Sister Patricia Haley: An Interview

Posted by Kelly McDaniels

November 28, 2018

(The remarks of the editor are in italics.

Sister Patricia Haley, “Pat”, holds the distinction of being the first Sister of Charity of Nazareth who can claim African American descent. She was an honored and cherished member of the SCN Community as well as a religious woman appreciated in wider American Church circles.

Especially impressive was her founding membership in the National Black Sisters Conference. Her story here is adapted from her interview with Sister Therese Arru, SCN, with gratitude to Cherrylle Coleman, Archival Center volunteer, for her work transcribing the interview.

This interview in its full and enjoyable entirety may be read in the Nazareth Archives or accessed at this link: Original Interview Transcription.)

Pat Haley was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1945. Her mother was Blanche Miles Haley and her birth father was John Manuel. It was Julius Haley, a Louisiana Catholic, who “was the father I grew up with and the Dad I know.” Pat had three sisters: Joyce, Sheila and Debra, whom Julius Haley adopted. Julius had one son, Henry, who became stepbrother to Pat and her sisters. (Sadly, all three of her sisters died young. Sheila and Debra died in their fifties. Joyce died at age twenty-nine and left two small children.)

Julius was a chef and taught them all how to cook. One of the places where Julius was employed was the Morrison Cafeteria chain. When he was transferred to Montgomery, Alabama the family moved with him. Pat enrolled at St. Jude’s School staffed by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity (VSC), now members of the SCN Community. Pat had first met the Vincentians while in the second grade at Mother Mary Mission in Phenix City, AL. A fellow St. Jude student, Norma, later entered the VSCs and became Sister Julian.

Pat’s mother, Blanche, went to Tuskegee Institute and then graduated from Alabama A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical University). She had excellent math skills and was a wise mentor and disciplinarian for her children. Blanche was the only girl among four brothers. She was proud that her brother George was a trained Tuskegee Airman. Pat shares, “My mother was a member of Dr. Martin Luther King’s church in Montgomery. She and my Dad participated in the civil rights marches and bus boycotts.”

Pat’s maternal grandmother was Daisy Miles White and Daisy’s husband, Howard White. Pat was close to them both, following Howard around “like a shadow.” Her maternal great grandmother, Mary Boikins – “Big Momma” she was called – had Cherokee and African American relatives in her ancestry,

(There are memories of childhood, some of spankings, which Pat told with humor and no hurt feelings. I shall share and use her own words.)

“From time to time we would go to church with our grandparents. What they always used to say was that Baptists shouted and Methodists just waved their hands. Well, my grandmother was a shouting Methodist and my mama and Great-gran and were a hand waving Baptists! I had many fun memories of my Great-gran since she babysat us most of the time while our mother and grandmother worked…. I remember the spankings I got. There were three good ones from my Great-gran which I will never forget. One of them I remember was that a crew of girls and I were supposed to be friends but we were bullying one another. Great-gran was watching us, called us all in to tell her what we were doing. She listened and said, ‘I am going to give all of you a spanking – some because you were doing something to a girl who was supposed to be your friend, and to you (the girl who was bullied), because all you had to do was come in and tell me.’

When Great-gran gave a spanking she always ended with, ‘In the name of the Father God (womp!), in the name of the Mother God, Jesus’ mama (womp!), in the name of Jesus Christ (womp,womp!!) and in the name of the Holy Ghost (womp, womp!!).’ I would try to talk Big Momma out of it but it didn’t work. I’d say, ‘Jesus Christ was ONE and the Holy Ghost was ONE’.

Another memory I have is that the same little group of girls decided that we were going to collect some money and pretend it was for the Church fundraiser that was going on. We collected a few nickels and dimes. We spread out our little handkerchiefs with the coins in them but we were just kindergarteners’ so we couldn’t count. When Great-gran saw us she counted it for us and complimented us on raising money for the Church. She told the pastor and the next Sunday we had to walk down the Church aisle and put the money in the collection basket. We weren’t happy about that.

