Poetry Day with Sister Patricia Schnapp
By Jennifer Brown
“If Jesus were alive today, He would be an English major.” – Sister Patricia Schnapp, RSM
Last Semester, Lourdes University was blessed by the presence of Sister Patricia Schnapp, published author, poet, and English Professor at Siena Heights University. Sr. Pat has received recognition for her teaching and for her volunteer work at Gus Harrison prison, and is founder of and volunteer at Share the Warmth, a homeless shelter in Adrian, Michigan. Before Sr. Pat treated campus attendees to selected readings from her poetry publications, Alleluias and Amens and Out of the Shadows, I had the pleasure of sitting down with this inspiring woman for a brief interview.
As I prepared for my discussion, I imagined myself interrupting a habit-clad nun deep in graceful meditation and asking her to reflect on her divine calling. Although I did in fact ask a similar question, it was not answered by someone fitting my idealized vision. Save for the simple cross hanging about her neck, her external appearance did not cast light on her religious convictions.
This being my first official interview as a Vitruvian journalist, I was certain that my subject could see my confidence shrinking into a childlike embarrassment. Despite my flushed features, Sr. Pat remained poised, gracious, calming, and reassuring; reminding me that one of the best things about an interview is “there are no wrong answers.” My blood pressure rejoiced when I recollected that there are also no stupid questions.
Sr. Pat was first introduced to the prison ministry by Father Ronald Kurth, and early in her service, volunteered at the Lucas County jail. She has ministered at Gus Harrison since it opened its doors, offering communion services for Catholic inmates and 12-week English courses. At this point, Sr. Pat leans in close to me and whispers excitedly that one of the most exciting parts of her prison ministry is her ability to preach at these services – a privilege usually reserved for men in the Catholic faith.
Through her work at the prison and her service at Share the Warmth, Sr. Pat witnesses people struggle with some of the most desperate points of their lives. I asked how she helps them to stay positive during these difficult moments, and how she inspires them to remain optimistic for the future. Sr. Pat delivers one confident word: “Hope.” She explains that one of the mottos at Share the Warmth is: “keep people alive until they can find Hope,” but admits that “you don’t win them all.” Some will repeatedly come in drunk or high on drugs no matter how hard the volunteers work toward rehabilitation. What ultimately matters is that the people who need these services can be comforted by the knowledge that someone cares. I asked Sr. Pat how she maintains her positive outlook in light of witnessing this continual struggle. Her eyes smile at me from across the table and she reminds me that “you need to keep a sense of humor.” Her face returns to its calming state and she confides that in addition to the tangible results, her charitable work is emotionally satisfying. She knows that no matter what, the men and women that come into the shelter are grateful for her help.
I asked Sr. Pat to discuss the perspective of her book Out of the Shadows, a collection of poetry which emerges from her experiences with prison inmates. She immediately declares that “humanity” is at the core of these reflections. Her prison ministry has instilled within her a belief that “no one should be defined by the worst thing they have ever done;” that we are all bigger and represent more than our worst crimes.
In addition to her full chalice of volunteer work, lesson plans, writing, and morning prayers, Sr. Pat is passionate about nature and is currently working on a book of poems focusing on this theme. She is also currently updating her doctoral dissertation, “The Liberation Theology of James Baldwin.”
Whether Sr. Pat is ministering to the prison community, the educational community, or the homeless community, she keeps her experiences in perspective through her literature so that we all might raise our heads and rejoice in our humanity.
A special thank you to the Sylvania Franciscan Village and Sister Janet Doyle for inviting Sr. Pat to the Lourdes campus. I also want to thank Dr. Kate Buetel, the Lourdes’ English Department, and the Literati student organization for its efforts in making Sr. Pat’s visit enjoyable for all who were present.
If anyone would like to find out more about Sr. Pat’s ministries, or would like information on helping out with the Share the Warmth shelter, feel free to email Sr. Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org.