Mary Patricia White grew up surrounded by Religious of the Sacred Heart. The St. Charles native attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart from her earliest days, and her family had strong connections to the Society of the Sacred Heart going back generations. Growing up, she “kept watching them” she says, touched by their care for her and their loving presence. The decision to enter happened very naturally. And now, 50 years since her first profession, Sister Mary Pat White is the vocations minister for the Society of the Sacred Heart.
“I was humbled to be asked (to take on the vocations ministry),” Sister White said. “I feel a real responsibility. It is such a privilege to companion with young women at such an important phase in their lives.”
Sister White explains that vocations ministry has evolved. “More and more, the women who are discerning their vocation do not already know us,” she said. “It is a sacred responsibility, introducing people to the Society of the Sacred Heart, being with them, and the confidence they place in you.” At the same time, so much of her outreach is fun and rewarding, and it gives her a chance to work with many others, both in and out of the Society.
Seventeen years of campus ministry preceded Sister White’s appointment as the vocations minister for the Society. She loved working with young people, just as she had found great joy teaching at the elementary level at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in St. Charles, Villa Duchesne / Oak Hill School in St. Louis, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston, and Stuart Hall in San Francisco. In 2007, she helped to launch Duchesne House in New Orleans, which provides a place to stay as well as spiritual guidance to volunteers who come to help with the rebuilding of the city. And so, her ministry with young people continued to evolve. “Life builds on life,” she says. “Everything I did before has prepared me for what I’m doing now.”
Sister White aspires to be the kind of presence for young people that she knew growing up. “There was something wonderful in (the Religious of the Sacred Heart) that nurtured something deep within me.” She recognizes in discerning women her own search from five decades ago. More than simply a desire to give back, they want something they can’t find elsewhere. “Materialism just doesn’t cut it for them,” she says.
The Society of the Sacred Heart describe their life as “wholly contemplative and wholly apostolic,” or simply put, they find no distinction between their ardent prayer lives and their ministries. “That sums up my life,” Sister White says. “Like inhalation and exhalation, you need both and you can’t separate them. I am wholly connected to the divine and to the world around me. And the connection is wonderful!”