Sister Patricia Denny, MM

Born: November 5, 1935
Entered: September 2, 1960
Died: August 16, 2007

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity.” Gal: 5:22

Joy was a constant in Sister Patricia Denny’s life along with peace, patience, kindness, and generosity. Her life was centered in Christ and reflected that she was led by the Spirit.

Sister Patricia Denny’s earthly mission of spreading joy was transformed into the eternal joy of her God on the evening of August 16, 2007. She was 71 years of age and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 47 years.

Mary Patricia Denny was born on November 5, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest child of Rose Theresa Boylan Denny and Thomas Augustine Denny. She had two brothers and two sisters.

Pat graduated from St. Hubert’s High School in Philadelphia and then worked for seven years as a clerk-typist in the accounting department of Frankford Quaker Co. She entered the Maryknoll Sisters in 1960 and at her Reception was given the name Sister Regina Patrice, changing back to her Baptismal name when that was permitted. She made First Profession of Vows on June 24, 1963 at the novitiate in Topsfield, MA and her Final Commitment at Maryknoll, NY on June 6, 1969.

She shared her secretarial skills in the Vocation Department for four years while studying and received a B.S. in Adult Education from Mary Rogers College, Maryknoll in 1969. Pat taught adults for one year in Harlem High School and set up an Adult Education Program in St. Thomas Parish in Harlem. Of her experience in Harlem, she said, “I have done home visiting and street work for two summers which meant becoming known in the neighborhood by being there. After that is accomplished, there is never enough time for games with children or talking with the people and generally responding to their needs as they express them.” This “street work” philosophy was to continue to be Pat’s way of being in mission.

In 1969 Pat was assigned to Bolivia. In Cochabamba she studied Spanish which did not come easily to this friendly extrovert. She tutored a physically challenged child and helped in the Maryknoll High School office. It was also a time of many changes in the Church and the Congregation. After thoughtful and prayerful consideration, Pat requested a leave of absence, a difficult decision because of her love of Maryknoll. She wanted to reflect and see more clearly what God wished for her. After six months, she returned to the Center in October, 1970 and worked in the mail room. She was investigating various ministry opportunities when, because of her administrative and organizational gifts and her ability to relate well with people, she was called to Congregational Service. When asked by the Central Governing Board in 1971 if she would work in the Secretariat for one year, she responded, “Believe it or not, I will be happy to share in the work of the Secretariat for one year,” not dreaming that it would lead to supervising the Secretariat for three years and then serving as Development Department Director. In the end she served three leadership teams! In 1978, Sister Barbara Hendricks wrote Pat, “I hope you realize the significance of what you have done these years. Your willingness to pitch in and give of your time and talents and energy gave us courage to face the things we have had to face. I hope that your heart has been strengthened by your time here at the Center. You certainly have strengthened the heart of the community.”

Pat’s smile always brightened up a gathering and it was fun to be with her. But she had a deeper, serious side revealed in her extensive reading to keep updated in theology, and her sharing on ministry, mission and her faith. She used to exchange good book titles with her two brothers.

In 1979, Pat took a Mission Renewal Program and then from October 1979 to June 1980, she resided at OMSC, Overseas Ministry Studies Center, Ventnor, NJ. Gerald Anderson, Director of the Center wrote to Maryknoll: “I want you to know how much we have appreciated and benefited from having Sister Pat Denny, M.M., in residence at OMSC. She has made an enormous contribution to our community by her presence and by her contribution to the total life of our missionary community in the study program, in our worship life together, and in our social life.” Pat herself said, “Living here in Ventnor among people of the various Christian church groups, I feel I have participated in a very significant way in carrying out Maryknoll’s General Assembly commitment to ‘Our Understanding of Evangelization’.”

On January 1, 1981, Pat received her assignment to the Mexico-Guatemala-El Salvador Region. She worked in Mexico City in a poor barrio, Progresista, accompanying Basic Christian Communities and getting to know the richness of Mexico’s history and culture. The Sisters finished their work and closed the house in 1982.

From November 1982 to December 1984, Pat again served in the Secretariat and was a member of the 1984 General Assembly Task Force. On December 22, 1984, Sister Luise Ahrens wrote: “How can we ever thank you for all that you have done for us! Coming back at a time that was perhaps not the best time for you in order to help out was one thing for which this Board cannot thank you enough. But then to stay on and become an integral part of the Constitutions and the computer turnover – two of our most important tasks this year has made us even more grateful to you. Personally, your willingness to do whatever had to be done around here has made the time that I have been here a whole lot more joyful and peaceful.”

