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As a young woman religious assigned to the public relations department in 1962, Medical Mission Sr. Patricia Lowery spent hours sifting through stacks of Catholic publications. One newspaper, though, stood out at the time -- the Catholic Reporter, a Kansas City, Mo., diocesan newspaper led by Robert G. Hoyt. The launch of the National Catholic Reporter, headed by Hoyt and his colleagues, would follow soon after.
Raised in Chicago by Irish-immigrant parents, Lowery joined the Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries due to its focus on Scripture, the liturgy and global healing. After completing medical school at Georgetown University, a surgical residency and two years of practice at historic St. Vincent's in New York City (since closed), she was appointed chief of surgery at Sunyani Regional Hospital in Ghana, West Africa. Serving there from 1978 to 1999, she then served as chief of surgical services at Fort Defiance Indian Hospital in Fort Defiance, Ariz., from 2000 to 2014.
Throughout these years, Lowery remained a committed, though less punctual reader. "In Ghana, NCR would come a month, even six months later, but I didn't care," she said. "If someone was visiting [from home], then it came four to five issues at a time."
Not unlike her community's physician founder, Mother Anna Dengel, who traveled by horseback to visit patients in what was then northern India (now Pakistan), Lowery made it a priority to work and teach at outlying hospitals and clinics. Navigating Ghana's roads in a pint-sized Renault 4, she described her work as "a privilege and a pleasure" that included shared meals, celebrations, and worship with community members of all ages.
Noting that canon law once prohibited members of religious orders from practicing medicine, Lowery said that Dengel -- who had witnessed the illnesses and deaths of Muslim women and children whose customs prohibited access to medical care administered by male physicians -- remained firm in her conviction that women religious trained as physicians must be sent abroad. Dengel believed that "the church will have to change, and we are needed," Lowery explained, and the community Dengel founded in 1925 was granted canonical status 11 years later.
After retiring from medicine in March 2014, Lowery was nominated this summer by her community to serve a three-year term as member of a new North American Leadership Team. Asked if she considered declining, she laughed, then admitted that colleagues and friends told her, "You're never going to retire, and you know that."