If you know the saying “For it is in giving that we receive,” you may know something about Sister Suzanne Patterson, CSC. Though she has been ministering at Broadway Christian Parish in South Bend, Indiana, for more than 20 years, she will tell you that what she receives through her ministry far outweighs what she feels she gives. Many who benefit from her presence may argue that point. Still, for her it remains true.
Broadway Christian Parish is a United Methodist congregation serving the southeast neighborhood of the city in a century-old, three-story red-brick building. Volunteers, like Sister Suzanne, come from a wide variety of faith traditions, walks of life, ages, creeds and races. This diverse gathering is intentional and it's how a Catholic sister came to minister at a Methodist parish.
Volunteers help out with an array of what the church calls their “gracious ministries”—Monday through Thursday breakfasts, a food pantry, clothing closet, showers, laundry, mail drop, spiritual support and guidance, a Christmas store, weather relief, job search and documentation assistance, wellness checks by nursing students, and pharmacy shuttles, not to mention innumerable kindnesses, words of comfort, and the dignity and respect that is accorded to every person who passes through the church’s doors.
But these gracious ministries are not about just giving hand-outs and meeting needs on a superficial level. The parish strives to create community with its guests, volunteers and staff. In fact, many guests whose fortunes have improved return because of the friends they’ve made at Broadway.
With grace and calmness
Broadway’s philosophy of service is reflective of Sister Suzanne’s. “The whole thrust is to be present to people,” she notes,” even when they are volatile. After all, someone may have just been evicted, or come off the street for a meal, or has been sleeping in their car. We deal with those moments with grace and calmness. We want to help people come to solutions in their lives that are based on Gospel principles.”
Being present with people also means the parish embraces the concept of reconciliation-restoration. “We try to practice reconciliation-restoration with our guests when they get upset,” said Pastor Carl Hetler. “We try to help them acknowledge what went wrong and to make amends where necessary, to give people second chances.”
Second chances go both ways.
Recently, a miscommunication between Sister Suzanne and a guest resulted in the guest becoming angry and yelling at Sister Suzanne. Such situations do occur on occasion, and she has seen much in her 20 years there. However, this time she was shaken to the core by it. Following the parish’s process for de-escalation, Sister Suzanne immediately walked away. She realized that her emotions were more on edge than she had thought, due to that day being the birthday of a dear friend who had passed.
After another volunteer helped her process the incident and her emotions, Sister Suzanne knew what she needed to do: apologize to the guest for her part in the miscommunication. Meanwhile, a staff member had helped the guest calm down and reexamine the situation. He saw how their signals had gotten crossed and wanted to apologize to Sister Suzanne. The two came together, shaking hands and acknowledging their respective roles in what went wrong.
Fruits of Holy Cross
Every month, Fruits of Holy Cross shares the good news of the ministries of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Our “fruits” are nourished not just by the sisters’ labors or the seed of faith planted by our founder Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, they are watered by our many prayer partners, donors and benefactors—by you.
A gift given and received
Pastor Carl witnessed the incident and how it played out.
“It was great that Sister Suzanne could model de-escalation techniques for our guests and our staff,” he says. “When the reconciliation was ready to happen, it was powerful to see her example. Later, she told me she was embarrassed but recognized it as a gift of grace. I used this incident in my next sermon, to encourage parishioners to look for those opportunities to not bury bad things but examine them at a deeper level of God’s grace.”
“I still have so much to learn in life,” Sister Suzanne says. “We are meant to walk with others in our weakness, which becomes our strength. It’s not easy, but Broadway [Christian Parish] keeps me real. My ministry there is important for my own sanity and growth.” It is a gift she is happy to receive.
Sister Suzanne has been joined at Broadway Christian Parish by two novices, Sisters Rita Boakyewaa Konadu and Supty Mrong, who are helping the church reestablish on-site biblical studies with guests that had been halted due to the pandemic.
Your donations to the Ministry with the Poor Fund have helped Sister Suzanne continue in her ministry at Broadway Christian Parish. Each contribution—no matter how small—helps our sisters and novices be devoted partners in ministry all around the world. We encourage you to take a moment to learn more about Ministry With the Poor Fund and consider donating today.