His Call is Strong and Clear: Sr. Stephen Patrick, OP, Shares Her Vocation Journey.

The article below is an excerpt taken from “And The Truth Shall Set You Free,” a weekly podcast series hosted by Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, OP. The producer of the series was GoLEDigital, a digital community created by the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

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Sister Stephen Patrick was raised Catholic and studied science in college. Up until that point, she thought she would become a stay-at-home mother; however, God had a different plan for her life, and she willingly listened to His call.  He called her to Him in college, and she answered that call immediately, leaving school with a certificate in radiology rather than finishing her degree.  Her obedience to His call has been blessed abundantly by continued education, a wonderful community, and an ever-deepening relationship with God.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

As Dominicans, we have a segment in this podcast on Veritas, which is truth. In all of our podcasts, as we’re referring to our own vocational stories or other things that our sisters are involved in, God’s providence has already mapped out [our lives] for us, and we’re living them with tremendous freedom and joy. All truth brings us back to God. Sister Stephen Patrick is a scientist. We have a number of sisters that are interested in science in our community. You will notice that all the academic fills are covered by sisters in the community because as professional teachers and preachers, that’s necessary so that the education we hand down is a fruit of our own blessings in being well educated. Today, I want to begin with Sister’s vocation story and a little bit about her family. 

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Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I was born in Virginia, and I grew up in Alabama. My family still lives in the same home that I grew up in in Alabama. I have five brothers and a sister, and I’m right in the middle, so I’m a typical middle child, the peacemaker. All of us practice our Catholic faith given to us by our family. My parents sacrificed to send us to Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school. I went to a boarding school for high school where Mother Assumpta’s brothers went, Saint Bernard in Coleman, Alabama. I’ve got Benedictine roots, just like Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Benedictines like to point that out.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

When you were in high school, was your faith always strong or was there some shaking? Both of us teach high school students, and I’m always interested in what your high school experience was in regards to the faith.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I would say that my relationship with the Lord was more of this is what I’m “supposed to do” as opposed to an actual relationship. I think that’s due to hardships growing up and things that happened where I was praying for certain things that made it seem to get worse in our life. Being at boarding school an hour away from my family was great in some ways. I spent a lot of my time devoted to extracurriculars such as basketball and music, and I didn’t give myself time to think too much. My prayer life was not the strongest, but people would say that they thought I was very faithful.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Internally did you know you could have beefed it up if you’d given it more attention?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

It’s hard to say looking back where our hearts are and knowing what I know now, having encountered the Lord in college in Eucharistic Adoration and sensing his peace in the Real Presence, praying the rosary with Our Lady, and being healed through the Sacraments. Once you have that personal encounter, you realize, “I missed out on so much,” but you can’t take that back.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

That self-knowledge is beautiful. Since your family chose to send you to a Catholic boarding school, there must have been a strong love of the faith in your parents. How did you respond to their decision?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I was not as open. I didn’t want to leave home. I didn’t want to leave my mom. “Do I have to do this?” It was a great decision. I’m so grateful for it because the people I met in high school were wonderful. I was surrounded with this wonderful faith community. Father Joel, who used to be the headmaster at Saint Bernard, likes to remind me of when I was interviewing to go there. They asked, “Do you want to come here?” I said, “No.” At another point in time, he asked me, “Do you think you can get in?” I looked at him and said, “If my brothers can get in, I’ll have no problem.” He likes to tease me about that.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

That is good. I happen to know that when you graduated from there you didn’t enter the convent right away. What was next on your plan?

A Doctor in Cellular Biology and fellow Dominican Sister of Mary, Sr. Stephen Patrick, sat down with Sr. Joseph Andrew to discuss her vocational story.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

When I left Saint Bernard, I went to the University of South Alabama. It was on my heart to help others. I interviewed for a program for radiology. They interview hundreds of people every year, and they only take 50 into their program. I was accepted, so I thought, “This is God’s will.” I wanted to do radiology because I was expecting to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to have a family. Radiology would have given me the ability to be at home when I needed to and then easily go back to the job once the kids were raised. I was thinking about taking care of myself.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Were you dating at this time?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I started dating in college off and on.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

How did it change as you began to wonder if you had a religious vocation?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

My vocation switched so fast. I was more shocked than anyone else. When I got to South Alabama, I met this great group of students at the Catholic Students Center. We would do sports and music together. We got a young priest in my second year, Father Alex, who in preaching the truth in his homilies pierced my heart.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Beautiful. Once again, the priesthood leads the way.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

