Patricia K. Piper

Born July 16, 1934 – Died January 31, 2016

Patricia Kathryn Piper was born in Delavan, Minnesota on July 16, 1934 to C.I. “Spike” and Geneva (Tibodeau) Piper. She grew up in Blue Earth and graduated from Blue Earth High School in 1952. She went on to study at the College of St. Teresa in Winona and graduated with a BA Degree in Elementary Education. She earned a MA Degree in Religious Education from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

Pat Piper was first introduced to Austin as a Sister of St. Francis when she was assigned to teach at St. Augustine’s Grade School in the 1960’s. She also taught courses at Riverland Community College, which was then Austin Community College.

Pat left the order after 22 years because as her sister, Paulette Schwen, said, “She loved being a nun but she just thought she could reach out more and connect with other people too.”

She created the Christian Education Center in Austin in 1968 and served as its director through 1994. This wonderful place brought people together from all religions to share successes and challenges. It became a go-to place in the community for people seeking resources and allowed teachers and pastors of various faiths to connect and learn that they had much more in common than they had ever thought. Pat was the welcoming heart of the center and made ecumenism a reality in Austin.

Pat served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1983 to 1986 and in the Minnesota State Senate from 1987 to 1992 in District 31 and in District 27 from 1993 to 2000. She had a strong interest in early childhood education and she worked on many bills that supported that area. Senator Dan Sparks, DFL- Austin, said, “Recently, we’ve all come to the same conclusion (about the importance of early childcare), but I think Pat was a real pioneer and was ahead of her time because she was talking about this before anyone else was.” As a former nun and director of the Christian Education Center, Pat was often called upon to give the prayer to begin Senate sessions at the Minnesota State Capitol. Dean Johnson, Senate Minority Leader at the time, said, “They (her prayers) are refreshing and original. They bring about a serenity to the Senate chambers.” She was a master at working with others to get bills passed, and was very influential while serving in the Legislature. She welcomed everyone who visited her at the Capitol, and she helped them learn about state government. Her office door was always open, and she loved giving her constituents tours of the Capitol building.

Pat served as president of the United Way in Austin and on boards and committees of the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch, YMCA, Austin Community Services, and the Salvation Army. She often talked about being the first woman to serve on many boards and committees.

Perhaps Pat’s greatest contribution to the Austin community was her loving and giving nature. Her sister said, “She is a friend to everybody, but especially little children, poor people, refugees, the downtrodden. She just got along with all types of people and loved them so much. She was a voice for them.” She kept a cache of items that were not permitted to be purchased with food stamps at the Christian Education Center and people in need knew to go there when they needed those items. She loved Austin and worked so hard to make it a better place for all its citizens.

Do you know someone that has made an impact on the City of Austin? Submit a Pillars of the City nomination for next year!