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St. Francis sister had done advocacy in Spokane

Sister Pat Millen OSF moves to Pennsylvania.




Sr. Pat Millen, OSF, who came to Spokane in 2010 and served six years as executive director of St. Joseph Family Center, a Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia program, is relocating to Pennsylvania in March to work with the Chester Community Coalition, which provides emotional support for children suffering from homelessness and from trauma related to violence.

Since 2016, Sr. Pat has had two part-time ministries along with a full schedule of volunteer commitments addressing homelessness, environment, immigration and advocacy.

First, as a local Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) guardian ad litem, she has been working with six children. Currently she is working with two children who are near to being adopted. She attends virtual hearings with them and will continue to work with them after she relocates.

Second, with her national community, she is Justice Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) coordinator. JPIC prepares corporate stands for the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia to adopt on issues such as the environment, immigration, racism, gun violence and human trafficking.

She has been involved with several local and regional ministries.

Advocacy is central to Sr. Pat's commitment. At St. Aloysius Parish, which she has attended since coming to Spokane, she has been on the immigration and the care for creation committees.

She has also participated in local outlets for advocacy such as the Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience (FLLC) group and as recent chair of the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference Planning Committee.

"It is a blessing to work with people of other denominations to make a difference on issues that affect everyone. We are one church with one faith and one God," she said.

Sr. Pat signed several letters to the editor written by FLLC and published in the Spokesman-Review.

"Sometimes at Mass at St. Aloysius, someone expressed gratitude that I signed a letter. One recently told me, 'It's good to see a Catholic voice among those who are speaking out,'" she said.

"I tried to be active here," she said.

The Chester Community Coalition, where Sr. Pat will serve, is funded by Peace Health Hospital. The program addresses gun and other violence, assisting not only families of those who are killed but also neighborhoods and families of the killers who have been sent to jail and have had their lives disrupted.

The Sisters of St. Francis is involved with Catholic Health in anti-bias ministry, addressing spirituality by building relationships in Chester.

When Sr. Pat came to Spokane, there were five Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia here. Sr. Joanne Clavel continues in community ministry. Sr. Patricia Novak is staff administrator, spiritual director and retreat leader at St. Charles Parish. Sr. Elaine Thaden is now retired and living in the OSF retirement center in Aston, Pa. The late Sr. Florence Roch ran Kairos House, a spiritual retreat center, until her death in December.

Sisters in their congregation, like those in other congregations serving in Spokane, are retiring, moving and dying.

"There are fewer sisters in the region overall," she said. "In the 1890s, sisters first came to Spokane. We started St. Joseph's as an orphanage. It later was a children's home, then a foster care program and, in the 1970s, it became a counseling and spirituality center."

The orphanage was torn down, leaving the administration building and five houses, used for children's foster homes, with one foster parent for 10 to 12 children. Sr. Pat's involvement with CASA continues that commitment.

Now Joya Child and Family Development owns the property and has built a new facility for programs with preschool children with disabilities.

Housing and homelessness have been one area of concern for Sr. Pat, who often saw homeless people camped nearby along the river and in Mission Park near St. Joseph Center.

"We have more homelessness because we do not have enough affordable housing," she said.

Sr. Pat has also been involved with other community and national agencies such as Habitat for Humanity of Spokane, the Spokane Low Income Housing Consortium, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, The Fig Tree Board, the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, the OSF Facing Racism Task Force and the OSF Care for Creation Committee.

A Franciscan sister in Portland will continue representing the Sisters of St.  Francis on the Transitions Board. They have been co-sponsors with Sisters of the Holy Names, Providence Sisters and Dominican Sisters.

A sister from Tacoma will become the OSF representative for the Seattle-based Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, an advocacy and education ministry sponsored by seven communities.

"Now it's possible for sisters at a distance to take my place because many boards meet and work virtually," Sr. Pat said. "Zoom works well and allows us to go to more meetings."

Sr. Pat grew up in New Jersey near New York City.

"In high school, I thought about being a sister, but my parents separated when I graduated, so I worked in New York City to help with my younger siblings until I was in my late 20s," she said.

Often spending weekends with the Sisters of St. Francis in Washington D.C., she knew there was more to life than earning more money to have a penthouse.

"I wanted to be of service and help make change," she said.

She went to Mabtown Monastery in Lancaster, Pa., and continued her education with the Sisters of St. Francis in education, religious studies and behavioral science, earning a bachelor's degree at Newman University. While studying there and for a master's degree in education and guidance counseling at Loyola University of Maryland, she worked as a guidance counselor at a Catholic high school in Baltimore, Md.

After six years there, she spent five years at the Ministry of Caring women's and children's shelter in Wilmington, Del.

In 1995, she went to Catholic Social Services in Anchorage, Alaska, to advocate two years for homeless people, followed by two years at St. Marys, Alaska, with the Native Ministry Training Program for Yupik People to be eucharistic ministers, parish administrators and deacons in an area with no priests.

In 1999, Sr. Pat was an intern with women religious at Mercy House in San Francisco for five months and in Orange County for seven months doing community development to build affordable housing.

"On weekends, I visited Franciscan missions in California," she said.

From 2000 to 2010, she worked with Catholic Community Services in the Archdiocese of Seattle, building Max Hall, a SRO unit in Bremerton for 24 single homeless men and one father with children.

While there, she served on St. Joseph's Family Center's board, so when Sr. Elaine retired as director, Sr. Pat moved to Spokane to become director.

Commenting on the center's closure, she said. "My head said it was needed, but my heart was broken." She pointed out that "the Affordable Health Care Program helps clients, but it did not help providers. We had $100 in costs but were only reimbursed $40. When we closed, I knew there was nowhere else low-income people could go for counseling.

"Eighty percent of our clients were low income. We provided counseling for close to 300 people," she said."Many people we served are not served now."

In Chester, she will start an intentional community in a house with two older and two younger sisters on social service ministry.

There, Sr. Pat will be near her siblings, nieces and nephews.

"Over the years, the Sisters of St. Francis have declined as fewer young women join," she said. "We have moved from being a conservative to a progressive congregation, as we have shifted our focus from health care and education to social services, working with homeless people, immigrants, racism and jail ministry."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February 2024