… a Mission of Listening and Support
The theme “Encountering Others” is meaningful for Sr. Patricia O’Neill, recognized for her spirit of hospitality. “I enjoy meeting others. I’m comfortable meeting people from all over and I’m always ready to welcome them. I think that the expression ‘widening my tent’ accurately describes my approach,” she says.
A teacher until 2002, before becoming a resource person in individual spiritual accompaniment and in retreat animation, Sr. Patricia likes to reach out to people. She finds it an enriching experience from every point of view. It’s an opportunity to learn more about the culture and customs of the people she meets, with their various backgrounds. She also has the deep conviction that she is living the charism of Mother Marie-Rose in her work of accompanying people in the deepening of their faith, in the search for meaning in their lives and in their personal growth.
Sr. Patricia’s sensitivity to spirituality and the deepening of her faith has its origin in her first years as a student of SNJM Sisters at St. Dominic Elementary School in Montreal. From the age of six or seven, she was impressed by the Sisters. “I wanted to become like them,” she recalls. “They formed me in the faith which I continued to deepen when I myself became an SNJM Sister.”
A journey of deepening faith
She entered the SNJM Congregation in 1964 and began her career as an elementary school teacher in 1966, working mainly with children experiencing learning difficulties. It is with a touch of humour that she explains her choice of the early levels of elementary school. “I didn’t want to teach students who were taller than me!”
In addition to teaching, she began following courses at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre of Montreal in 1972. From then on, her desire to deepen her own faith and to help others to deepen theirs led her to continue her studies.
She thus completed a Bachelor of Theology at Loyola College (presently Concordia University) and a Masters of Education in the Christian Ministries Program at Fort Wright College in Spokane, Washington. She also became accredited as a spiritual director at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre and received further training in Edmonton, AB and Guelph, ON. Recently, from 2016-2018, she attended a two-year program in spiritual direction at the Haden Institute in Niagara Falls, ON.
Her extensive training prepared her for the multiple roles she has assumed in the area of spirituality and spiritual accompaniment since her retirement as a teacher. In addition to offering spiritual direction with individuals several times a week, Sr. Patricia teaches in the final two years of the six-year formation program for spiritual directors at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre. She is also one of the mentors for students attending the 2018-2020 Haden Institute at Niagara Falls, ON
Sr. Patricia is a long-time member of the “Montreal Directed Retreats” team which meets monthly for a business meeting which includes time for prayer and sharing. This group offers personally directed silent weekend retreats held five times a year. Each member is a part of the team for one or more of these retreats.
The use of mime and dance in spiritual animation
Sr. Patricia also has the pleasure of leading monthly retreats for women at Villa St. Martin where she uses various methods, including dance, mime and Christian Clowning, in order to share the message of Jesus more effectively.
These approaches, which she been using for a long time, have greatly helped in her ministry as an animator. “Miming and clowning have given me greater self-confidence. Through them I have pushed my limits and demonstrated the value of a sense of humor”, says Sr. Patricia.
She admits that, in addition to enhancing her self-assurance, her work of spiritual direction, mentoring and welcoming others benefits her greatly. “All these moments of encounter nourish me and motivate me to continue accompanying others in all simplicity.”
One way to develop inner peace
It must be said that her ministry leads Sr. Patricia to reflect even further on her own life, on ways of nourishing the spirituality of others, on the source of fears and wounds, and on ways of growing and recognizing God in daily life.
“I am deeply moved and feel privileged when I hear the life stories of those I meet. I know that I am standing on holy ground,” says Sr. Patricia, as she tries to explain the richness of these moments of sharing. She explains that she often hears very powerful and emotionally-charged accounts that help her grow in compassion.
“Sometimes, after meeting with an older person, I tell myself that I hope to be like that person when I am older. On other occasions, what I hear encourages me to be more open and gentle with myself. I regularly remind myself that I am not perfect.”
Thus, encountering others is a way of helping them but also a way of helping myself and growing in inner peace.