Saint Scholastica Honoree 2022: Pat Swanke

The Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Paul’s Monastery established the St. Scholastica Honor in 2018, the year of our 70th Anniversary.  This honor celebrates the virtues of St. Scholastica and is presented to someone exhibiting the qualities and dedication to the Benedictine way of life in support of St. Paul’s Monastery.

We are honored to announce that this year’s St. Scholastica Award recipient is Pat Swanke. Pat has volunteered her time and talents at St. Paul’s Monastery for 14 years, first assisting Sister Agnes Trombley with the library organization project prior to the move to the new Monastery in 2009.  In addition, since 2017, Pat has served as Chair of the Benedictine Associates Program, where single Catholic women receive formation classes in Benedictine spirituality and make a formal commitment to support the Monastery is various ways, such as prayer, hospitality, serving as lector or sacristan in the chapel, and visiting Sisters in the Health Care Center.

Pat grew up in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, in a family with three sisters and two brothers.  She attended Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School, where she was educated by the Servants of Mary Sisters through the eighth grade.  She remembers the Sisters with fondness:  “They were extremely connected and committed to us as students.  I appreciated how reverent they were.  I loved going to Mass.  They were a big part of my connection to Christ.  They brought a real human element to that.”

Pat attended Ladysmith High School.  Her father managed a sawmill, and her mother was a nurse anesthetist and Head of the Anesthesia Department at the local hospital.  Pat’s mother, (whom she is named after) converted to Catholicism when she was married.  “My mother was Lutheran and brought a strong faith to our family,” Pat recalls.  Her father had an aunt who was a Franciscan nun.

For college, Pat received an appointment and attended the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Electrical Engineering.  She spent the next nine years serving in the United States Air Force at assignments in Ft. Walton Beach, FL; Colorado Springs, CO and Dayton, OH.  During that time, she also attended night school and received a dual Master of Arts degree in Management/Space Systems Management from Webster University.

In 1990, Pat left the Air Force and stayed in Ohio to work for the Dayton Power and Light Company, a natural gas and electric utility serving west central Ohio.  She spent 17 years working in various positions before retiring as President of their Power Production division.  In 2004, her father died unexpectedly.  This triggered a big life change where she gave herself a three-year ultimatum to figure things out.  She had been attending weekend retreats at St. Walburg Monastery, driving an hour away to spend time in study and prayer.  In 2007, Pat left DP&L to pursue a religious vocation with the Benedictine Sisters of St. Walburg Monastery in Covington, Kentucky.

After a rich career with many work opportunities, Pat recalls:  “What a blessed life I’d had.  God keeps giving and giving to you.  At what point are you not going to give back?”  She decided that giving back would be her focus.  “This really allowed the feelings of a religious vocation to rise to the surface.  I quit my job and moved into the Monastery.  It totally changed how life felt.  Giving back in service to the Sisters.  I loved it.  It was a time of extreme growth.  Everything I did felt new.”  Pat lived with the Sisters at St. Walburg for almost a year while working with the homeless in the Cincinnati area.

She decided to leave St. Walburg in 2008 to tie up some loose ends with her family.  The Sisters encouraged her to find a Benedictine Monastery in the Twin Cities so she could be closer to her aging mother.  She spent a year as a consultant, commuting to Pittsburgh, PA to help a former colleague start up a new company.  She then took a job with a Christian non-profit in Minneapolis, Feed My Starving Children, as Vice President of Operations, where she worked for nearly five years.

Pat became her mother’s caretaker for ten years until she passed away in the fall of 2021.  During that time, Pat continued to volunteer at St Paul’s Monastery.  Her primary areas of volunteer service at the Monastery have been with the large library re-organization project, the Associate Ministry, and helping her dear friend, Sister Agnes Trombley, as her health deteriorated.  Sister Agnes passed away on December 18, 2021.  It has been hard for Pat to experience the loss of these two significant women in her life within such a short time span.  However, on January 21, the Feast of St. Agnes, Pat says that she can feel Sister Agnes’ presence.

Pat is passionate about the Associates Ministry of St. Paul’s Monastery.  “Now, more than ever, through social media, with the pandemic, I think single Catholic women who want to live their faith are yearning for this.  If we marketed the ministry, women could connect with us from all over the country.  It could have a profound impact for other women.”  Zoom has been an important tool during the past two years for meeting with the Associates and could continue to be used to connect with women who reside in other cities.  Pat herself has applied to join the Ministry as an Associate this spring, now that she has time to concentrate on the program. “Benedictine Spirituality is so powerful.  It teaches us how to live, with the Rule of St. Benedict as a guidebook.  Being around the Sisters has helped me understand what listening with the ear of your heart really means.”

Pat is a member of Our Lady of Grace parish in Edina.  She enjoys staying at her cabin in northern Wisconsin where she experiences God in the beauty of nature, leisure time with family and friends, reading and traveling.  Pat says, “I marvel at God and his love.  I’ve learned a lot about trust.  I do believe that God has a plan.  He nudges us along and it all seems to work out.  I don’t know how I could have been blessed any more.  That last 13-14 years have been the most blessed of my life.”

Thank you, Pat, for the many ways you have served St. Paul’s Monastery over the past 14 years as a friend to the Sisters, especially to Sister Agnes, and for your excellent leadership in the Benedictine Associate Ministry.  We are grateful for the many gifts you bring to us, as well as your ongoing commitment to serve the Community.  May God continue to bless you richly and keep you forever in his loving care.