Sr. Pat Dowling was active in her church when she was younger, but she originally chose a different career path before answering her true calling.
Now, after nearly 44 years with the Sisters of Bon Secours, Sr. Pat reflects on that journey. The self-described history buff also shares how she identifies with the 12 courageous young women who founded the congregation in Paris in 1824 during the turbulent post-French Revolution period.
Sr. Pat graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration. She worked in that field for three years, but couldn’t resist the ongoing calling she felt.
“It wasn’t a life I would’ve consciously chosen,” she shares. “But it was persistent. I have no regrets. I couldn’t have dreamt of the things I’ve done.”
Sr. Pat has served in many meaningful roles in the U.S. and abroad.
After earning a master’s in health care administration at George Washington University, she served in leadership roles at nursing homes in Michigan and Florida. From there, she volunteered to serve as a missionary in Ecuador, where she was responsible for a parish and established a health and dental clinic.
“I left a piece of my heart there,” she says of her four-year stay.
Upon return to the U.S., she gave prayerful consideration to a dozen opportunities. She chose to work with women who are poor at a drop-in center in Baltimore, Md. she created that provides breakfast, parenting classes, case management and other needed services. She partnered with the House of Ruth that serves victims of domestic violence.
Sr. Pat has spent more than two decades in another role that helps guide young women in discerning whether becoming a Sister is right for them.
Most of that time was focused in the U.S. However, the past three years has been an international role of supporting Bon Secours vocation directors in multiple countries. She was a driving force in establishing young adult ministry in the U.S. She was hired by a young adult ministry leader that led to establishing Bon Secours Young Adults internationally in six countries.
Sr. Pat has also traveled to the Congo with French vocation director Sr. Jacqueline Rebours, working with young women that led to establishing a new mission of the sisters in Kinshasa two years ago.
“Vocation ministry has been a good fit for me,” Sr. Pat shares. “It’s a privilege and an honor that’s humbling as well; seeing how women grow through that process.”
She holds a deep appreciation for the foundresses of the Sisters of Bon Secours who chose that path during trying times. She has even visited the archive in Paris to absorb how the congregation came into being.
“It was the post-Revolution time,” she explains. “The church had been suppressed and congregations disbanded. These 12 young women had such courage to come together. Their faith was still important and they felt a calling. I think what I identify with is their courage, their openness to being a reminder to the world, that there is a God that loves you.”
Bon Secours means “good help” in French, and the first Sisters provided that help to the sick and dying in their homes, a ministry at the time untested in the Catholic Church.
They soon after expanded into education as requested.
Among the 12 women, all of whom were in their 20s, was Josephine Potel. Given the name of Sister Mary Joseph, she was selected as the first Superior General, the first leader of the group. Even though her life was shortened by tuberculosis just five years later, she made a lasting impact.
“We see her as the cornerstone,” Sr. Pat says. “She had the right qualities. And she had the insight to select a successor, who saw the congregation through great expansion.”
The Sisters of Bon Secours endured, and they later crossed the Atlantic to establish their congregation in Baltimore, Md. They provided the world’s first recorded formal home health care service, as well as the first daycare facility in 1907 in Baltimore to help working mothers whose only alternative was to place their children in orphanages.
They established their first hospital in Baltimore in 1919. After many years of establishing other services, they formed the Bon Secours Health System in 1983. After merging with Mercy Health in 2018, our ministry is now the fourth-largest Catholic health system in the country.
Today, the Sisters of Bon Secours continue to carry out their mission of compassion, healing and liberation through retreat ministry, sponsored education, advocacy, health care governance, justice, peace and integrity of all creation efforts.
“The founding Sisters continue to inspire us to be courageous, to take risks and to see and address the needs in the world,” Sr. Pat says. “There’s deep joy in knowing the path I chose is the path I was meant to choose. God can work that way.”
Also, read more stories celebrating our team members during Women’s History Month.