My heart turned. He asked me once, “Why aren’t you coming to daily Mass? We have Mass every day at 9:00 PM.” I looked at my schedule, and I said, “I’m not in school, and I’m not working at that time, so, okay.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

How beautiful. He went to you personally and asked why you weren’t coming to daily Mass. What a beautiful, zealous priest. Of course, coming from a beautiful Catholic family, that would resonate inside you as, “I have no answer for that question.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

Right? Why do you things? That’s the beauty of stepping away from home and being at college and being able to ask, “Why do I do any of this? What do I actually believe?” To encounter truth through the preaching of others and to encounter Christ in the Eucharist, I would start going to Adoration all the time. I would take my studies under the chapel and just be with Him. It already sounded like I was a religious as a college student. I fell in love with Him, and I didn’t see it like everyone else. I had a good friend who knew she had a vocation, and she decided to do a nun run, going to different convents during spring break with a group of our close friends. I knew I was called to married life, so I said, “I’ll go, but just to get out of Alabama and see those different sights.” I tell you, it was spring break. Every place I went, I felt so much peace and love and wanted to be there. The Nashville Dominicans taught me the beauty of the Dominican charism. It was unique because I knew I wasn’t called there when I was there, but they taught me how much I love being a Dominican. I was in Washington, DC at the Servants of the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration, and the Lord proposed to me. He told me, “I want you to be my bride.” I was giving Him every reason [why not]. What it came down to was that I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t think I was worth it.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Thank you for your honesty. That is such a common theme. As the vocation director of our community, I hear it. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. Who is? I am. Anybody is. You have to grow in humility to say, “But God is, and He knows who He’s picking. If He chooses to invite me in this manner, His grace will be more than sufficient for me. I can’t do it by myself.” We need to pray for more humility when it comes to that, to say, “That may be true, but I’m not the one in charge. God is. I will bow to Him, and He will provide what I need.” Thank you for bringing that out.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

What’s beautiful is He left me with, “I want you to be My bride. I will do everything for you. Trust Me.” It goes back to Our Lady’s yes. We only know about this much at a time, and everything that we’re asked to do, we have the grace in the moment. He’s been so faithful to that.

Cellular Biologist Doctor and fellow Dominican Sister of Mary, Sr. Stephen Patrick.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Was your family surprised?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

They were. I was surprised, too, because that was in March. It was happening so fast that I didn’t actually tell them before I went on retreat in May. 24 hours changed my life. I felt at home with the sisters. I felt like I had always known the Sisters, and the Lord told me, “Your home is in Michigan.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

From Alabama to Michigan. This is your answer. It’s a trek.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I got papers to join the community in May after discerning a vocation in March. I didn’t have a clue I was going to do that. I thought it’d take at least a year to find a community, I’d be able to finish college, do all my plans. I was with the nuns in Marbury, filling out our application papers, asking them to pray, and I went home for my little brother’s eighth-grade graduation. He received this award from the Sierra Club meaning he’d be a great potential priestly vocation. I didn’t know how I was going to tell my family, but my dad came up to me at the reception, and he bumped me and said, “When are you going to enter the convent?” I said, “Actually in two months.”

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Sister, isn’t that beautiful? You entered before you graduated from college?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

It was a pseudo-graduation. I graduated with a certificate in radiology. I would have done one more year for a bachelor’s.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I wanted to point that out because so many driven young women, as well as men, think that they need to prove themselves by getting a college degree, etc., whatever their caveat is of how I’m going to prove myself to themselves first of all. It goes along with lacking the humility to say, “God, I can’t, but You can and I’m going to trust You.” They get into a college program, and many wonderful communities say that they have to have a college degree before they can enter that particular community. We don’t because as Dominicans, we are perpetual educators. We are perpetually getting educated, and we are perpetually educating. It’s a constant Dominican apostolate that flows from the contemplation. After you entered the convent, your education had to continue. Tell us that aspect.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

The beauty of our formation is that it’s so centered on Christ and the Eucharist and learning Dominican spirituality and our constitutions and the catechism. Then we need to get trained for the apostolate. My radiology background put me in a position to be a science teacher. It was more practical than my choice.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

