One morning last winter Patsy Burn’s alarm clock failed to ring, and she woke up late for the weekday mass. “I was tempted not to go,” she admitted. “I came so close to staying in bed.” But she quickly prepared and arrived at church just in time. As she settled into a back pew, she suddenly felt the presence of another person sitting down next to her, despite many open places. Puzzled and maybe even slightly annoyed, she stole a sidelong glance. There was one of her sons smiling at her. As a surprise, he had driven from Baltimore that morning to take her to breakfast, and he knew right where to find her.
You could say that Patsy Burns could be found in the Catholic Church for all of her 88 years. “I grew up in an old-fashioned Catholic family,” she explained. She attended Catholic schools, married a Catholic man, and raised all of her children as Catholics. “If you lived in our house, you went to church on Sunday,” she said, whether that house was in one of the many places that the family lived while her husband served in the Air Force or whether that house was on the Second St. beach block in Ocean City, where the Burns family spent their summers and where Patsy now lives year-round.
Patsy is known as a stalwart of St. Damien Parish. She has been a sacristan for St. Frances Cabrini Church, a Eucharistic minister, and an altar server. At less than five feet tall, this altar server would sometimes be teased by fellow parishioners, who said she wasn’t visible behind all the flowers, especially at Christmas and Easter. “All they could see were two hands holding up the cruets,” she laughed. Still, these privileged roles have meant a lot to her. “There is something special about being right there watching the priest consecrate the Host,” she explained. And as for opening or closing up the church? “Then, it is just you and God,” she said. Patsy also belongs to the Companions of Pauline, assisting Sister Joelle Thren with various endeavors. In addition, she is a member of a Bible study group and a parish-based book club. From these groups have come strong friendships. The members care for each other as needs arise. “Wonderful, incredible people,” Patsy affirmed.
Patsy Burns gave birth to nine children in the span of twelve years. With her husband in the military, the family moved frequently, living, among other places, in Tokyo, Japan, upstate New York, Ohio, California, New Jersey, and Maryland. “Only two of my children were born in the same hospital, and that’s because they were twins,” she smiled. The whole family took the moves in stride and helped each other adjust. “It was never just one kid going to a new school alone,” she said. “There was always a whole stack of them.” As for Patsy, “I was never anxious for my kids to go back to school after the holidays. I liked having them home. I enjoyed them.” One of her sons died in young adulthood. She now has 22 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
Another constant in Patsy’s life, besides the Catholic Church, has been Second Street, Ocean City, where she first came as a child with her parents to spend several weeks each summer. The tradition continued for Patsy and her husband when, in the late 1970s, they bought a summer house in the same block. Later, they purchased the house at the corner of Second and Corinthian. In about 2000, the couple moved permanently to Ocean City, and Patsy cared for her husband until he died in 2006. These days, she said, “my family takes wonderful care of me,” describing a well-coordinated system her children use to help her. In this way Patsy is able to stay in the town she loves so much. “I never thought that I would ever be able to live in Ocean City year-round,” she said. It is little wonder, then, that when it comes to selecting titles for her book club, Patsy always prefers the ones with the happy endings.