Sister Patricia Marie Thomas, trailblazer in outreach ministry

Sister Patricia Marie Thomas was among the first Good Shepherd Sisters in the Province of Mid-North America to break from the tradition of serving in Good Shepherd sponsored ministries to serve in parish ministries instead.

The year was 1972. Sister Patricia Marie was in St. Paul. The pastor of the St. Luke’s parish had become concerned about parishioners who were homebound. They needed care. The pastor put a call out for Sisters to help, and Sr. Patricia Marie responded. 

Diving into the unknown

“There were days I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I had dived into the unknown on trust and faith that God would be there by my side. I found ways to help the homebound. I brought them communion and prayed with them. Mostly, I ministered to their souls.”

“For Christmas the parish priests bought me a bicycle. I didn’t drive, so up until that day, I was breezing around the entire parish, walking everywhere to meet the needs of parishioners. They wheeled that bicycle out from its hiding place and I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

Sister Patricia Marie was wearing a modified habit at the time, her veil taking flight each time she took off for another visit.

Several years passed when Sr. Patricia Marie found herself ready to move on. This time she was missioned to Seattle, Washington.

Sister Patricia Marie Thomas enjoys reading in her room at Mason Pointe Care Center in St. Louis.

Charism alive in volunteers

“I  started a program in Seattle for senior adults. We often took them on bus trips all over the state of Washington and up into Canada. Bus tours at that time were uncommon. It was a wonderful experience. With all of the trips we took, I got to know the state of Washington better than my own home state of Minnesota,” she said.

“Five of us Good Shepherd Sisters went to San Paulo, Brazil. We lived in a retreat house in the poor district of San Paulo and did workshops with Sisters from Brazil. It was a really special time.”

“I also went to Angers, Rome, the Balkans, and the Holy Land.  These were also enriching experiences for me,” Sr. Patricia Marie said.

Six years later, Sr. Patricia Marie left Seattle and returned to St. Paul. She was hired as a pastoral minister at St. Rose of Lima parish, where she served in outreach programs for persons in need.

“I became aware that our charism was truly alive in many of the volunteers. After 18 years of memorable experiences, I resigned in 2000,” she said.

“Shortly after, one of the Sisters from the New York Province visited us in St. Paul. She brought a sizable collection of items. I was amazed at the variety and the beautiful colors. I wondered how did women accomplish all of this?

Allure of Hand Crafting Justice

What Sister Patricia Marie was experiencing was the allure of Hand Crafting Justice. For days she couldn’t stop thinking about the incredible marketplace she had witnessed. One day she just up and decided, “I can do that.”

“Sister Barbara Beasley was Provincial of the St. Paul Province at the time, and I spoke with her about my desire to run Hand Crafting Justice markets in parish churches. Sister Barbara listened and then exclaimed, ‘You have made my day!”

marketplace selling handcrafted items made by women
HandCrafting Justice markets helped remove women and their families from poverty.

Hand Crafting Justice  was an exciting time for Sr. Patricia Marie. She worked with people who had volunteered with her at the parish and other Sisters setting up displays. She said, “We held markets at various parishes and again I found our charism to be fully alive in these volunteers.”

HCJ began marketing women’s handmade crafts in 1995. It was designed to help at-risk women served in Good Shepherd programs in the Global South lift themselves out of poverty through their handiwork. From toys and décor to jewelry and handbags, more than 1,000 high-quality products were designed and handmade by thousands of skilled artisans in safe, clean worksites located in 20 countries.

HandCrafting Justice comes to an end

As things began to shift in the global economy over time, it became necessary for HandCrafting Justice to rethink its business plan. It was time to act when the cost of producing goods abroad and shipping them to the U.S. increased and the global economy spiraled downward. The outgrowth was to find ways to decrease the dependency on the Good Shepherd international markets and help artisans reach independence.

From 2013 to 2015 producers in Asia and South America learned design work and business skills that helped them create contemporary designs at competitive prices.

They also learned how to market their goods to local communities.

In short, the artisans began to strengthen their own production sites and pivot toward a more sustainable and independent business model. 

Hand Crafting Justice stepped back and allowed artisans to help themselves out of poverty, which had always been the goal all along. HandCrafting Justice, Inc. closed on January 31, 2016.

Read more about the closure of HCJ on the PMNA website, where you can also read about the HCJ markets in Los Angeles.

“I never saw myself as a trailblazer. It’s only in hindsight that I can see it.”

Reflecting on her parish ministries

When Hand Crafting Justice ended, Sister Patricia Marie moved to Boutwell’s Landing in Oak Park Heights, where she lived with Sisters Bernadette Faulhaber and Charlotte Kirst.

She was missioned to Mason Pointe Care Center in St. Louis in 2018.

“I still miss some of those wonderful times. I loved all of the parish ministries, especially Hand Crafting Justice,” she said.

In reflecting upon her experiences in parish ministries over the years, Sr. Patricia Marie remarked that it was unusual for Sisters at that time to serve in parishes rather than in Good Shepherd-sponsored ministries.

Now, she said, it has become commonplace for Sisters to work in parishes in the communities where they live.

“I never saw myself as a trailblazer. It’s only in hindsight that I can see it,” she said.

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette McDermott

Jeanette is the Communications Coordinator for Sisters of the Good Shepherd Province of Mid-North America. She is a career photojournalist who has served in various capacities of print, broadcast, and corporate communications. Jeanette is devoted to creation and is particularly focused on saving pollinators and other wildlife species and their habitat. She is an ethical vegan and created the website veganstoryteller.com