Deserving her day


Sr_Pat_Bergan_BWSt. Lucy’s parish associate receives Dorothy Day Award

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

Sister Pat Bergan, OSF, parish associate at St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse, was honored May 7 with the 16th annual Dorothy Day Award at a dinner held at the parish. This is the first year the award was offered at St. Lucy’s. In the past, the award ceremony and dinner were held at St. Andrew’s, which has closed and merged with St. Lucy’s.

Eileen Clinton, a former parishioner of St. Andrew’s who has worked with Sister Pat in her ministry, thought recognizing Sister Pat with the Dorothy Day Award was especially fitting this year. “During a difficult year with the closing of St. Andrew’s Church and the merging with St. Lucy’s, Pat Bergan has been the ‘glue’ to keep us together during this time of change,” she said in her presentation at the dinner. “This is the right time for Pat Bergan to be recognized for a life of ministering to others. It’s a wonderful, wonderful fit and is way overdue.”

Father Jim Mathews, pastor at St. Lucy’s, agreed. “There’s nothing more that she could have done to keep St. Andrew’s open,” he said. “She has done the most work of anyone and is always available to do anything that needs to be done. She has a wonderful spirit of caring for people and shows such compassion, especially for the elderly. We are blessed to have her.”

Father Mathews sidestepped the process of choosing the person to receive the Dorothy Day Award. The process involves the Dorothy Day committee reading the nomination forms that were given to them from St. Lucy’s and St. Andrew’s parishioners, along with forms from members of the community who are affiliated with the church. “It’s silly to go through this nomination process,” Father Mathews announced at a Mass before the decision was to be made. “There is one person who has never been recognized, but who needs to be recognized. That person is Sister Pat Bergan.”

The criteria for choosing the recipient of the award include a person who emulates the work of Dorothy Day and one who effects change in the church.

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, devoted most of her adult life to ministering to the poor and marginalized. Sister Pat, like Day, has spent her life ministering to others. After graduating from SUNY Oswego with a degree in elementary education, Sister Pat joined the Sisters of St. Francis. She knew she belonged in the order when she worked as a nurses aide at Mercy Hospital while she was attending high school. There, she was influenced by the work of the Franciscan sisters and it marked the beginning of her devotion to attend to the needs of others.

Clinton said that when Sister Pat served as the Diocesan Director of Religious Education, she taught others to accept people for who they were and to not judge them.

Sister Pat served almost 20 years as a parish associate at St. Andrew’s Parish, often visiting the elderly, the sick and many others in need of compassion. “That experience challenged me to see all the possibilities for service within the church, like social justice and strong leadership,” said Sister Pat.

“She heard their stories, provided support and just listened,” said Clinton. “Listening, remembering names, birthdays, events, absences from church — these were some of the characteristics of Pat’s unique way. She is a people person and finds joy in others.”

Clinton said that, like Dorothy Day, Sister Pat is an agent of change in the church by serving as a model for religious women everywhere.

St. Andrew’s parishioner Bill Collins attended the Dorothy Day dinner and was pleased to see Sister Pat honored. “When the previous Dorothy Day award winners stood to be recognized, it was as if the Beatitudes were personified before me,” said Collins. “It was truly awe-inspiring. To have Sister Pat Bergan listed with them is fitting and proper. She is a good woman.”

Collins said that two facets of Sister Pat’s ministry stand out for him — her attention and love of seniors and students. He said his daughter, Meghan, a successful professional working in the Washington, D.C. area, was inspired as a youth by Sister Pat’s care. “Many of Meghan’s contemporaries of all faiths have been turned off by organized religion, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the example Sister Pat set as our parish minister at St. Andrew’s helped Meghan to see the true meaning of a faith-filled life.”

Collins remembered how Sister Pat visited the seniors who were ill and homebound and also arranged trips for them. “She clearly shows these people that they are not forgotten and, in fact, they are treasured. When my father-in-law, Ralph Curry, lived with us, he looked forward to these trips and would talk about them for days afterward. When he was hospitalized before his death, Sister Pat was a regular visitor, offering both comfort and laughs.”

Elaine Bassano also attended the award dinner. A good friend of Sister Pat’s, Bassano served with her on the liturgy committee at St. Andrew’s. “Pat is an unsung heroine,” said Bassano. “She makes things happen and she absolutely deserves the award. She’s done an awful lot of work for a lot of people.”

Bassano said that she and Sister Pat share similar views concerning change within the church. “We both believe that there should be complete equality between men and women and advocate women’s ordination,” she said. “We both love our tradition and believe it’s a rich one, but the exercise of authority deeply needs reform.”

Sister Pat has continued to serve with passion, energy and purpose in her role as parish associate at St. Lucy’s. Serving those at the food pantry or the soup kitchen, Sister Pat is again working with those who are the most forgotten by society. She is now living with the people she serves, in a modest apartment on the near west side.

“It’s been a wonderful fit,” said Sister Pat. “I’ve liked getting to know the people and how accepting they are of me. These are good people who have very little, but they are so appreciative of what they are given. By getting to know them, I’ve gotten to know God.”

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