Hair, sunglasses, slacks and socks — all bright red.
A nurse’s scrub top bursting with colored hearts.
A pocket full of finger puppets and a jar of bubble solution.
These are in the “medical kit” that Sister Patricia Sheeran, OSF, dressed as the clown named “Nurse HeartBlessing,” has been carrying with her for almost 20 years to sick adults and children throughout South Jersey.
In her 60 years as a professed Franciscan Sister of Allegany, and more recent time as a member of the New Jersey-based “Kapo’s Gang” Clown Club, she has proved that smiles, laughter and a few “humor-rhoids” are good for what ails the body and soul.
The Atlantic City-born Sister Patricia, a graduate of Sacred Heart Elementary School (Mount Ephraim) and Camden Catholic High School (Cherry Hill), has a background in nursing, pediatric healthcare and education dating back to 1961, when she became a professed sister.
In her early years as a Franciscan, while teaching pediatric nursing at the Junior College of Albany, N.Y., she would take the students, her guitar, and very sick kids to the playroom each evening, for sing-a-longs “to entertain and cheer the children up.”
“We were a blessing to them, and brought joy to sad experiences,” she says.
Along with singing and music, Sister Patricia would provoke smiles with finger puppets and soapy bubbles.
Amidst the pain and suffering she and her students witnessed everyday, she would constantly tell her students that “it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
In 2001, she began a 10-week “Clown Course” at Cooper Medical Center in Camden, and soon took on the persona of “Nurse HeartBlessing,” a cheery, kind and brightly dressed clown with good medicine.
As a member of the group “Kapo’s Gang,” she and 20 other clowns perform charity work throughout South Jersey, entertaining all ages. In February, she was part of the attraction for Voorhees’ Walk for Homeless, along with two others from Kapo’s Gang.
“Three children were just glued to me the whole time, watching me blow bubbles,” she laughs.
In the current shutdown necessitated by COVID-19, her clown group has been unable to perform, but Sister Patricia expressed eagerness to get back to providing smiles, when able.
She sees her work these past 60 years as a sister, nurse and clown as all one part of a greater mission.
“One of the charisms of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany is joy, and Saint Francis was a troubadour for the Lord — he went out to where God sent him with his whole heart, and was playful; he had a unique way of being.”
“I thank God for letting me participate in his healing ministry; I can extend the same compassion that Jesus did.”