Learning Faith at Patrick's Corner
Sean Patrick talks about his childhood and how he started writing his popular Catholic Digest column
By Derek Pettinelli
Since 1987, a former police officer has taken Catholic Digest readers to Patrick’s Corner, an intersection of faith and storytelling.
Sean Patrick is the author of three books, including Patrick’s Corner and The Best of Sean Patrick. Patrick earned his bachelor of arts in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame in 1959 and a degree in theology while studying abroad in France. He attended a police academy in Dublin, Ohio, worked in various law enforcement departments in Ohio and North Carolina, and was also a criminal justice professor at Kent State University. He met his wife on a blind date in 1966, and together they raised a daughter and 42 foster children during their 38-year marriage. His wife died three years ago. Today, Patrick, 79, lives in California near his daughter and her husband.
Describe your childhood.
I was the last in a long line of kids. We had six boys in the family. Our father was killed on the railroad when I was just a little over a year old, so I didn’t really know him at all. My mother was mainly a laundress and house cleaner and she raised us. All of us were very close in age, and we lived a very tight life, you might say. We had two bedrooms; one was my mother’s and the other was shared by us six boys. We all learned our own ways, and we worked hard. Most of the people we knew in our tenement neighborhood worked very hard growing up. “Patrick’s Corner” is what we called the intersection where we all took turns working delivering newspapers. We were all very close and proud of our heritage.
How did you start writing?
I always liked writing. The first real thing I ever wrote was this ridiculous limerick. It said, “There once was a young man named James; he thought he could sing like Dick Haymes. But when he tried, he fainted and died. And that was the end of James.” No one really thought that was good; it didn’t even get on the blackboard.
I wrote during the time I was in law enforcement. I started writing in North Carolina while I was working for the district attorney’s office. The Fayetteville Observer on Saturdays had an insert called “Writers write for readers.” My wife said I should submit some of my stories, and my story “Shoeshine” (although they gave it a different title) was accepted. You see, I used to be a shoe shiner as one of my jobs on Patrick’s Corner. It was nice to see my story in the newspaper; I liked seeing my name in print. So I started writing down all those memories — and that’s how it started. I sent a couple of stories to Catholic Digest. Then all of a sudden I got a note with a check — a nice little check — and they said they would be interested in seeing more.
A man named Thomas Burns had been a longtime writer for Catholic Digest. He wrote stories about being Irish; they were nice and nostalgic. I received six copies of Catholic Digest, and I saw that both Thomas Burns and I were in the magazine. But there was a purple border on Burns’ article — it was his obituary. They had been looking for someone to take over that particular column, and they started buying my stories on a monthly basis.
Do you have a favorite article?
The one that I like best is called “The flight of the arrow.” It’s also in my book The Best of Sean Patrick. It’s probably one that I really, really put myself into. It’s the story about the younger brother of one of our best friends who had what we know now was leukemia. The kid was on his deathbed and he was about 11; we were only about 13. And there was a very simple and loving priest who would stop by every day. He asked us what would help the little guy upstairs, and we mentioned that he was still talking about the last movie he saw, which was the old Robin Hood movie.
He was really fixated on it. He even bought the book and read chapters from it daily. Six or eight of us would be there every afternoon listening to the story, and when he read the very last story, the boy died that very night. At the end of the burial, the pastor stepped back, and the boy’s brother came up and handed him a bow, and the priest stood there for a minute in complete silence. Then the priest brought that bow down on his knee and it cracked, and he set that broken bow on top of the coffin.
After that he took us to the park. He had one of the park rangers build a little fire, and each one of us had an arrow that was lit and we fired them off into the sky; the arrows fell into a nearby lagoon. The priest told us that Robin Hood’s last wish was for Little John to hold him up so he could shoot his last arrow out a window, and where the arrow landed, there his bones should be laid. Then he asked for his bow to be broken so it could never be used again for good or for ill. And after that we ended up privately calling this priest Little John from that point on. It was a very moving story.
How does your faith help you with your columns?
We were raised to have strong faith. I don’t think I was ever without faith. With writing, I’ve had to research my own life many times to come up with my stories for Catholic Digest. People often ask, “How do you come up with all these things?” Ninety-nine percent is memory; I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve got a huge family. Especially in law enforcement, you come across so many situations and so many people and so many different problems that you build up a tremendous reservoir of experiences.
How long do you think you’ll be writing Patrick’s Corner?
My column is a simple story of my life written with love and tongue-in-cheek! As for how long I will be writing Patrick’s Corner, that is totally up to God and Mary’s patience!
Caroline Kenney, a 2016 Assumption College graduate and a former Bayard, Inc. intern, contributed to this article.