From the Nov/Dec 2003 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine
A vocation story is like a fingerprint: one-of-a-kind, as personal as can be, yet common to every human being—past, present, and future. It is something that identifies you for life and leaves an imprint on everything you ever touch. In its beautiful complexity, only God could have designed it.
Fr. Patrick Winslow’s vocation story was clearly designed by God, but has been carried out with much assistance from Our Lady of Fatima.
His story started in upstate New York. He describes himself as the third of five children in an “average, practicing Catholic family.”
“We went to our catechism class, we received all the sacraments, and so forth,” Fr. Winslow explained.
“When I was about 13 years old, I first learned about Our Lady of Fatima. It was an Easter Sunday and I was in the kitchen with my mother doing dishes,” he recalled. “We had a little television and this movie was on about Our Lady of Fatima. I was fascinated by it and turned to my Mom and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if this were true?’ And my Mom said, ‘It isn’t just a movie, it did happen.’ I said, ‘You mean to tell me that the Blessed Virgin Mary came down with a message for the whole world and nobody told me?!’
“I was in shock and overwhelmed. I was affected at a level that I didn’t quite understand. I recall that I went upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom and tried to pray the Rosary for each member of my family even though I really didn’t know how to pray the Rosary at that time,” Fr. Winslow said with a laugh. “But soon my fervor died out and I resumed the normal life of a teenager.
“Three or four years later, around the time of my Confirmation, I had to bring some books to the Salvation Army for my mother,” Fr. Winslow recalled. “As I was unloading them from my car, a small book fell at my feet. It was the dialogue of Our Lady of Fatima. I took that as a very providential sign. I picked it up and read it—it was not donated that day. I remember very, very clearly the great impact it had on me. I had this understanding that I was being spoken to at a deep level.”
About a year later, Fr. Winslow went off to attend the New York State University at Courtland, where he said he “stopped practicing his faith.” After a pretty disastrous first semester that merited him a 1.6 grade point average, Fr. Winslow said he set a new course for himself.
“It became evident that it was a waste of my time and my parents’ money to go on like this. I told myself that if I didn’t get at least a 3.0 the next semester, I would leave college and join the Navy or something.”
But obviously God had other plans for him. His grades improved so dramatically that by sophomore year, Fr. Winslow declared a major in chemistry with an eye toward medical school.
“That second year, I was taking my science in earnest, pledging a fraternity, but still not practicing my faith,” Fr. Winslow stated.
That was until he took a course called “Science in the Social World.”
“The point of the class was to break down the barriers between the arts and the sciences,” he said. “We were offered the option of taking a final exam or writing a paper. About three days before this paper was due, a classmate came to my door in the dorm and convinced me that by writing the paper, I would be more in control of the grade, which was very important to me at the time.
“I remember asking her, ‘What can I do in three days?’ She said, ‘Why don’t you write about Our Lady of Fatima?’ People had known from conversations in the dorm about my interest in Our Lady of Fatima. When kids would stay up telling ghost stories at night, I would tell the best ghost story of all, the story of Our Lady of Fatima, and it always went over well with my friends because, of course, 70,000 witnesses saw it happen in 1917.”
“So I called home to ask my Mom to give me some of the titles of her books on Our Lady of Fatima to see if I could find them in the library. She said, ‘You should talk to your father.’ My father has a doctorate in analytical physical chemistry. He got on the phone and said, ‘Patrick, are you crazy? Why don’t you write on superconductors?’
“I wrote the paper and handed it in,” Fr. Winslow said. “The following week in class, we were told to pick up our graded papers in the professor’s office in the physics department. I was really nervous. I had a lot riding on this paper. I wanted my 4.0.
“I had never been to the physics wing before this. I found [the professor’s] office, very nervous that I had blown it,” Fr. Winslow continued. “When I walked in, there, on his desk, was a statue of Our Lady of Fatima with rosaries hanging from it. I thought to myself, ‘I just hit the lotto.’”
Fr. Winslow said that he spent some time that day talking to the professor, who turned out to be a very devout man, about Our Lady of Fatima. The professor told him he had earned an A for his paper and an A+ for the course.
“I went back to my room after this whole experience of being taken care of and prayed the Rosary for the first time since I was 13,” Fr. Winslow explained. “I kept thinking about the passage, ‘if God takes care of the birds of the air and the flowers in the field, how much more will he take care of you’ (cf. Mt. 6:25-26).
“The whole experience with the paper led me back to Church. I started out going to daily Mass because it was a very personal encounter with God. Then I forced myself to go back to Sunday Mass as well,” he said. “I kept making quantum leaps of faith and discovery. I had thought that the Church’s position on many issues was antiquated and shallow. By the time I graduated, I had rethought them all.”
After graduation in 1991, Fr. Winslow took a job at a chemical company in New York for a short while, and then entered a doctoral program in chemistry at Georgia Tech.
“I kept wondering if I could find a way for my faith to lead the way instead of following the other aspects of my life. For that whole first year, I was in solitary discernment. Nobody else was involved, no vocation director, nobody. It was Our Lady of Fatima and me, and of course, the Holy Spirit. I soon left Georgia Tech and went to Catholic University Theological Seminary in Washington.”
Fr. Winslow was ordained for the Diocese of Albany, New York in 1999. His first assignment was two years at Blessed Sacrament parish in Albany and then another year at St. Mary/St. Paul in Hudson Falls, New York. During this time, Fr. Winslow took on the responsibility of being the part-time chaplain at a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.
“I saw it all there—faith, mercy, sin, reality, destiny. These men have sharp minds and a lot of time to read. It is one of the most academically challenging ministries I’ve ever had. It’s emotionally challenging, too. They struggle with the same issues everyone struggles with, but you see them all the more in the environment of a prison,” Fr. Winslow said. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Even before his ordination, Fr. Winslow questioned whether Albany was the right place for him.
“I was like a fish out of water. I had very little contact with the priests. I didn’t fit the same way that I fit with so many of my seminary friends.
After two years in Albany, the bishop and I began discussing the topic. With his blessing, his invitation to return, and with a certain genuine, paternal care for me, he said he thought it would be the best thing for me to transfer to the Diocese of Charlotte [North Carolina].”
Fr. Winslow arrived at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Charlotte in August 2002. In addition to his many priestly duties there, he has been involved in expanding the Spanish language ministries in the parish and has joined forces with parishioner and CUF board member Gail Buckley to develop and present a Catholic Scripture study. (To learn more, visit www.catholicscripturestudy.com.)
And it is no surprise that Fr. Winslow’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is still a big part of his life, often turning up in unexpected ways.
“Right before I was ordained a deacon, something came up and my friends from North Carolina were unable to go on a planned pilgrimage to Fatima. They asked me if I wanted to take their spot. So, this free trip to Fatima came my way a couple weeks after I was ordained. It was marvelous, just marvelous.”
I think this is a story with God’s fingerprints all over it.
Associated PDF File:
This article is available as a PDF download
You may need to obtain a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to use this