by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to The Leaven
Topeka — Officially, she has been a wife, mother, mental health therapist, a high school assistance counselor and, until 2002, an advertising and design professional.
Unofficially, Patti Lyon has also been a roofer, painter, Web designer, fundraiser and, most importantly, a friend and mentor to those she serves in her day-to-day activities as director of the Catholic Campus Center at Washburn University in Topeka.
“Where I am now is a culmination of everything I did in the past,” Lyon said. After an unexpected layoff from her ad agency job in 2002, Lyon was looking for some sort of sign from God as to what she should do next.
“I had been going to adoration and saying, ‘Lord, I don’t know what I am supposed to do,’” she said. “The thought kept coming back to me that I was to get involved in youth ministry.”
When an ad appeared in The Leaven for a campus minister at the Catholic Campus Center at Washburn University, Lyon took it as the opportunity she’d been waiting for. Although she had no theological degree or formal catechetical training, Lyon was active in her parish, St. John the Evangelist in Lawrence. She was not only a eucharistic minister, but also a member of the arts and environment committee, on the Octoberfest committee, a sponsor for someone who joined the church as an adult and, in general, a volunteer the parish could call upon as needed.
Despite her lack of formal training in theology or catechesis, Lyon got the job. Practically the first call she made was to then-Father Vince Krische, who was the director/chaplain of the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas.
“I thought there was no need for me to start completely from scratch,” said Lyon, and, indeed, Father Krische’s help in getting started was immeasurable.
But Lyon’s first challenge was to get up to speed. She started off by enrolling in the center’s catechetical classes taught by Mike Schlerschligt and become certified to teach them. She then attended the Frank J. Lewis Campus Ministry Institute in San Diego.
She also sought guidance from Father Jerry Volz, who at the time was director/ chaplain of the Didde Catholic Campus Center in Emporia.
“Father Jerry served as my mentor and helped me reflect on my theological interests,” Lyon said.
Since 2002, she has gone on to study the theology of the body, received certification as a spiritual director through the Mercy Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and become certified as a catechist through the Maryvale Institute. On Oct. 4, 2009, Lyon was professed into the Secular Franciscan Order and is a member of the emerging Brother Jacoba Fraternity in Lawrence.
When Lyon first came to the Catholic Campus Center in 2002, the center’s future looked bleak and uncertain. Very few students on campus knew the center even existed, attendance at Mass was extremely low, and the center itself, housed in a converted house built more than 50 years ago, had suffered over time.
But Lyon believed God had called her to the center to serve a specific mission, one she would come to realize had three distinct parts.
First, Lyon said, she believes she is at the campus center to educate students in the Catholic faith. She also believes the students’ faith lives should be sanctified through the sacraments as often as possible. Finally, Lyon said, she feels called to instruct the students in Catholic social justice teaching.
“All of the programming I do here with the students falls into one of those three main areas,” she noted.
Events and classes at the campus center throughout the past eight years have included Scripture studies, courses in the theology of the body, adoration in the center’s Holy Spirit Chapel (dedicated in the fall of 2007), student-led cooking days at the Ronald McDonald House in Topeka, and regular Sunday night Mass.
Masses, Lyon said, have been in large part due to three priests of the Topeka Region willing to serve the center. One priest who has been a large supporter of both Lyon and the center is Father George Seuferling, a retired archdiocesan priest who, like Father Volz, once served at the Didde Catholic Campus Center.
“Patti does a phenomenal job,” Father Seuferling said. “She’s a spiritual director and a very special person, not to mention very holy. She’s dedicated to the ministry and makes huge sacrifices for the center.”
Two of her strengths, Father Seuferling said, are her ability to welcome others as Christ would, as well as to be a good steward of the center’s resources.
“She does a phenomenal job with what she has available to her,” he said.
In addition to classes, events and the celebration of the sacraments, Lyon and the students have worked on the center’s roof repair, torn walls apart, painted every room of the center, mowed the lawn and shoveled snow. Funded through the Archbishop’s Call to Share campaign, the center’s budget of around $80,000 is something Lyon is always cognizant of as she encourages the nearly 100 students to be good stewards and do as much for their center as possible.
“This ministry would not exist if not for good stewardship, and that is something I try to pass on to the students,” Lyon said. She often reminds the students, in fact, that the blessings they have enjoyed are the direct result of others making sacrifices.
When asked what she finds most rewarding about being a campus minister, Lyon sums it up in two words: the students.
“These students are going to be the leaders in their parish. I try to encourage them to become involved in the center,” Lyon said. “I remind them that successful parishes don’t just happen. People have to be involved in a variety of ministries. . . . I train them to be sacristans, lectors, musicians and eucharistic ministers.”
David Brandon White is a case in point.
In the fall of 2002, with no prior firsthand knowledge of Catholicism and feeling somewhat intimidated by the prospect of going to a parish, White walked into the campus center and met with Lyon. White said the Christian hospitality she afforded him made him feel at home immediately.
“She had absolutely no idea who I was,” White said, adding, “She truly exemplified the concept of Christian hospitality in welcoming the stranger in a foreign land.”
Although the center did not have classes for adults wishing to become Catholic, Lyon helped him enroll in classes in one of the city’s parishes, Christ the King.
Throughout the school year, White participated in as many events as he could at the center and eventually made his profession of faith in the Catholic Church in April 2003.
After White took a detour from his academic career for a five-year stint in the Army, he returned to Washburn. There he was surprised to learn that Lyon still remembered him.
“She remembered me five years later, even though she barely knew me,” he said. “That struck a chord within me.”
White said Lyon introduced him to people and helped him reintegrate back into the center.
Back now from active duty in Iraq, White said he is taking advantage of every opportunity Lyon and the center offer him.
“I’m just going to jump in and do all of it,” White said, adding that Lyon’s presence and the importance of the campus center’s ministry upon his life cannot be understated.
“Campus ministry is extremely important to me,” he concluded, “and Patti and the center helped me to take the first step, just with their presence.”
Campus center wish list
• New kitchen floor tile
• Monthly facility maintenance
• Laptop computer
• Projector for use with laptop
• Electrical wiring and lighting of the center’s exterior sign
• Automatic external defibrillator
Getting to know Patti Lyon
Title: director/campus minister
Place of ministry: the Catholic Campus Center at Washburn University in Topeka
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts in education (formerly Kearney State College, now part of the University of Nebraska at Kearney); Master of Science in clinical psychology (formerly Central Missouri State University at Warrensburg, now the University of Central Missouri); two years of study in journalism at the University of Kansas
Hometown: Kearney, Neb.
Family: two sons — Paul, 27, and Patrick, 24
Favorite food: “Anything chocolate”
Favorite saints: St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Avila
Favorite Scripture passages: “I have come so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10:10) and “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.” (Dt 30:19)
Two of the best pieces of spiritual advice she’s received: “Be still and know that I am God” and being present to another is one of the most important gifts you can give someone.