Nebraska native follows her heart home
With a master’s in business administration from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and five years experience as finance officer for her congregation, Sister Pat Eichner clearly has a head for business.
But her heart has always been in parish ministry.
Now her head and heart come together as she takes over as parish minister in Greeley, Neb., working with Father Don Buhrman.
For Sister Pat, it is also a return to her home diocese and a chance to be closer to her parents and siblings.
“When I started talking with (Sister) Marcia (Allen, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia) about going back to parish ministry, I told her I wanted to go back to the Grand Island Diocese. My family is there, I grew up there.”
And that was just fine with Father Buhrman, who has been pastor of Greeley, Spalding, Ericson and St. Libory for two years. For most of that time, Father Sid Bruggeman was there to lend a hand as associate pastor. But when he was reassigned earlier this summer as pastor of St. Libory and the veterans hospital in Grand Island, that left Father Buhrman alone in Spalding as the only full-time minister to the three remaining parishes. (A retired priest, Father Jim Murphy, does help with Sunday Mass in Ericson.)
“Having Sister Pat here as a religious presence is going to be huge,” Father Buhrman said. “It means we’ll be able to do so much more in terms of pastoral ministry and adult education.
“And with her background in finance, it ensures that we are responsible and accountable in our parishes,” he added.
The 49-year-old Sister Pat is just as enthusiastic: “I get excited when I think about what I can do with the people there, the different programs we can introduce…
“Just being among the people again, that’s so important to me,” she added. “And, of course, it’s being back in Nebraska.”
Her parents Don and Mary still live in Sister Pat’s hometown of Ogallala, as do her sister and brother-in-law, Terry and Calvin Hoover, and their two sons. Her brother Tim, wife Becky and their four daughters live in Scottsbluff.
Sister Pat was received into the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia in 1986 — coincidentally, both she and Father Buhrman celebrated their 25th jubilees this summer — and then she served as a youth minister in Salina from 1991 to 1993. For the next six years, she had the same duties in North Platte, Neb., and in 1999 became the pastoral minister in Gothenburg.
It was during those years that Sister Pat got to know Father Buhrman a bit. “I worked with him on a youth retreat, maybe 15 years ago,” she recalled, “and we were in the same diocese, so our paths crossed.”
In 2006 — as she was working toward her MBA — the congregation’s Leadership Council asked her to come to Concordia to serve in the finance office.
Her five years here were a blessing, she said. “I’ve gotten to know the sisters here and to see the inner workings of the congregation from the perspective of the administration,” she explained with a laugh. “That’s an opportunity all the sisters living away (from Concordia) should have.”
But, she concedes, her heart was always in Nebraska, and with the people in the parishes.
She also relishes being the first Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia working in these parishes. Until November 2009, when Sister Roberta Semper died, Dominican sisters had always served the parishes.
“Through me, the people there will get to know all of our community,” Sister Pat said.
And she doesn’t expect any hesitation from the parishioners.
“This is a very welcoming diocese; that’s part of why I’m so excited about going back,” she said. “It’s a very comfortable diocese to work in; you’re in partnership with the bishop and priests there, and I’ll be home.”