Born in 1927 into a hardworking farm family in western Wisconsin, Sister Mary Pattison grew up with five sisters and two brothers. The Pattison family was active in the local Catholic church, and the children attended the parochial school.
In 1944, S. Mary joined Saint Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minn. Two days after her perpetual profession, she became one of the 82 Benedictine sisters who formed the new St. Bede Monastery in Eau Claire, Wis. She had studied music education in college and worked with other members of the community in parochial schools in the Diocese of La Crosse as classroom music teacher, parish organist, and choir director.
S. Mary thoroughly enjoyed the children in the classroom music classes. At times, she would ask them questions about their homes and families…and received more details than she anticipated! She asked Bobby one day about what was happening at his farm home. He spoke up loud and clear that “The damned cows had gotten out into the cornfield again last night and his daddy was sick and tired of it!” She would chuckle in a deep tone as she left the classroom saying, “Carry on now, they are all yours!”
With a master’s degree in teaching religious studies, S. Mary taught at St. Bede Academy while also serving as subprioress and liturgist at the monastery throughout the 1970s. During these years, refugees from Southeastern Asia were arriving and settling in several cities of the diocese, including Eau Claire, and she became a tireless advocate for the well-being of these people.
A lifelong deep concern for ecumenism led S. Mary to work on several committees with special attention to celebrations of the Christian Unity Octave. A woman of study and searching, she read widely, often into the night. Periodicals on world, religious and liturgical happenings were always close at hand on her desk.
For a third career, S. Mary took on the service of parish minister. She delighted in preparing and enriching the faith among the people of the parish. Her concern for liturgy continued in the parish through visiting the sick and elderly in hospitals and in their homes.
When St. Bede Monastery merged with Saint Benedict’s Monastery in 2010, S. Mary was among the 28 sisters who returned to St. Joseph. With the weight of years and declining health, she now resides at St. Benedict’s Senior Community in St. Cloud, Minn.
Her lived example of lifelong learning is a tribute to this student in the School of the Lord’s Service. At the time of her 50th jubilee, S. Mary stated, “Liturgy, in fact, has been at the heart of my study and work as organist and work with parishes and worship committees. After all, liturgy is central to the life of every Christian, certainly for Benedictines.”
Congratulations to you, S. Mary Pattison, as you celebrate 75 faithful years in the School of the Lord’s Service!
Profile written by Judy Kramer, OSB