Meet Sister Patricia Heirigs
I was the seventh of nine children born to the late Frank and Agnes (Hauger) Heirigs on the family farm near Freeman, SD. There were five boys and four girls in our family, but only six of us grew to adulthood. I began my education in a rural one-room school house. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. I love St. Patrick because of the association with my name, who later became my patron saint, even though my heritage is German. A vivid memory I have as a child is that after my parents were in bed, my siblings and I would all kneel around the bed and say the rosary together. This prayer was an integral part of my life. I came from a very prayerful family. We prayed often as my father had a prominent role as the spiritual head of the family, almost always leading the prayers.
I went to Hurley High School with my older brother and sister for two years. When they graduated from high school, I then went to Mount Marty High School with my younger sister. I remember in high school that my girlfriends and I would come across the little walkway to the chapel and hide behind the screens and watch the Sisters at prayer. I was enthralled with the Sisters and their life, but especially their prayers. Many times their prayers were recited in Latin. I couldn’t understand it, but I loved the sound of it. During Lent the girls at Mount Marty were invited to stay for the Holy Week Services. At that time Mount Marty High School was an all-girls boarding school. I graduated from Mount Marty High School in 1952.
I was aware of the Presentation Sisters in Aberdeen, SD, because my father had two cousins that were Sisters in that Community. However, I had many more encounters with the Benedictine Sisters in Yankton, SD, because they came every summer to teach Summer Vacation School in our parish of St. Boniface at Idylwilde.
“I first thought of being a Sister when I was in third grade and had no doubt about it, especially after going to school at Mount Marty.”
There was a time when I debated about entering the Monastery because I was torn between entering a religious community or staying on the farm as I loved that experience also. I credit Sister Jane Klimisch as the most instrumental in my vocation as she often talked about it when I took piano lessons from her.
I chose Sacred Heart Monastery because I knew those Sisters who taught us. I entered the Convent in August of 1952 and started to attend Mount Marty College. As a professed Sister, I began teaching in parish schools in South Dakota and Nebraska. My first teaching experience was at Christ the King in Sioux Falls, SD, where I first taught second grade. As it was a new school, the building was not completed yet, but we began school anyway on September 15, 1955, with the first and second grades having classes in the Parish Hall with only the cardboard boxes that the desks had come in, separating the two classes. The third and fourth grades were taught in the one room that was completed in the school building. We taught like that for six weeks until we could move into the school where they were still doing construction work. Whenever they used the buzz saw, we had to stop teaching, as the noise was louder than we could teach. I will never forget my first year of teaching.
In 1961 I went to Sts. Peter and Paul School in St. Paul, NE, where my first assignment was a first and second grade combination classroom. This school was also a new school, but it was completed when we started, and the convent was a part of the school building. It was at St. Paul where I became a principal for the first time in 1965. From St. Paul I went to St. Michael’s in Albion, NE, where I taught the Junior High students for three years.
After twenty years of teaching and pursuing higher education, I received my MA in Pastoral Ministry from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX, in the summer of 1976 and my MA in Elementary Administration from the University of Omaha, NE, in 1984. I served as Pastoral Associate at St. Richard’s Parish in Omaha for six years and then became principal at St. Richard’s School for ten years. In 1992 I moved to Lincoln, NE, where I taught at St. Patrick’s School for three years. I was then asked to be principal at St. Mary’s in Lincoln so I could prepare to be the founding principal at North American Martyrs School which I helped open in 1996. Over half of the students at St. Mary’s were enrolled at North American Martyrs that first year. In my 59 years of being involved in Elementary Education, I was principal for 39 years. In 1990, I was named the outstanding Religious Educator in the Archdiocese of Omaha, and in 2012 I received the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” award. In 2014 I retired from being principal and moved back to the Monastery.
Upon moving home to the Monastery, I have encountered new challenges but also many blessings. The part that I find most challenging is that everything is so regulated. One of the greatest gifts I have treasured, since being home at the Monastery, is living with a larger community. For most of my mission life, I lived with just a few Sisters or alone, so living in the larger community is a real blessing. Here in our community, there is a great variety of talents among our Sisters, so if one needs some help in an area, there is sure to be someone who knows how to do it and is willing to help. Putting together a retreat is one way that we come together to more fully share our talents. Living in community now may be different for me because of the larger number of Sisters living together, but I really enjoy it. It is a joy to be home to celebrate birthdays, feast days, and jubilees and all the fun times we have here.
What excites me about the future of religious life are the new forms of ministry that will continue to develop. Our ministries have come a long way from the days of Mother Jerome, when she asked if you wanted to be a teacher or a nurse. I love being a Benedictine Sister! The greatest gift God has given me in this life, besides my family, is my religious community. I love to share, I love to pray and I love to play and I love to laugh together with my Sisters! My Sisters bring me great joy! My 60 years have been a joy most of all because of what my Sisters and family have done for me.
Sister Patricia Heirigs
Interested in more Sister Stories? Sister Patricia Ann Toscano is next.
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