I remember that dues at church were five cents a Sunday. I would stop at a grocery on the way and buy myself a little Johnny Cake and have a few pennies left for church. Later a note would come home about my dues and what was still owed; I got a spanking about that and the usual womps.”

Pat became a Catholic when she was in the eighth grade although she had had instruction class from the second grade. She was dismissed from instruction class because of her many questions about beliefs which just didn’t make sense to her. The pastor finally gave in and Pat was baptized. The pastor commented, “Baptize the child ‘cause she isn’t going to get any better.” She argued for her name of “Patricia”; instead she was given “Ann.” (In the SCN Community, when receiving the habit, she would also request “Patricia”. In addition she added “Ann Barbara” to her request list. She received the latter but in 1969 changed back to “Patricia”.)

Growing up, Pat wanted to take piano lessons but her mother chose drama and public speaking which Pat was happy about later in life. Her parents were excellent dancers and the Haley girls learned from them. From her Great-gran she learned to listen to the church choir. She and several other little girls thought that they had learned the hymn, “Nearer, my God to Thee”, except that when the deacon called them up to sing in their little Sunday dresses what they sang was, “Nero, my God , to Thee.” From her Great-gran Pat leaned many things and missed her terribly after she died when Pat was in the tenth grade.

The cooking Pat learned from her father she kept as a skill all her life. She remembered, “He taught us first how to make cornbread. I thought that you made biscuits the same way. When I finished making biscuits, they were a gorgeous brown and hard as a brick. Water wouldn’t even soak through them. He also taught us how to iron and make our beds. He had definite ideas about how our house should run. All seven of us were made to feel responsible. He showed us the way by caring for his own clothes, making beds and tending to the youngest ones. His Navy training truly showed. I loved him dearly and would grieve his loss even though he lived to the age of ninety-seven.”

“I remember that the first thing in the morning,” Pat shared, “we got up, hit our knees, said a prayer and made our beds. On Sundays there was a children’s Mass at 9:00 A.M., which we all, including my Mom and Dad, attended. We would then go home, have breakfast and go to my mother’s church at 11:30”.

In Montgomery, Pat remembers the kind Vincentian Sisters mentioning religious vocation even though the students were small. When they moved to the Birmingham area because of her father’s work, Pat first met the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth at Holy Family High School, Ensley. SCNs also staffed a small hospital in the same location. After grade school, which the Felician Sisters staffed, Pat attended Holy Family. She was on a work study program and remembers the name of the Sister staff there: Mary Timothy Holland, James Teresa Hagan, Ruth Edward Speer, and Charles Benedict Greenwell. The latter the students teasingly called “Sister Huck” after Huckleberry Hound whose floppy ears reminded them of Sister’s floppy bows on her bonnet.

Pat and her friends became candy stripers at Holy Family Hospital and called themselves “Ben Casey girls” after a popular TV character. They made friends with the Sisters at the hospital, especially Sister Ann Jude Whitty. Pat’s friends even became nurses, one of them a head nurse at the University of Alabama Hospital even though as a candy striper she screamed and ran from the room when she found a patient had died. Pat’s plans were different. She was in the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) and actually signed up with the Marines, planning to become an attorney in that branch of Military Service. Her older sister had joined the Air Force and Pat knew that before she could join the Marines she needed to graduate high school and then get her parents’ signature.

Pat continued, “My high school years were good. My Mom and Dad often chaperoned our dances. The Haleys – my Mom and Dad, my brother, and me – were always there, chaperoning and dancing.”

Pat admired her mother and the wise ways she had for keeping the family’s finances. She also taught her children that the family shared responsibility for its upkeep. Any small monies the children would acquire were expected to be put into the family fund. Pat’s mother said to them, “Everybody is working for the family and everyone has to share.” Each family member took turns counting out the cash from the parents’ paychecks plus the children’s small contributions. Everyone knew about the family’s financial status. Further, the member in need received the item necessary. All knew that need was the priority. Allowances, on the other hand, were to be spent as desired.

During her high school years Pat took part in civil rights activities. She had the experience of water hoses, torn clothing and dirty cattle trucks. Her very wise mother impressed on her daughter how serious the civil rights issue was and how important the consequences.

She shares, “My mother died of a massive heart attack at age fifty-four. Heart issues run on the female side of our family. Her aunts, great aunts, grandmother, great grandmother and sisters all died off either heart attacks or strokes. The financial burden that came with those illnesses was often devastating.”

When Pat was a junior in high school and a member of the Young Christian Leadership group, she had the opportunity to go to Kentucky for the “Holy Land” tour. She remembered, “That’s when I saw the Nazareth Motherhouse. It might have been then when I started thinking of letting go of the Marines and choosing religious life. Other communities of Sisters had given us vocation talks but I didn’t care for their European roots.”

Sister Pat Haley (left) and Betty Collier, newly graduated from Holy Family Mission School, were featured in a local paper for their plans to enter religious communities

Sister Mary Lucia Flowers was the SCN who began to talk seriously to Pat about entering religious life. With Father Gilbert Kroger, C.P.’s recommendation, Pat took the life-changing step of applying to the SCN Community. She shared, “Mother Lucille Russell came down to introduce herself to me and to let me know that I might not be really received by some of the Sisters. I told her that I knew that. When I told my Gran and Great-gran, they said to me, ‘Are you going to go to school?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am’. They replied, ‘You can go.’ They were concerned about education and continued talking, ‘You have been in the Civil Rights Movement and now are going to be with all white folks.” Again, I said, ‘Yes, ma’am’. Their response was, ‘You can take care of yourself, so you will be all right.’ They were very supportive and didn’t try to stop me.”

There were forty-five young women who entered the community with Pat in 1963. Now these Sisters remain – Sisters Betty Blandford, Marie Becker, Rebecca Miles and Eleanor Martin. They gather several times a year and are joined by former members who can attend. Sister Kay Glunk, formerly a Vincentian Sister of Charity, is considered a member of their group.

Pat had good memories of Novice Director Sister Constance Mueller and has many novitiate stories to tell. (Her stories are so heartwarming and enjoyable. They may be accessed in the original interview, pp.11 to 15. We shall content ourselves with just a few here.)

These are Pat’s words, “When we got to Nazareth as postulants we were assigned duties. I was assigned to the white men’s dining room. I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna do that.’ Mother Lucille was coming down the hall, and although I knew I wasn’t supposed to, I stopped her. I asked for a meeting with her and her Council ‘because I am assigned a duty I simply will not do.’ The next day Sister Constance said that the meeting would take place that afternoon. I told the Council, ‘It is not right to be segregated in a place like this. I just spent my years in high school and earlier fighting segregation. I know I was coming into a white world, but there is no excuse for this.’ Sister Mary Ransom Burke, bless her heart said, ‘What would you suggest we do?’ I looked at her and said, ‘It’s just a partition between two dining rooms. If you have a ladder and screwdriver, I’ll take it down….Mother Lucille said, ‘We will have to have a conversation with the workers.’ I said ‘You didn’t have a conversation with them before. It was decided by the Council. I will not work in a segregated dining room, obedience or no obedience.’

Nothing else was said but in a week the partition was down and I took the duty. Many of the workers did not like it but it was down. In the hallway there was a white water fountain and a colored fountain. I said you also need to do something about those two fountains. So they did. Sister Mary Ransom later said ‘Thank you’ to me and so did Mother Lucille.”

A really comical story is that Pat’s novitiate class had to wait until an older group had their share of a pizza treat prepared by Sister Margaret Patrick Gallagher. There was almost none left for Pat and her class. Much grinning came from them when they realized that the treat was actually liver pizza.

Another story shows Pat’s confidence joined to her unselfishness. Pat asked Sister Constance if her novitiate class could swim in the pool in the Nazareth College gym. After settling on old-fashioned swimsuits from the Fitzpatrick religious garb catalog, Sister gave permission but looked puzzled when Pat was not swimming. Pat explained, “Sister Constance, you didn’t say anything but I don’t swim. I wasn’t asking permission for myself. I just never learned how to swim because back in segregation days there were no pools for black kids. I never did learn and I wasn’t going down to a river where my brother went.”

