Sister Patricia Black said figuring out her call in life took her down many paths.
One was the path of a registered nurse. Another was the path of a mother. A third path was technology-oriented: She was a technical writer, software tester and a computer technical-support specialist.
For more than a decade, she also has been following the path to become a Sister of Mercy.
Sister Black, 65, reached her destination on Nov. 7 at Holy Cross Parish in Charlotte: She professed the Mercy Sisters’ perpetual vows of charity, poverty, obedience and service to the poor, sick and uneducated.
A native of Altoona, Pa., Sister Black went to Catholic elementary school and a Catholic high school, and also completed her nurses’ training with the Sisters of Mercy.
At Holy Cross, Mercy Sisters taught her children, and she began helping the sisters with their computer needs. In 1999, she became a Mercy Associate, which is a lay person that aids the sisters in their mission. Although most associates do not subsequently become sisters, she said she still yearned for a deeper connection with the sisters.
“One of the sisters would always invite me on retreats, and everybody else was thinking about being a nun,” Sister Black said. “I said to myself, ‘Why am I here?'”
She found the answer in the Sisters of Mercy. She said she was drawn to the sisters’ hospitality, the way they treat people, and their balance of prayer and ministry.
“I was searching for that deeper relationship with God, and being a Sister of Mercy is a way to do this, to serve God,” Sister Black said.
Sister Black has a grown daughter and son and four grandchildren ages 12, 9, 8 and 6 months. She said at first she didn’t think she could become a sister because she had been married, but noted that the results of a recent survey of 4,000 men and women religious in training or who had taken final vows since 1993 showed that 7 percent had been married, and 5 percent have children. The survey was commissioned by National Religious Vocations Conference.
As for her children’s reaction to her decision to become a Sister of Mercy: “They think it’s a little strange, but they say, ‘Mom, we know you’re happy,'” she said.
She said one of her biggest hesitations in becoming a woman religious was determining how she would serve as a Sister of Mercy, since she preferred not to return to nursing, or to try classroom teaching or working in a parish.
“I ruled out all the traditional ‘nun’ things, but they told me, ‘You have computer skills, and we really need somebody with computer skills,'” Sister Black said, noting she also is nontraditional in that she loves motorcycles and NASCAR.
Sister Black entered the Sisters of Mercy in 2001, and in 2003 she went to the novitiate in Laredo, Texas, where she volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. She professed her first vows in 2005, then began working on the technology staff at Georgian Court University, which is a New Jersey college run by the Sisters of Mercy. She also worked as an interim technology specialist for the Sisters of Mercy’s Mid-Atlantic Region in Merion, Pa., and as director of technology for the Sisters of Mercy’s New York, Pennsylvania, Pacific West community, which includes Sisters of Mercy in the Diocese of Rochester.
Now she works at Mercy Bridges, an adult literacy and English as a second language ministry in Rochester. Sister Black works on the ministry’s Web site, puts together its publications, and monitors its database of learners and tutors, among other things.
“I’ve always loved to read, and it’s staggering when you realize how many people can’t read,” she remarked.
“We’re pretty glad to have her,” said Sister Edwardine Weaver, director of Mercy Bridges. “She’s doing a great job. She’s my right and left hands.”
A nature lover, Sister Black said she hopes in the future to also lead a few workshops on environmental protection and spirituality. She noted that during formation she interned at the White Violet Center for EcoJustice in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., a ministry of the Sisters of Providence that models organic farming and sustainable living.
“We’ve been given things we need to take care of and not abuse,” Sister Black said. “It’s more than just the right thing to do, it really is a justice issue.”