There is an oft-quoted passage from the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells the Parable of the Talents and says, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’”
That could certainly be said of Patricia “Pattie” Meyer, who recently retired after 48 years in service to the Diocese of Harrisburg, 44 of them as the Director of Religious Education at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Lancaster.
“I was working in the Catholic school system at the time,” Meyer said, reflecting on the journey that brought her to the director position.
She was working at St. Anthony’s School before the 1991 consolidation that saw St. Anthony’s, Historic St. Mary’s, and St. Joseph’s schools merge into what is now known as Resurrection Catholic School.
Meyer took a leave of absence to adopt her daughter. After that year, her husband lost his job of 33 years, the couple had a one-year-old daughter, and there were bills to be paid. Besides that, Meyer wanted to get back into the Catholic education system.
“Resurrection was formed from the consolidation,” she said. “The librarian at the time was going through cancer treatment, so I was hired to be the librarian. Then I took on the job of Director of Religious Education with Father Charles McDonald.”
She held the librarian position and DRE position until a replacement librarian was hired.
“The previous DRE had resigned in October, and Father asked, ‘Would you take the job?’ I came in, he opened the door and said, ‘Here’s the door and here’s your key; you start Sunday,’” Meyer recalled.
“I loved being there for the children,” she said. In addition to serving as Director of Religious Education at St. Anthony’s, Meyer was a substitute teacher in schools throughout the Lancaster deaneries. She had been a teacher in the Catholic school system for 25 years, then transitioned to religious education and substitute teaching for another 23 years.
“As the DRE, you try to work with people, to help parents get their children ready. I always did the best I could to find solutions for the parents, working with them to catch their children up if they had missed a year of religious education,” she said.
One of her greatest accomplishments over her long tenure was the reputation St. Anthony’s gained for its religious education program for children with special needs.
“St. Anthony’s was known for being welcoming for any child who had learning disabilities. They were encouraged to come to our religious education program. We always adapted our curriculum, adapted our programs for children, especially those on the autism spectrum,” Meyer said. “The catechists aren’t special education teachers, but I adapted the curriculum for them, and they taught it,” she added.
Meyer has a lot of memories that make her smile. “My best memory is just the look on the children’s faces when we would do special projects. They were so eager to learn about our faith. That just amazed me. Between the catechists and myself, we always made religious education something they looked forward to on Sunday mornings, coming in and doing the lessons or the projects, and then taking them over to Mass,” she said.
“Once a month, [the students] did the whole Mass themselves – they were ushers, lectors, greeters, they took up the gifts; they did it all. For the last 10 years, we had the classes take turns. The fact that they were so eager – I would say, ‘I need someone to take up the gifts,’ and you’d have 20 hands go up,” she recalled. “The expression on their faces said that they wanted to be there and they wanted to learn. That was worth everything. That was my purpose in being there – to be there for them, and to make sure they were getting all the basic dogmas and doctrines of our faith.”
As Meyer embarks on her next chapter – which happens to be creating a bereavement group at St. Anthony’s – she leaves behind a legacy of caring and a strong religious education program.
“Pattie leaves us with a religious ed program which is ready to serve our families. She always tried to put people above paperwork,” said Father Matthew Morelli, pastor at St. Anthony’s.
“A good religious education program serves to connect its students to their life in the Church as a whole. We often forget that our students are already members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and they already have a vital role to play in the life of the Church,” he said.
“The best thing that Pattie did as DRE was to encourage kids to attend Mass and frequently encourage them to serve at Mass – altar serving, lectoring, gift-bearing, and greeting. Almost all of our 10:30 a.m. Masses on Sunday have a section of pews with students and catechists who just finished their classes,” he added.
“Pattie’s service to St. Anthony’s didn’t end when she retired. In fact, she has just started an outreach ministry which will serve the sick and grieving of our parish. Her continued example of ministry is still inspiring others to give themselves in service of neighbor,” Father Morelli said.
Former students remember Meyer fondly.
“She’s so giving. She was a very good teacher – she was firm, but very good and nice,” said Tina Tran, who attended Resurrection Catholic School.
Tran was surprised to hear of Meyer’s retirement: “I was not aware she was even thinking about it, but I’m very happy for her. She’s been doing this for many years.”
Her tenure gave the parish, and Resurrection School, a lot of consistency and familiarity, Tran added. “People knew her and were comfortable with her. I basically grew up in the parish knowing her.”
Later, to obtain service hours during her years at Lancaster Catholic High School, Tran worked under Meyer as an assistant catechist for second grade.
“It was great working under her,” she recalled.
Meyer credits the catechists at St. Anthony’s for making her job easier. “I have been blessed with the catechists I have had over the years. Very few of them have ever quit on me; I have had many of them stay with me the whole time.”
“I am very devoted to my faith. My faith means a lot to me. I’m very blessed. God has not forsaken me. I have hit rough times, but God has been with me. I think our faith is so important,” she said.
(Lauren Gross is a freelance reporter for The Catholic Witness.)
(Photos courtesy of St. Anthony of Padua Parish.)
By Lauren Gross, Special to The Witness