(In the letters she and her sister Joyce exchanged –Joyce was in boot camp- she learned that Joyce learned to swim by being tossed into the water, a not always advisable way to learn swimming. Pat also shared stories about 5:00 A.M. convent rising, quick wash and dressing and getting to the Chapel. Pat says, “I told her we were learning how to sleep during meditation.”)

Pat made vows in August 1966 and remained at Nazareth for Juniorate training until 1968. Her first mission away was at St. Ladislas School in Columbus, Ohio. Pat said this, “When I was assured that there were black children in school, I agreed to go. There were only ten in the whole school and three of them were in my second grade class. I stayed only a year but I have good memories of this assignment and remember well the Sisters with whom I lived: Andrew Maria Gass, Louise Smith, Wilma Ross, Mary Jane Sappington, Martha Clan, Anselma Trimborn.” A sad memory is that during the time she was missioned at St. Ladislas, Dr. King was assassinated and yet the pastor didn’t mention it until Sister Anselma told him.

Sister Ann Barbara (Patricia) Haley

At the same time Pat was also in a preaching ministry. When she flew to various places and was given a deck of cards by the airline stewardess, she brought them home to her “card playing ladies” at St. Ladislas.

Pat went to Louisville in June 1969 where she would teach at various times at these schools: St. Matthias, St. Brigid and Immaculate Heart of Mary. She studied Urban Development and Government Administration at the University of Louisville but became ill and did not complete her Master’s degree. (Pat had already received a Bachelor of Science in Education at Nazareth College, Nazareth.) During this time of study she lived at St. Thomas-St. Vincent Home.

When the Federal Government passed Title IX legislation, the law that opened education opportunities without discrimination of gender, Pat signed up to go to Washington, D.C. to learn more about it. She donned a pinstripe suit, had a brand new brief case and took her place with others learning about the new law. When she returned, she was able to apply her knowledge of Title IX to benefit students at Immaculate Heart of Mary School.

Pat recalled a trip to the Bahamas where she and other African American religious were hosted by Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. They hoped that the Sisters from the States could influence the Bahamian Sisters and priests to get interested in politics. She feels that, at least initially, they were not successful. That led Pat and other Sisters to form the National Black Sisters Conference. Besides being a founding member, Pat was also on the first board. (This summer, 2018, Sister Pat, despite serious health problems, attended the 50th anniversary of the Conference, held in New Orleans.)

Sister Barbara Thomas, Superior General, gave Pat the approval to answer her call to teach and speak about black history whenever she could, as well as giving workshops and participating in revivals.

Sister Pat and Sister Barbara Thomas converse with Brother Joseph

In the 1960’s and 1970’s there not many SCNs who were willing to live in an all-black neighborhood. Pat knew that she didn’t want to live in an all-white neighborhood. Pat, with a group of Sisters, did move to the West End of Louisville. Besides Pat, the group was comprised of Sisters Kathleen Flaherty, Mary Kathleen Sheehan, Janet Daugherty, Ann Kateri Kenyon, Sister Peggy Corbett and Barbara Houston, a Sister of Notre Dame who transferred to the SCN Community, but later withdrew. At the invitation of Fathers Tony Heitzman and Charles Mackin, they moved into the former Sacred Heart Church rectory, located at 18th Street and Broadway. While Sister Pat was away in Indianapolis marching with a civil rights group, the other Sisters, at the urging of the Tenants Union, tore down a dilapidated, abandoned house in the area. They were arrested for throwing debris into the street and blocking traffic on Dixie Highway. When their mug shots were taken, the Sisters refused to be sad and even asked the police officer, “Could I have another picture for my parents?” The officer said he never wanted to see them again for anything.

