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Sister Patricia Miller

August 29, 1931 - July 1, 2023   |   Passed On

Tribute:  Sr. Pat Miller
August 29, 1931-July 1, 2023
This tribute was read at St. Pat's funeral vigil

Patricia Jean Miller was born on August 29, 1931, to Roy and Alma Ranslem Miller in Albion, Nebraska.  Her brother, Don, always called Bud, was born about a year later and they were very close.  The family lived on a farm, attended church, and Pat and Bud attended summer vacation schools.  After graduating from high school in Fremont she got her RN at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Omaha.  She went right on to Creighton, completed her Bachelor’s in Nursing in 1954, and started working as a faculty member there.  She had an active social life and, in fact, marriage pending to a “very fine man when the Lord stepped in.” Her initial exploration of possible religious communities left her dissatisfied, however, because so many seemed to have “only one method to prepare sisters and seemed very rigid.”

She visited a former faculty member who was teaching at St. Joseph Hospital in Ottumwa, Iowa.  Later she wrote, “I will never forget the three sisters who greeted me.  They exhibited exactly the Charism Statement of the Sisters of Humility: that of simplicity, humility and a lack of affectation.”  She returned to Omaha, did a lot of pondering and discussion, and knew the CHMs were where the Lord wanted her to go. 

Pat entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary on September 8, 1955.  The following summer she got the habit and veil, and her religious name Sister Mary Alma, after her mother. Sr. Alma professed vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in July 1958, and made final vows in 1961.  Surviving classmates are Srs. Joan Sheil, Dorothy Ann Chevalier, Mary Rehmann, and Johnelle Howanach.  After Vatican II, she returned to her baptismal name, Sister Patricia Miller. 

As a postulant, Pat, and then as senior novice, Sr. Alma, taught in the St. Joseph School of Nursing, traveling back and forth the short distance between the Heights and the hospital.  When a senior novice, she would hear “Sister Alma’s home” about 4 p.m. on school days.  She had a practice of praying or reading Scripture in the chapel for a half-hour. Then it was supper, recreation, night prayer, and to bed, starting over again the next morning.

On October 8, 1957, the entire Ottumwa Heights complex – Motherhouse, Novitiate, Junior College, and Academy – was destroyed by fire.  Postulants were sent to Davenport, where they attended classes at Marycrest College and lived at St. Vincent Orphanage.  Novices and some professed sisters moved into the large home on Elm Street that had recently been purchased by St. Joseph Hospital. 

Sr. Alma lived at the house on Elm St. until a new location was prepared for the novices and Ottumwa Heights sisters and college students in the Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ) of the former World War II air base outside Ottumwa.  The city of Ottumwa made the facility available to the community until a new Ottumwa Heights complex could be built.  Classes for both college and academy commuters were held in other buildings on the airbase campus. 

In 1961 Sr. Alma and her class made final vows in the new Ottumwa Heights chapel, the first class to do so.  In 1964, she completed her Master’s degree in nursing at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.  She returned to St. Joseph Hospital where she taught until 1971.  It was there she resumed using her baptismal name, Sister Patricia, usually Sr. Pat to most sisters and students.  Marycrest College had introduced a Nursing Program in 1966, and Sr. Pat taught there for two years from 1971-73. 

Sr. Pat completed doctoral studies in Educational Psychology at the University of Iowa in Iowa City in 1974.  Then she accepted a position at the University of Nebraska as Chair of the Graduate Program in Nursing in Omaha.  She implemented an education and administration track, and four clinical specialization fields there. Her philosophy of leadership was to facilitate members of the group in meeting organizational and personal goals.  After 12 years she resigned from the position as Associate Dean and continued as Professor in the Florence Niedfeldt Endowed Research Chair. After 14 years in Omaha, Sr. Pat went to Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa, where she developed the B.S.N. program, including the off-campus sites.  She continued research and said she always worked with wonderful faculties and research teams.  She had been doing cardiovascular studies, investigating the effect of psychological variables, such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation, on compliance with doctors’ orders by patients who were recuperating from heart attacks. 

As a result of her work as faculty/researcher, she was able to share findings in both education and research in many forms. She published over 55 articles in Refereed Journals and made more than 66 presentations at research conferences.  Her work has provided a base for changes in

rehabilitative care of heart disease patients in the areas of health teaching, home care, and post- discharge treatments.  She was an advisor for more than 60 masters and doctoral students.

Her achievements have been recognized with awards from academic institutions such as Creighton University and Marycrest College, and professional organizations such as Iowa and Nebraska Nurses Associations. 

Sister Pat served the profession on the Board of Review of the National League of Nursing (NLN) and was a site-review visitor in all parts of the United States. She was elected to the National Academies of Practice as a Distinguished Practitioner.  Sr. Pat has shared creative accomplishments such as “a model for student grade appeals and grievance procedures”.  While at Nebraska she also traveled to other Big Eight Schools to share information on research and professional education.

In 1997 Sr. Pat retired from teaching and moved to Fremont, Nebraska where she cared for her mother until she died in 2000.  While there she was a volunteer parish nurse at St. Patrick Parish in Fremont.

Later that year Sr. Pat moved to Davenport, to participate more fully in congregational activities.  She joined Our Lady of Victory Parish and lived in an apartment nearby.  She regularly hosted sisters and other friends for home-cooked meals. 

In retirement, she still made her voice heard.  As a member of Progressive Action for the Common Good, a bi-state advocacy organization, she worked to highlight discrepancies in the American healthcare system.  She wrote and spoke in favor of healthcare reform, supported the 2012 Nuns on a Bus tour, and, beginning in 2014, helped raise awareness of a CHM initiative to provide clean water to rural communities in Tanzania.  Her belief was firm that access to effective healthcare is the right of all persons, and to her, a moral obligation, one which she supported all her life.

Sr. Pat left us her philosophy of membership in the Sisters of Humility this way: 

 “Through all the years of professional activities, regardless of the distance, I always felt my work fulfilled the mission of the CHMs, and I was an integral part of the Community I loved.  Participation is an essential part of this belonging.  For me this meant and means participation on committees, serving on the senate many times, and Cabinet under three CHM Presidents; using talents to provide assistance to our Sisters whether as listener, lecturer, writer, counselor or friend.”

Sr. Pat illustrated this in her quilt block.  She has an embroidered flame – the shape of the CHM logo, that looks like the familiar “praying hands” – surrounded by a circle.  Across the top is “The Sisters of Humility” and below is printed “The Flame of Love and Service.”  She explained it this way, “The block represents our whole life of prayer, love and service given as a flaming gift of love to God through our religious community.”

Rest in peace, dear Pat.

Written by Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM