Remembering Sister John Patrick Russell,GNSH

Written on: June 28, 2016

Sister Karen Marie Voltz was asked to reflect on the life of Sr. John Patrick during the funeral Mass on June 25 at Holy Angels Church, Buffalo, NY.

For Sister’s obituary and details of her funeral, please click here.


Eleanor Kantowski should really be doing The Remembrance but was unable to, for obvious reasons. So I am humbled to have been asked.

I first met Sister 60 years ago Holy Angels Academy as a freshman in her Latin class, which many HAA Alums present this morning also experienced. When Sister John Patrick [she was never JP to freshmen] said, “Conjugate!” —you conjugated! The Latin we learned from her, formed the basis of our English vocabulary even today! We really got to know Sister the following year in World History, one of the loves of her life, which she shared with her students.

Our paths did not cross again until some twenty years passed, and I was on the HAA faculty and we were living together. I might have been addressed as “Sister” by the other nuns, but I was always “Karen” to JP.

The Sister John Patrick I grew to know in community was deeply devoted to one of her former teachers, Sister Mary Irma. There was nothing JP would not do for Sister Mary Irma—she would drive her anywhere, especially to Sister Mary Irma’s home in Canada. If JP were not a hockey fan beforehand, her friendship with this Canadian sealed it!

I attended many hockey games with JP and with gold-seat tickets given her by many friends. I am almost sure this Sabre-fan nun is trying to influence the NHL player-draft weekend from her spot in heaven.

In October 2014 and 2015 we drove to Philadelphia together to attend Grey Nun meetings. At 91 and 92 years of age, truly I think I would have asked for an “age-exemption”, but not Sister. During the 8 hour trips each way, I’d say, “You can doze or read.” But no, she talked all the way on a million subjects.

What goes around comes around… As Sister John Patrick was devoted to her former teacher from HAA, Sister Mary Irma,— so too did Eleanor Kantowski become just as devoted to JP.  It just seemed natural to Eleanor to invite JP to live in her home in Derby, after Sister retired.

While Eleanor taught at the University of Florida at Gainesville, JP often joined her in the winter, not so much to escape the Buffalo winters but to visit one of her favorite places on earth—Disney World!

I was thinking  that if Sister John Patrick were to draw up a Top-Ten List—this is what it might look like:

#1-God…

#2 family: her twin Peggy, her brother, Eddie, her nieces and nephews …

# 3 the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart that she was a part of for almost 63 years… her many Grey Nun friends… and that Sister Julia Lanigan, Grey Nun President, is here from Philadelphia for her Mass…

#4 Eleanor and her former HAA students that she kept in touch with- knowing everyone’s name and class, especially the “lunch group” that treated JP several times a year…

#5 Her Irish heritage…heaven will never be ready for March 17, 2017!

#6 Her, many, many friends and acquaintances extending from her HAA Class of 1941, co-workers, HAA parents,  and neighbors at the Bluffs.

#7 Parties! JP loved parties more than anyone I know.

#8 Her love of basketball, tennis, golf, and her Sabre’s hockey players

#9 Disney World

#10 Life—lived to the fullest for 93 years.

When word got out that Sister John Patrick was ill, friends and former students sent cards and letters. Because this should not only be my remembrances, but those of others, I would like to include some excerpts:

“…What a privilege it has been to know you the last 54 years [yikes!]… first as a student, then as a friend…”

“…I thought of you in history class. I’ve taught US History to Grade 11, 35 years, and remember playing tennis with you at night on HAA courts…”

“…My favorite memory of you is shooting hoops in the HAA gym…”

“…I have quoted you over and over “Necessity is the mother of invention.  Repetition, the mother of learning…”

“…I appreciated you as a teacher and a “comic” with many witty asides…”

“…What a wonderful teacher: knowledgeable, kind, a sense of humor…”

“…You will be pleased to know I remember the Magna Carta was signed in 1215, and the Battle of Hastings in 1066…”

“…I remember all you accomplished for HAA working in the Alumnae Office, and organizing the hugely successful Pot of Gold…”

“…It has been many years… I think the last time I saw you was in Spain with Sr. Mary Irma…but wanted to say I’m praying for you…”

“… Greeting from the Netherlands, where I’ve lived since 1973…my husband and I visited Normandy Beach and Belgium, and my interest in World War 1 and World War II  began in your history class…”

“…You were the first nun I knew who was smart and athletic and fun. My mom passed away last month…I know God has a special place for you, so say “Hi” to my mom for me…”

Eleanor suggested reading a verse printed on a card sent to JP to conclude Remembrances and to express the sentiments of many of us:

“There are many people

who come and go in our lives.

A few touch us in ways that change us forever,

making us better for knowing them.

You have made a difference in my life,

and for this I am grateful.

Thanks for being you!” [Sister John Patrick]


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