You received a degree?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I received a degree from Eastern Michigan in Secondary Education with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. I was shocked because right after I student-taught and graduated, the community sent me to the Catholic University of America for my master’s in biology. I was shocked by that. I had no idea. I don’t know if I should tell you, but my goal in life was to get out of school as quickly as possible. It was beautiful because graduate school helped me to love studying and truth, especially studying things that no one has studied before and getting into that research side of things. By the time I finished my master’s degree, the department was encouraging me to continue for a doctorate, and they said, “We will pay for everything.” Science is a gift to me from the community and from God. I told Mother, “This is what they’ve said.” She said, “Okay, hon, but you’ve got two years.” I did two more years on-site at Catholic U doing my research, and then I started full-time teaching and finishing up the research and writing on the side.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Sister, tell us what your research was and what field you explored.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I got into a yeast lab that studies PDR5, which is a multidrug transporter. Usually when I say that, it means absolutely nothing, but you can make sense of it if you think about cancer and how some people become resistant to cancer treatment. The protein that I studied is able to remove drugs from the yeast cell quickly, so it’s used to cultivate antifungal resistance. I was studying how different types of cells become resistant to drugs that are meant to kill them because the living organism is so dynamic. It uses every means it can to survive. If you mutate one thing, it creates another mutation in order to survive. My dissertation title was The Identification of Sub5: A Protein That Interfaces With A Deviant ATP Binding Site of Yeast Transporter PDR5. ABC transporters are found in all organisms from the smallest bacterium to us. It’s one of the most common superfamilies of proteins. All of these families share a common structure where they form channels or pumps inside a membrane that allows things to come into the cell or out of the cell or into an organelle or out of an organelle. My lab had discovered what we call suppressors of PDR5, so we were trying to understand the signature motif and what it does. What we found is when we have a certain mutant of PDR5 protein, it doesn’t function nearly as well. It’s at a third of what a normal, functioning protein would do. We took this mutant, and we did a screen where we subjected it to mutagens and found cells that were able to become hyper resistant. They went from being extremely weak to very drug-resistant. It’s amazing. This is the living cell. We try to them figure out. What is causing this hyper resistance? I received that project heading into my lab. That’s when we call it SUP 5, SUP 6. SUP for a suppressor or another mutation that causes a restored phenotype or function of the protein. What was fascinating is SUP 5, in particular, is able to restore this normal resistance by increasing this ATP type of activity. We were intrigued by that adeno triphosphate. Sadly, I never actually found SUP 5 or SUP 6, so my research is still open if the Lord ever gives that avenue.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

I remembered you were given several summers by the community to continue this research.

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

Mother gave that to me so that I’d be able to finish.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Wasn’t there a Dominican priest also involved at some point in time?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

Father Nicanor Austriaco. We met my second semester at the Catholic University. He heard I was working in a yeast lab, and he said, “Sister, I work in a yeast lab at Providence College. I would love to have you come see my lab.” That summer, I was able to go. Sister Joseph Maria was studying to work in his yeast lab. Talk about Divine Providence. I don’t think I would have continued in research. I don’t think the doctorate would have become a possibility. My heart was not in it based on my own experiences up to that time. Being with Father in his lab, seeing him working with the students, seeing the community of scientists that he had set up and how they each had a specific function, and they helped each other, seeing his own spiritual fatherhood was beautiful. I saw how he, as a consecrated religious scientist, was able to impact these students. It made the complementary role I could have more visible.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

When you went back to your teaching, did you carry some of those skills back with you?

Sr. Stephen Patrick:

I think so, always trying to get to know the students and be open to them and their needs, praying for them.

Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz:

Beautiful. I was blessed to talk with Sister Mary Elizabeth, who also has a PhD in electrical engineering, and I know that both of you are now working on a very important science/faith project with materials that will be coming out. I don’t want to spoil this for our audience, but say God gave you these incredible gifts in multiple ways. When He made you, He gave you these gifts. Also the way you were raised and your experiences in the Catholic boarding school, at the university in Alabama, and after you entered the community, and the dedication you have since brought to it. It’s beautiful to see the reminder of what God can ask of us if we have the courage and humility to say what Mary said. “Be it done unto me according to Your will.” Let’s keep each other in prayer, your children, your friendships, and yourself, and give God everything because He is totally EVERYTHING. Sister Stephen Patrick, thank you for joining us today. I look forward to hearing more about your next project. God bless you.


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