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Feature Articles

A Sister to All – Sister Pat Dittmeier

How would you describe your ministry and your role?
Currently I serve at IKRON as the primary therapist for an intensive outpatient substance abuse group, and I also serve as a clinical supervisor. I came to IKRON as a counselor in training in September 2008 and became a full-time staff member in 2010.

IKRON stands for Integration of Knowledge and Resources for Occupational Need. It is the oldest community mental health organization in southwest Ohio, and provides employment, mental health, and addictions services as it strives to fulfill its mission to assist adults and youth to build self-confidence, attain greater self-sufficiency, lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives, and to obtain and maintain satisfying employment.

Most people in our building come with addiction or mental health – or both. My group is dual diagnosis, meaning most have at least one mental health diagnosis and one addiction; many have multiple. Ninety percent of my clients have a history of abuse. There’s a reason they picked up and it’s usually not because it was fun. Those who have 40 years of using are running from history. So much of what I’m trying to do is to get them to trust in here, let them know it’s ok to open up and share what happened and what got them to where they are. That’s how they learn not to go there again.

One unique part of this is the commitment to person-centered treatment in a home-like environment. We treat our clients as family. There’s not this great divide of I’m the counselor, you are the client. They are respected from the get-go for who they are as human beings. I love that; I love the fact that we work together as a team, each bringing gifts and talents to try and do that well for our clients. That’s essential.

In your opinion, what happens when we neglect the needs of those who are less fortunate?
First, we wind up hurting the Body of Christ. If we are not paying attention, our brothers and sisters get hurt. In that process we hurt ourselves, and we hurt our world. These people come with gift and talent and ability. It’s often hidden, buried under years of abuse and neglect and hard and painful lives. They have learned to hide. They are scared that if they let out the good part, the vulnerability, they are going to get hurt or to be betrayed again. In not paying attention to them, not recognizing their dignity, we rob the world of their gifts and talents, and we rob ourselves of a blessing. The people I minister to have been my greatest teachers. I have learned more from them in terms of compassion and understanding, a generosity of spirit, and a willingness to share, than perhaps from anybody. They make it real. When you talk about giving, they are not giving from their excess, they are giving from their want. It’s amazing to watch. It’s gift. I’m definitely a different person from having done this ministry.

How do people respond to you as a Catholic Sister?
I get two different distinct responses; both are opportunities for discussion. The first is usually, “You are not like the other Sisters I have heard of or met.” I don’t meet the stereotype for a number of reasons. I chuckle and ask them to tell me about the ones they have known. They talk about the old-school stereotype of nuns with rulers, and they ask about the habit.

The second response is also endearing. They will say, I knew there was something. For those who grew up with Sisters or might have gone to a Catholic school, they will talk about the joy they witnessed and say, you have such a peace about you. I also wear my medallion, a symbol of the Community. They will ask about it and I’ll tell them I’m a Sister of Charity and the conversation usually flows from there. It’s always a great conversation starter. Some do not know who a Sister of Charity is. I work with a lot of folks who are not Christian or religious at all. I tell them about religious vows and living a life based on community and prayer and ministry.

What do you wish people knew about religious life?
I wish they would come to understand that there is great commonality and unity in religious life. We are bound by our vows – poverty, obedience and celibacy. And that gives a unified structure to our lives because we are all trying to do that together and to do that well. We are bound by the Gospel and a commitment to living that intensely. We are bound by our charism to fulfill the mission of our foundress and of our Community. But I also want them to understand that we are not a single organism; that within unity there is great, rich diversity. So often I get asked the question, what do the sisters think? Well it depends on which Sister you are talking to because it really isn’t all the same. We share a lot in common based on charism, and spirit, and love of God, and community and gospel. Within that we each have our growing edges, our gifts, our talents, our likes and dislikes, our feelings and they can be richly and wonderfully unique.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Sisterhood? What is it like to have a spiritual bond with other Sisters?
For me it’s the gift of sharing a passion for the Gospel with other women who likewise are committed to seeing the kingdom come today and building that. Our Community motto is The love of Christ urges us, and every day I live among those who are committed to making that happen. For me that’s gift. It also means that no matter where I go in the world, no matter what happens – good, bad, ugly, joyful, sorrowful, wonderful – I always have other Sisters and Associates to turn to. I am never walking this journey alone. There is always going to be another Sister at my side when I need it, and in turn I am there for them. So we share this wonderful bond of community and support that has enriched my life. They are also among my greatest teachers. We are connected to generations upon generations of women who have changed the world.