March 23, 2018

Heartbreak and hope shape Michael Patchner’s focus on families

By John Shaughnessy

Dr. Michael PatchnerOne point becomes clear while listening to Dr. Michael Patchner share his life story:

The source of his humanity toward children and families in need flows from the heartbreak and hope he has lived and witnessed in his own family.

There’s the story of his father, an immigrant from Croatia who worked in a coal mine in Pennsylvania, a man who gave his son his life savings to go to college so his child wouldn’t ever work in a mine and suffer the black lung disease that eventually killed him.

There’s the story of his stepmother who poured her love on him, a woman who fell and became disabled, leading him to spend a year and a half caring for her.

There’s the story of the son that Patchner and his wife Lisa adopted, a child whose life was marked by debilitating disabilities and a joy of living before he died just weeks shy of his 31st birthday.

“I’ve been influenced by all of them,” says Patchner, who will receive the 2018 Community Service Award from Catholic Charities Indianapolis on April 24 during the archdiocese’s Spirit of Service Awards dinner at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis.

“I’m exceedingly grateful for every day, for the little things in life. I’m able to cope better when things go wrong because I’ve seen so much worse. I try to live my Catholic faith every day. I try to make the decisions God wants me to make. And I just have this desire to help people in need.”

That desire is focused on families and children who are often overlooked in society, says Patchner, who has been the dean of the Indiana University School of Social Work in Indianapolis for 18 years.

Among his many contributions to society, Patchner has served as the chairperson of the Indiana Commission on Abused and Neglected Children and Their Families. He has also chaired the Indiana Commission on Childhood Poverty. Both commissions have led to laws that help people affected by those realities, he says.

“In social work, we want to make life better for everyone,” says Patchner, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis who also has a daughter and a grandson. “God gave me some talents, and I’ve tried to use my talents to make my piece of the world a better place.”

Through it all, Patchner looks to the faith and the example of the family members who have inspired his life—including his biological mother who died when he was 12.

“You just take one day at a time, and be grateful for it. I know this life isn’t the end-all. There’s eternity, and we have to prepare for it no matter what happens in this life.” †

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