Patricia Millen was working in Manhattan and living in a 21st floor apartment when she came to know the Sisters of St. Francis through her cousin Carol Zurlo. Sr. Carol’s ministry then was as a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Sr. Pat recalls, “My siblings and I got in the car and drove from North Jersey to visit her. That’s the first time I met the Sisters of St. Francis.”
Sr. Pat continues the story: “The next time, Carol was studying at the Catholic University and living in the convent at the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Parish in Northwest Washington, D.C. I was working for a news magazine. We were doing a series on the food industry, whose main offices were in D.C. So I would come down for a Friday meeting and stay with the sisters for the weekend. As I got to know the sisters, their joy was obvious. Sr. Betty Kane was the convent superior, and she was excited about what was going on in the parish school and the province. My goal had been to make more money and get a penthouse apartment, travel, see the world. But I returned to New York saying to myself, there’s more to life than money. I was moved by the sisters’ response to those who are poor: the sisters had such a great spirit, and they were making a difference. So I had ongoing conversations with Betty Kane, who would eventually sponsor me.”
Leaving her home in Manhattan, Pat Millen entered the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia on a Friday evening in 1978. Three days later, she and other candidates were sent on mission to a hospital convent in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She recalls, “Here I am— used to living alone—living with 26 other people. They’re almost all considerably older, and I’m thinking, what have I done?” But she has not regretted her decision.
Sr. Pat earned her undergraduate degree in behavioral science and religious studies from Neumann University. Her MEd in guidance and counseling is from Loyola University Maryland, which she attended while serving as a guidance counselor at the Catholic High School of Baltimore. From Baltimore she moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where she was the program director for the Ministry of Caring’s Hope House II and III. Her next ministry was in Alaska, first in Anchorage and then in St. Mary’s—where, although the cold didn’t bother her, she struggled with the isolation.
Back in the lower 48, Sr. Pat completed an internship in community development with Mercy Housing Systems in San Francisco and then went on to serve as the program director for Catholic Housing Services’ Max Hale Center in Bremerton, Washington. She recalls, “On my first day at the center, which seeks affordable housing for those who have been homeless, a priest from an area parish called and said, ‘Sister, what are you going to do about these homeless men in my church at night?’ I answered, ‘I honestly don’t know, Father, but I will look into it and get back to you.’” In response, Sr. Pat established the Homeless Outreach Shelter Team (HOST) Program to provide temporary shelter in area churches “until we built Benedict House, which provided housing for 25 men—including a man with children—before their move into permanent housing.” Sr. Pat served as both the family center director and the program director for Catholic Community Services Southwest’s Benedict House and Kitsap Family Center.
In 2010, Sr. Pat became the director of St. Joseph Family Center in Spokane, a Sisters of St. Francis sponsored ministry. As director, Sr. Pat reduced the center’s budget deficit by close to half, but the lack of insurance reimbursement for provider costs made sustaining the ministry impossible; the center closed in 2016. Sr. Pat reflects, “It was a clear example of what the heart is saying and what the head is saying—the head knows we cannot continue; the heart was broken.”
Sr. Pat describes herself as “sort of retired,” but she remains highly engaged in the Franciscan charism, including serving on the Care for Creation and the Responsible Investment and Shareholder Advocacy (CRI) committees, on the Facing Racism Taskforce, and on the Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Committee. Focusing on both national and local issues, she and Sr. Kate O’Donnell cocoordinate JPIC—Sr. Pat for the West, and Sr. Kate for the East. As part of her JPIC work, Sr. Pat serves in the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investments. Her contributions also include leadership in a Franciscan Action Network Justice Circle. She works with a secular-Franciscan group that is studying St. Francis’ early followers, and for the Franciscan Federation, she is on the executive committee for the Commission of Regions.
Another ministry for Sr. Pat is serving as a court-appointed special advocate guardian ad litem for Washington State. She explains: “Children under the age of 12 do not have a lawyer. They have a guardian ad litem through the juvenile court system. I become the child’s advocate and look to see what is in the best interests of this child.” She is currently the guardian ad litem for three very young children.
“Those who know me will say I have a third ministry,” Sr. Pat says, “and that is serving on boards and committees.” She is the secretary- treasurer for the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle and chairs the center’s board of members. In Spokane, she is on the board of directors for Transitions, a cosponsored ministry that seeks to end poverty and homelessness for the city’s women and children. Sr. Pat has been a board member for Habitat for Humanity Spokane and is on their advocacy committee. She chairs the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference planning committee and is on the executive committee for the advocacy group Resisting Forward, which focuses on social-justice issues including care for creation.
In another initiative for helping others, Sr. Pat is the chair for the St. Aloysius Church and St. Ann Church Immigration Committee. Her contributions extend even further: “I’m in a couple of book clubs
on racism and attend programs at St. Aloysius. Right now we’re addressing the Indian boarding schools. Another group I work with is the ecumenical Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience of Eastern Washington and North Idaho. At our recent Healing of the Earth Vigil at Cataldo Mission, I gave a presentation about what we sisters of St. Francis do and used Francis’ words, ‘I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to do.’ I said, ‘There’s still time,’ and pointed out that we each have a responsibility to do something, including going to our pastors and saying, ‘The Gospel is social justice.’”
When Sr. Pat has a few rare moments to relax, she enjoys counted cross-stitch and is working on a baby bib for a new nephew and a door hanging for a friend: “It was supposed to be a birthday present. At the rate I’m going, it will be for Christmas.” She is also an avid sports fan, especially when the New York Yankees or Giants are playing.
The voice and contributions of the Sisters of St. Francis continue strong, as Sr. Patricia Millen’s ministry and work clearly show. Sr. Pat is living the essence of Franciscan charism, responding to the Gospel’s cry for social justice and St. Francis’ call for each of us to do our part.