A trial date was set for March 10, 1972 and, to the displeasure of the judge, the Sisters asked for individual trials. Two busloads of persons came from the Plymouth Settlement House as well a busload of Sisters, including Mother Lucille, from Nazareth. Sister Pat brought children in, carrying balloons and singing, “We shall overcome.” Mother Lucille was the first character witness and the Sisters showed their support by saying “Amen” whenever there was a “So help me God.” Some were saying the rosary. (In Pat’s words, “It was a show.” For those of us there, it was indeed a memorable happening, humorous but serious in its consequence.) The prosecution sent the jury out and one juror just left the scene because he knew what the outcome was bound to be. When the judge said “case dismissed’ for Kathleen Flaherty, they decided to settle out of court rather than parade the other Sisters through the charade.

Pat moved into a home for abused women and children on Brook Street, one of several for women in need which Father John Morgan had established. She shared, “While I was there I was traveling, doing workshops and revivals. I was graced to get to the Islands. I got to Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Thomas, St. Vincent, the Bahamas, and others. I did workshops on each one of those….I would start a song and the people would pick it up singing in their own way, different from the States. I thoroughly enjoyed that and the food too.”

Sister Pat giving a presentation

Pat was one of the first teachers in the Black Catholic Studies program at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana and taught there for twenty-eight summers. In 1982, she went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she worked with the police department. She described her role in this way, “They had a family service unit with real social workers. They had truant kids and those who were not social workers were assigned to deal with those kids. I worked there for eight years until they closed the unit. From there I went to Our Lady of Souls Parish where the pastor wanted me to be a choir director. I told him I was not prepared for that but he said I knew how to wave my hands up and down.” Her role in the parish was Director of the Spiritual Vocation Center and, after four years, she worked in the Office of Black Catholics, still in Philadelphia.

In 2000, Pat went to Tampa, Florida in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, where she again was at the Office of Black Catholics and in parish social ministry. She remained in Florida eleven years, living with a family where the wife was from India and husband from Trinidad.

In 2011, Pat came to the Motherhouse at Nazareth. Her health was a great challenge for her but, whenever she was able, she sang at Mass, many times composing the songs herself according to the liturgy of the day.

(As I complete this narrative of a quite unusual life, the news of Sister Pat’s death has been sent to us. She was a gift to the SCN Community and to God’s people, especially championing the rights of our brothers and sisters in the black community. We have to admire Pat’s courage in entering a then all-white community and then bravely calling our Community to remember that racism has no place among us. We know that we have promised to follow the Gospel mandate that “We are all one.” We can thank God for the example of her life and courage.)

November 2018

Therese Arru, SCN
Maria V. Brocato, SCN


  1. Jerry Hall

    I met Sister Pat and Sister Ann Kateri who was my grade school teacher in the 1960s at Saint Phillip Neri in Louisville. Both of these Sisters most likely saved my life as I struggled through a home life that was not conducive to good living. After leaving St Phillip Neri, both Sister Pat and Sister Ann Kateri spent time at Dumas house on Brook Street less than a block from my house. I was fortunate to have them back in my life as they were working with wayward women, one of whom happened to be my Mother. And I believe they saved her life too. I can’t say enough good things about both of these Saintly Women who selflessly supported and strengthened my mental well-being and self worth during my early youth and helped my mother get back to living a life worth living. Forever in my heart. Eternally thankful for you both. I hope to see you when my days on earth are through.

  2. Regina Courey

    How I loved Sister Pat’s story. I entered at Nazareth in 1959 but never got to know her. She obviously was a true SCN. May she rest in His love. Regina Courey

  3. Patrick Delahanty

    Pat remains a very beautiful person and an inspiration.

  4. Anthony Hart

    Thank you Sr. Pat! I met Sr. Pat Haley in the early 80’s when I was a high school student in Philadelphia PA. I used to help Sister Pat with Our Lady of the Holy Souls Choir, and other musical and liturgical events in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. When I graduated from high school (83)and was entering the Josephites, Sr. Pat had me come down to New Orleans during the summer, to assist with the music at the masses. She also introduced me to the National Black Clergy, Sisters, and Seminarians Joint Conference, during that summer. This was a whole new world to me, getting more in touch with my history, and cultural implementations in the Catholic Church. Sr. Pat was like family! When I left the Josephites and began studying for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Sr. Pat was there, by my side: offering support. I went to visit Sr. Pat in Louisville KY a few years ago. We went out to eat every day during my visit, at some of her favorite local eateries. We shared and talked about the, “Good Old Days.” Oh, how I wanted to come to Sr. Pat’s home going services, but was unable at the last minute, due to a family emergency. I know that she would want me to be at home, and I am glad that I was there for my mom. I will remember the wonderful visits, her 50th Jubilee Celebration, and seeing her at the Joint Conference. Thank you Sr. Pat! Your presence, zeal, and tenacity where be at me and my family’s side. Love you!

