Sr. Jo Ann Showalter – 25th Jubilee

I was born in McMinville, Oregon, the eldest of four brothers and three sisters. My family moved into the Willamette Valley, then to Rogue River, then back to Salem where I grew up and graduated from high school.

I first thought of becoming a sister when I was 12. In fact I had talked to a Benedictine sister who at that time was my teacher. Her prioress said I was too young for a Come & See. It stuck with me until high school, but then I got sidetracked, married and had two boys.

After I got divorced and the boys were raised and on their own, the call kept coming back. I talked to my pastor and expected him to say, “Oh Jo Ann, you can’t do that, you’re too old and you have kids.” As it turned out he said, “I know exactly who you should talk to,” and he referred me to a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon. She invited me to a vocation weekend through the Portland Archdiocese, and I started doing some real discernment on my vocation. But it was a letter to then-vocations-director Sr. Bea LaFramboise that set me on the way to becoming a Sister of Providence. She invited me to a retreat, and by the time I got back home again I knew where I was going to be.

My sons were supportive of my choice. But as the only single child who was expected to care for my parents as they aged, I had to come to an understanding with my siblings about who would help our parents if I became a sister, and they agreed to step up. So I entered the novitiate in 1994.

I spent my canonical year at Arnprior in Ontario, Canada, which I found both beautiful and interesting. I appreciated most of all being at the motherhouse and walking in the footsteps of Mother Gamelin.

During my second year of novitiate, I was back in Portland working as an ultrasound technologist for Providence Hospital, first as a fill-in in Seaside and Milwaukie, then in Providence Portland and Providence Plaza.

I made my first profession on December 29, 1996. It was the feast of the Holy Family and also the day of one of the biggest snow and ice storms to hit the Portland area in a long time. Family, friends and other sisters struggled to arrive from all points of the compass to celebrate with me.

Next, after many years in the health care profession, I decided to move into spiritual health care, which incorporates the interaction of mind, body and spirit. I went back to school full time at Marylhurst University and earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy, with a core in pastoral care.

Once I finished my undergraduate degree and professed final vows in August 2000, I joined the formation team and continued that ministry for seven years while studying for my master’s degree. In 2009 I was on the community life team for the sisters at Mount St. Joseph, and that same year I was elected to councilor, a position I’ve held since, which wraps up at the end of this year.

For the past few years, I’ve also been working with the Reclaiming Earth Committee — a passion of mine. I come from generations of farmers, living from the land. And of course spirituality comes from the land. I was drawn to the land even as a high school student. In fact, I was only the second woman in the state of Oregon to request admission to vocational agriculture classes, which, back then, required special permission from the school board. They granted permission and I worked hard to be right there with the guys. Eventually they even made me an honorary member of the Future Farmers of America. That was a big thing at that time.

Maybe because it’s in my DNA, I chose a master’s degree in Earth Literacy. The degree has opened many doors for me, including an opportunity to be on UNANIMA International’s committee on the environment. We had regular phone conferences and met annually in New York. Each time, I got to go to the United Nations when they had a couple weeks of sessions on the environment so we could lobby behind the scenes. I was even able to go to Rio+20 (the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) which was an absolute thrill for me.

This year, as I celebrate my 25th Jubilee, I am grateful to have had the month of February down under — a sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand where I spent time at a retreat center by the ocean, attended an eco-earth ritual and explored quite a bit.

I am also blessed to be a great-grandmother of four boys! As one of the few “sister moms” in the community, I thoroughly enjoy time with my “greats.”

As for what’s ahead, I believe deeply and sincerely in the call of discernment. I rely on that. When times get tough I remind myself that I am where I am called to be. I also know there are possibilities for future discernment. Time and Providence will tell.