Sister Patty Fillenwarth
I’m passionate about … “my ministry and the Colts.”
Qualities I most admire: generosity, concern for others
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of God is … She wants every person to be happy.
Contact Sister Patty at: email@example.com
Life for a young Patty Fillenwarth revolved around family.
She grew up the sixth of eight children in a large and loving extended family that valued hard work, prayer and above all else that bond of family.
In fifth grade at Holy Cross School in downtown Indianapolis an idea first crossed Patty’s mind while listening to visiting missionary sisters tell of their work in Africa.
“I think that was the first time the thought ever came to me not to become a sister, but to become a missionary,” Sister Patty said.
That same year Patty’s older sister Mary moved to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., to attend the Sisters of Providence high school for girls aspiring to be sisters.
Patty already loved the young and energetic Sisters of Providence who served as teachers at her school. Then from the stories her sister brought home and from the monthly visits the family took to visit soon-to-be Sister Joseph there, Patty came to love Saint Mary-of-the-Woods as well.
When it was time for her to enter high school, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods seemed a natural choice.
Despite her father’s teasing every summer that she would not go back, Patty finished high school and joined the Sisters of Providence.
Home to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
“To me it was sort of like coming home or something. It was not a scary thing, it just felt right,” Sister Patty said of her call to religious life.
The desire to be a missionary never left her, so during her formation time Sister Patty filled out paperwork to be considered for the SP foreign missions.
She had finished her teaching degree, taught middle-school aged children eight years and had professed final vows by the time it was decided that she would prepare to go to the SP mission in Peru, South America.
Sister Patty was 30 years old and was completing her master’s degree before going to Peru when she came to a crux in her life.
“That was at the time that so many changes were taking place in community, and many of my friends had left. And I began to think, why am I still here? It was a great moment in my life to recommit myself or make a decision to commit myself to something else,” Sister Patty said.
She sought counseling and took a new look at herself and her life.
“In working through that I discovered that I really did want to recommit myself to this, and that it was the right thing for me. That’s when I decided that why I came was not as important as why I stayed,” she said.
“I think I had been in the Congregation long enough to realize this was not utopia. It was not a fairyland. It was real people, real work, and I loved it.
“And the reason I stayed is because I love it. I love every part of it. The Sisters of Providence are my family,” she said.
Mission to Peru
And so, renewed in her commitment, she left for new challenges in Peru.
“I studied Spanish for four months in Lima. When I finished, I had my certificate that said I could speak Spanish, and I couldn’t. It was all in my head and nothing came out of my mouth. So I got a little panicked there for a while. But I’ll tell you what, I stood up there in front of those fourth grade boys (I had 40 fourth grade boys) and pearls flowed out of my mouth. It was either speak or be eaten alive, and so considering those options, I spoke. And it was great. I spent five years there. It was a wonderful time, a wonderful time,” she said.
On returning from Peru, she moved to Chicago where her Spanish-language skills could be put to good use. She taught for one year then served as principal for 15 at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in the West Humboldt Park area.
By 1992 Sister Patty was ready for a change. She had noticed an unmet need for affordable Spanish speaking counseling services among the families in the struggling neighborhood she served. So she presented the idea to her Congregation, went to school for a second master’s degree in counseling and returned to the neighborhood to found Providence Family Services (PFS) as a bi-lingual counseling center in 1994.
Today she continues as director and counselor at PFS, which has expanded to also include after-school homework help, English as a Second language classes, computer classes and citizenship classes, all available regardless of one’s ability to pay.
Like every ministry Sister Patty has ever had as a Sister of Providence, she loves what she is doing.
“I’m passionate about mission and ministry and service. It’s why I get up in the morning, and why I work hard all day,” she said.
Sister Patty considers herself a normal person. She loves every-day things like the sports (especially the Cubs and the Colts), movies, jigsaw and crossword puzzles, gardening and nature.
She is also a very happy person.
“I have learned to love all the good things God gives us,” she said.
“I love life. I love what I do. I love the people I am with, the people I get to serve with. I learn every day from my clients, every day, what’s really important in life,” she said.
Favorite TV program: right now, Blue Bloods or Good Wife
Favorite animal: all of them as long as they don’t live in my house
Favorite sport: football
Favorite course in school: math – all flavors
One thing most people don’t know about me is … I have perfect feet.
Favorite saint: St. Catherine of Indy (my mom)