulder was scheduled to be replaced on Father Nerinckx’s death anniversary, Aug. 12. Carpel tunnel was confirmed in the right hand and operated on as everyone observed the first anniversary of the horror of 9/11. The surgery was to prepare the right hand to use, as painlessly as possible, the walker I would need for the total knee replacement on Halloween 2002. The next knee replacement was scheduled for Feb. 20, 2003, a date of no consequence to me, so an infection prevented the surgery. [At this writing], perhaps May 2003 will be the month when a more memorable date will loom on the calendar [providing an occasion for] a cut-up date for me.”
Pat moved from Denver to Loretto Motherhouse in 2014 with great reluctance and found it difficult to be reconciled to the change. At the time of her Golden Jubilee she had written some advice about living religious life successfully: “Setting and keeping one’s priorities seems very important to me. Staying focused with reception of the Eucharist at daily Mass seems essential to keep our life Religious. After I made plans, God listened and laughed. Then He shared His plan. So I’ve found a sense of humor a really helpful addition to this life.
“I hope to get time in Heaven to say Thank You over and over again to the One who made my life what it was. Also high on the list [for thanks] would be the Cullen Clan, the Sisters of Loretto and the many friends I’ve acquired since I’ve joined the convent and ‘seen the world.’”
– By Eleanor Craig SL