  5. Anita Baird

    I met”Pat in 1982 in Detroit when I attended my first joint conference of the National Black Sisters’ Conference and the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus. I will never forget the first time I heard her sing “The Lord is my Life and my Salvation”. Her voice took us before the throne of grace. She became my sister, mentor and friend. In 2016 I had the honor of giving the sermon at her 50th Anniversary Mass and yesterday, I gave the sermon at her home going. As we processed with her body to the cemetery we were accompanied by her beautiful voice singing her beloved spirituals. She was now truly “free at last”! I will miss you, my friend. RIP.

  6. Fr. Joe Graffis

    Thank you, sisters, for this marvelous ‘telling Sr. Pat’s story.’ I knew from the 60’s as a seminarian, then at St. Charles as a deacon with Fr. Vernon Robertson, and over the years in her workshops back here in Louisville, as well as from being pastor at St. Augustine in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Pat was always ‘Pat’ even to the end. She was more than a pioneer, she was a ‘prophet’ among us that we needed (and still need!). My sympathy to all the SCN’s, especially her ‘classmates’! Fr. Joe Graffis, senior priest

  7. Shirley Patterson

    Again thank you Therese and Maria for this wonderful account. So many wonderful SCNs!

  8. Robert Seay, ofm

    It is true that we don’t often realize the greatness of a person until they depart this earth.
    We are all so blessed to have shared the life of Sr. Pat, because she was always a beacon of hope and a positive knowledge of her life in the service of God.

    THANK YOU Sister Pat and I know you are rejoicing with the Lord

    Fr. Robert Seay,ofm

  9. Marcia Leslie

    I knew Pat when she entered the novitiate. I was a first year and was her ‘big sister’. She was fun , strong and had a great sense of humor.
    ‘What a powerful influence she had through out her vocation! God rest you Pat , dear.

  10. Rita Canton

    Sister Pat had a profound impact on my life and the lives of other African American Catholics. She will forever be a role model and source of inspiration to me. Her life and testimony give me reason to “go on, go on, go on.” (For my Xavier colleagues)

  11. Rose Eleanor Perry

    It was so impressive to know how diligently Pat studied the daily Scriptures in preparation for singing at Communion time…(on the weekdays she did not have dialysis). Often she would adapt to emphasize a point from Fr. Gary’s homily; perhaps using something of her own composition. The refrain from the song she sang three hours before she died was: “I WILL GO…I WILL GO… I WILL GO…
    Thank you, Pat and Godspeed!

    • Rose Ann Edlin Esterle

      What a privilege for a group of us who went through the novitiate with Pat to sing with her after Mass just two weeks before she went home to God! Pat & I used to steal away to “the men’s dining room” or out on the back porch, my baritone uke in hand, and harmonize to JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE and other spirituals Pat taught me! (as well as some 50s tunes) 🤫
      I’m sure Pat went swaying up to heaven just like she did at her Golden Jubilee at St Martin of Tours! This time she didn’t need any help in keeping her steady! Love you, Pat!

  12. Rita Puthenkalam,SCN

    I thank God for Pat and her courage. Proud of our Congregational leaders who supported her pioneering ways.

  13. Rosemarie Kirwan

    Pat was truly a compassionate individual. May we continue to learn from her legacy.

  14. Sangeeta Ayithamattam

    What powerful life. Pat was truly prophetic, joyful and light hearted. Thank you Therese and Maria for sharing Pat’s inspiring life story.

  15. Liz

    Thank you Pat for being a pioneer woman in many ways!


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