NEENAH — Pat Bowen feels blessed to have the life she has. A lifelong Catholic, a former sister, a teacher, a devoted wife and mother, and a volunteer, Bowen is marking her retirement by stepping up her volunteer efforts.
Currently, she volunteers at Valley VNA Senior Care, a ministry started 15 years ago. She brings holy Communion to nursing home residents and patients at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah.
Valley VNA is an independent nonprofit organization that provides in-home care for seniors and both independent and assisted living apartments at its 92-unit complex in Neenah. It was established in 1908 as the Neenah-Menasha Visiting Nurse Association and extends it services throughout the Fox Valley, New London, Oshkosh and Omro.
“It’s a blessing to visit the elderly,” Bowen said. Not only is she able to share her Catholic faith and the Eucharist that she holds so dear, but she is also able to bring companionship to people who often need someone to talk with. She visits hospital patients whenever her parish, St. Margaret Mary in Neenah, needs her.
Bowen grew up in a “very Catholic family” near Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “Both of my parents and all seven of their children practiced their faith,” she said. “I went to Catholic high school and was taught by Dominican sisters. I belonged to a rosary club. It was an opportunity,” she said of her Catholic education. “We had nuns and some fantastic priests who worked in our school. We were able to go to Mass daily if we wished.”
“I decided to join the convent,” Bowen said. She joined the Dominicans of Newburgh (now the Dominican Sisters of Hope) after high school and became Sr. Mary Thomas. “I only stayed for two and a-half years — as a postulant and novice. I decided to leave and continue teaching elsewhere. It was a wonderful experience for me. I could ask questions and get answers. It was the time of Vatican II. I learned a lot and was surrounded by good people who could answer any kind of religious questions. From there, I went to a state university,” she said.
As a young teacher nearly 40 years ago, Bowen met her would-be husband, Chuck, a printing-industry estimator, on a camping trip with friends. They have raised three boys: Mark, Kevin and Paul.
After 15 years in New York, the family moved to Wisconsin, where Bowen continued her career as a preschool and elementary teacher in St. Mary Catholic Schools. “I had no opportunity to teach in Catholic schools until I came to Wisconsin at the age of 47. I was so fortunate to teach at St. Mary’s,” she said. “It was an opportunity to talk about God with the little ones, to share the love of Jesus.”
This is reflected in her favorite Bible passage (Mt 22:37-38): “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Bowen taught preschool for 14 years and then first grade for three years. “I loved every minute of teaching and of teaching in a Catholic school,” she said.
She retired five years ago and is happy to have time to enjoy her first granddaughter, Karalyn, who lives in Oshkosh with her parents Mark and Karissa Bowen.
Bowen’s volunteer eucharistic ministry allows her to share her devotion to her Catholic faith and love for nurturing people at all stages of life. She is an extraordinary minister of holy Communion to residents on Sundays during the community’s televised Mass.
Bowen starts her Sundays with 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Margaret Mary Church, where she picks up the consecrated hosts for the Valley VNA residents. She arrives in time to give Communion to residents while they watch the televised Mass. She often stays after to visit with some individually.
“I explain to people I am there to share holy Communion, and their eyes just light up,” she said. “Even if they are confused about other things, they understand what I am offering them and thank me. It gives me such joy. It makes my day.”
The best Sundays are when she arrives at Valley VNA and sees so many people at Mass that she has to break the hosts in order to serve everyone.
“One day there was a resident with her daughter, son-in-law and five grandchildren. I know that lady was so happy to have her family at church with her,” she said. “On a big day, I bring Communion to 30 or 35 people, and for part of the year, I split Sunday duties with another couple, Jenny and Dennis Bauer.”
The result is up to two hours of visiting, shared prayers, laughs and affection.
“I love being at church, being a eucharistic minister,” she said. “I was just blessed.”
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_message]Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Pat Bowen
Parish: St. Margaret Mary, Neenah
Favorite saint: Monica
Words to live by: “Share your love of God by being willing to help others with whatever they might need and do it with a smile.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]