On the fourth day of Christmas, December 29, 1931, a baby girl was born to Henry and Anna Derfus in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, the fifth child of six. This little girl was baptized on January 1, 1932, at St. Mary Church and given the name Patricia. Two of Patricia’s older sisters died in infancy, but their memory was kept alive in this close-knit family.
After a few years, the family moved to Hudson Falls and soon after that to the south side of Milwaukee, the Bay View area. There, they became parishioners at St. Augustine. All the children went to St. Augustine Grade School. After eighth grade graduation, Patricia went to Mercy High School and graduated from there in 1949. Patricia went to work immediately at Marine Bank. However, thoughts of becoming a religious must have been circling around in her head during this time because she said, “I entered the School Sisters of St. Francis and I got there just under the wire! So on December 8, 1950, before 3:00 p.m. I made it!” Now Patricia was a postulant. With Reception only six months away, she tried to absorb everything a postulant should know.
On Reception day, June 13, 1951, Patricia received the name Sister Winfrida. During her Novitiate, along with religious studies, she began classes at Alverno College to become a teacher. At the same time Sister Winfrida was preparing for her Profession of Vows on June 21, 1953. Profession day was glorious for Sister Winfrida. She said, “I gave myself totally to the Lord.”
Soon mission life began at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Aurora, Illinois. All the rest of her 35 years as a teacher were at schools in Wisconsin. In 1956, the whole family rejoiced and celebrated the ordination to the priesthood of their brother, Father Ken. Patricia and Ken were very close as children and now she was also proud of her brother, Father Ken.
Sister Winfrida loved teaching. She said, “It was my aim in teaching to educate my students in a challenging, interesting, and individualized manner, giving each one basic skills as well as building up their self-concept of their total potential as thinking, grace-filled Christians.” Sister Winfrida received her bachelor of science degree from Alverno College and later her master’s degree in religious education from Detroit University.
With the changes in religious life after Vatican II, Sister Winfrida chose to return to her baptismal name, Patricia, and became known to friends and family as Sister Pat.
In the 1980s, when computers came into the schools, Sister Pat took every class she could to increase her knowledge in that area. She enjoyed computers and volunteered to teach computers to the junior high at St. Sylvester School.
In 1989, Sister Pat became a full-time caregiver for her mother, who lived in the rectory with Father Ken. Sister Pat had a God-given gift as a caregiver. She recognized a need immediately and was very compassionate. Her welcoming smile and her generosity to serve accompanied her throughout her life. In 1991, Sister Pat moved to Maryhill Convent and from there continued her various ministries of secretary, helping in personal services at Maryhill Retirement Center and Sacred Heart, and tutor and substitute teacher at Prince of Peace.
Sister Pat’s spirit and energy touched the lives of so many people. Her deep spiritual life was evident. She said a prayer for everyone. During these years, Father Ken took her along on several trips which included Rome, Assisi, and the Holy Land. She had great picture albums that she shared with the sisters and staff as she told stories of the trip. Sister Pat also spent time with her family and was able to be with Father Ken at times during his final journey at St. Camillus.
In 2015, Sister Pat’s health began to diminish and as her memory was failing, she moved to Sacred Heart. She was still very mobile with her walker and when she advanced to a wheelchair, she could almost pedal faster than one could walk! No matter what the program was for the day, Sister Pat was always on the go. Often her reality was that someone was waiting for her at the front door. Sister Pat was a friend of her nurses, other staff, and the security guards! Two other extra special helpers with Sister Pat’s reality were her nephew Bill and niece Betsy. They would come or call or do anything to help. Her family loved her and cared for her when they could.
Through all this time Sister Pat’s spiritual life was solid. She was always ready to receive Eucharist and you could ask her to say special prayers for anyone and she folded her hands and began right away. On Friday before Sister Pat died, Bill came to see her. She did not respond at all until he said, “Sister Pat, now we need to say our prayer, I have a part and you have a part.” Bill started, “Hail Mary…” Sister Pat came in loud and clear, “Holy Mary…” After “Amen,” she dozed right off. Bill said, “That was my final gift from Sister Pat.”
On Sunday morning, Sister Pat was up, dressed, and went to breakfast. At the end of breakfast, she asked the nurse to take her to her room because she didn’t feel well. There she told the nurse, “No, not the chair, lay me in bed.” One nurse walked out and the other nurse walked in and Sister Pat was in heaven.
Last year, Sister Pat celebrated her 70th Jubilee as a School Sister of St. Francis with joy. Her family says, “Sister Pat loved being a sister and she loved being a teacher.” We say, “Sister Pat, now rejoice forever in your heavenly home.”