In 1985, Pat returned to the Mexico-Guatemala-El Salvador Region and was very happy in a new house and ministry in Lomas de Portugal, Mixco, Guatemala. Although Sisters Martha Murphy, Mildred (Mili) Fritz and Pat lived in Lomas de Portugal, they trained catechists, had scripture reflection groups and did pastoral-social work in several other sectors of this sprawling parish. Many of the parishioners were internal displaced persons from the civil war in Guatemala and their suffering from that time fostered a deep Christian community. To this day, the young adults in one sector, who do the preparation for First Communion and Confirmation, call themselves the “Mili-Pat Catechists!”

On October 13, 1989, an incident occurred which was to change the course of Pat’s life once again. When the doorbell rang and she answered it, two men who were not known to her were there. One watched the street and one faced Pat with a package wrapped in gift paper with her name taped on top of the package. The man asked her her name; then as she did not answer, he started to try to enter putting his foot on the step, and with both hands she pushed him back and was able to force the door shut with her body. She saw the two men walking slowly away. After she banged the door, the two visiting Maryknoll Sisters in the house came running. At 4:00 p.m. the phone rang and Pat answered it. It was a male, speaking in Spanish who asked if she were Hermana Patricia Denny. She said, “She’s not here.” Then he spoke in English and said, “We want you out of our country now.” The Sisters left immediately for another house of Maryknoll Sisters and informed the archbishop and the Conference of Religious. After much dialogue it was decided that Pat should leave as soon as possible, and she left or October 17, 1989. Ursuline Sister Diana Oriiz was abducted on November 2, 1987.

In March 1990, Sisters Pat and Mildred accepted an invitation to Oaxaca, Mexico. The archbishop suggested a parish on the outskirts of the city. Pat and Mili did general pastoral work and shared social celebrations with the other house of Maryknoll Sisters and the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Pat was the Mexico regional contact person.

On February 15, 1997, Pat was assigned from the Mexico Region to the Eastern US Region stating: “I believe in the work of the Eastern Region and I am impressed with the Sisters in this Region and wish to be with them in Maryknoll’s presence in the US.” She worked in Philadelphia, first in St. Cecilia’s Parish, in charge of the Religious Education Program and pastoral-social work with the homebound and elderly. Later she did pastoral work in St. Bartholomew’s Parish where her brother, Father Joe, is the pastor. Pat was in charge of the outreach program, adult education, the bereavement group, cancer support group, homebound visitation and the Communion call schedule.

Whenever possible, Pat attended community meetings and celebrations with the Sisters in the New England Area. She especially enjoyed their annual meetings at Regina Mans, Watch Hill, Rhode Island, where Pat had served one summer as house coordinator. She always looked forward to reconnecting with the Sisters in the Region, and en route to Rhode Island usually stopped at the Center in New York to visit her many friends. Pat had a ready smile and an infectious laugh. She will be remembered by all for her kindness, caring, optimism and joy.

On April 24, 2007, Pat became ill and received treatment. On June 6, her niece, Terri, and Terri’s husband, Joseph Tadley, welcomed Pat to recuperate in their home. On June 24, Pat’s spirits were lifted by a visit from her first great-grand nephew, Andrew, after his christening.

July vacation at the shore has been a Denny family tradition for years when sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews all gathered. One of Pat’s last wishes was that she would be well enough to spend three weeks of quality time at the shore with her family this July, and God graciously granted her wish. On her return in August, Pat continued to receive care at Terri’s home, and when she was informed that she had only a short time to live, Pat chose the readings she wanted for her funeral. “Joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,” signs of the Spirit, gifts that still abide with her, were also reflected by her family members as they lovingly cared for her until her death.

Pat’s wake and funeral were celebrated on August 21, 2007 in her parish church, St. Bernard’s, in Philadelphia where she had lived for the past ten years. Pat had requested that her body be cremated. She was interred near her grandparents in Our Lady of Grace Cemetery on August 22, 2007.

We welcome Pat’s family, as well as our Maryknoll brother and celebrant, Father Edward Dougherty, who will preside at our Memorial Mass for Pat.