By Michele Graham
Photography by ChiChi Ubiña
“I wanted to write the stories of my childhood because in another 50 years there would be no eyewitnesses to the social experiment that was St. Benedict Center,” and so Patricia Walsh Chadwick began the journey of writing her memoir, Little Sister. Published this April by Post Hill Press, Patricia tells the remarkable, often heart rendering, story of growing up in a religious community that became increasingly draconian and isolated. And how, at 17 years old, her life took an unexpected turn that lead to success in the world of finance.
Patricia started life in a community of nearly 100 people—including twelve married couples and their 39 children. Called the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the group was led by the charismatic Leonard Feeney, a controversial Catholic priest, who would eventually be excommunicated. Most of the adults were highly educated and were held together by their unswerving belief in the dogma that there was “no salvation outside the Catholic Church.”
Until she was 6 years old, Patricia had lived with her parents and four younger siblings. The many other adults within the community, most of whom were single, seemed like an array of aunts and uncles to young Patricia but this warm and loving environment didn’t last long. Vowing to obey Feeney, over the course of a decade, the members of the community were subjected to sect-like directives: to forsake their children, spouses and all contact with the outside world; to give up their worldly possessions; to refrain from contact or communication with members of the opposite sex.
“As one of the children, I found it difficult and painful to be prohibited from speaking to my parents. We led a life sequestered from the rest of the world–without television, newspapers, radio or any knowledge about society beyond the borders of our community, which was first in Cambridge, Massachusetts and then in Harvard, a town about 35 miles west of Cambridge,” recalls Patricia. “Fortunately, my parents—in particular my father—would break the rules and secretly reach out to my siblings and me to share birthday wishes or just an occasional whispered ‘Hello, my little princess.’ Those small gestures were the glue that cemented our love.”
From Cloistered to College to Chief Investment Strategist
Groomed by the sect’s leaders to become a nun, Patricia questioned some of the dictates and the arbitrariness of rules. “Being separated from my parents and subjected to regular physical and emotional abuse became the norm but I never accepted it as normal.” In her teen years, especially as she developed a series of crushes on a few men in the community, the leadership made a decision to expel Patricia right after the community’s high school graduation. At 17, she was cast out. No family, no means of support, no college to attend. Cloistered all her life, Patricia depended on her resourcefulness, intelligence, and faith to move on.
Once outside the community, the world opened up to her. She became a receptionist at a Boston brokerage firm and began taking evening courses at Boston University’s Metropolitan College. She gravitated to finance and economics—subjects she was most familiar with from her work. When she moved to Philadelphia in 1972, her advisor at BU encouraged her to take courses at The Wharton School. After nine years of studying, she received a degree in Economics with a minor in Finance. By that time, she had moved to New York City and was fully engaged in the world of finance. Today, she sits on the Advisory Board of “Met College” as a way to say “thank you” to the university.
Patricia’s career in finance was an upward trajectory, taking her to Invesco where she became Chief Investment Strategist. Patricia went onto found and be president of Ravengate Partners LLC, a consulting firm dedicated to providing businesses and not-for-profit institutions with education and advice about the financial markets and the global economy. And along the way, she became and continues to be a frequent presence on CNBC.
The Transition to Memoirist
Patricia retired from Wall Street and in her mid-fifties decided it was time to finally tell her story. She committed to learning the craft of writing, and for about five years attended weekly sessions at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. It was the group’s support that gave her the encouragement to forge forward. Ten years later her manuscript was ready.
While writing has become a passion for Patricia, she is also the Chief Executive Officer of Anchor Health Initiative Corp. a not-for-profit company she co-founded in 2015 that provides primary and specialty care for the LGBTQ community. She also sits on four company boards, and on the advisory boards of several education-focused nonprofits. For the last 10 years, she has served as the Treasurer for The Bruce Museum but perhaps the most uplifting of her charitable efforts is mentoring middle school girls at Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem.
Reflection and Part II
With the encouragement of friends and family–including John, her husband of almost 35 years, and their 25-year old twins, Caroline and Jim–Patricia is looking forward to writing a second book. “I’ve been questioned as to why I gave short shrift to my career in Little Sister. Truth be told, the mission of my memoir was to tell the story of my unusual, perhaps even bizarre, childhood—and life after that was a kind of epilogue,” she says. “As I think about book number two, I see an opportunity to share with readers how elements of my upbringing were invaluable as I faced reality in a world that was nearly foreign to me. I hope the book will be both funny and inspirational.”
At a recent book event, Patricia was asked if there is anything in her life that she would change. “I thought for a moment about how wonderfully my life has turned out on so many fronts: family, an array of friends around the world, a career that was both challenging and rewarding, and the opportunity to see the world and enjoy the arts. If I were to have changed the trajectory of my early life, how could I be assured that I would be where I am today? Each life comes with its share of joy and pain—one cannot have all of one and none of the other. I was able to respond with confidence, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing.’”