Sister Jane Elyse Russell

Sister Jane Elyse RussellI entered the School Sisters of St. Francis at the time of the Second Vatican Council, the council that led to renewal in the Church and religious life. Our formation directors introduced us to new ideas, like the “collegiality” of bishops, and we had interesting speakers, both at the Motherhouse and at Alverno. We heard from Scripture scholars like Philip Roets and Barnabus Mary Ahern, and the religious educator Josef Goldbrunner. My spiritual life was deepening from all this “fresh air” blowing through the church, and having a chance to discuss it with convent classmates was lifegiving.

Religious life has provided me with many companions. I found things in common with some people more than others, and these became my friends. Members of my class in community were important. We traveled to visit one another: Classmates drove from Milwaukee to visit Mary Diez, Kathleen O’Brien, and me in Nebraska. When I was at Notre Dame in the 1970s, a car full of friends came to visit the week after Easter.

I loved the big meetings where we talked to each other about important things. We have continued to have great speakers, such as Daniel Berrigan in 1968 and Sister Thea Bowman in 1987. I enjoyed helping to plan and take part in these meetings, especially the first Spirituality Conference in 1997 while I was on the Provincial Leadership Team.

Being part of our community’s ministries was important to me. At Ryan High School in Omaha, my first teaching assignment, I was with 30 sisters. Then I served with 11 sisters at Pope John XXIII High School in Elgin, Nebraska. We were keeping Catholic education afloat in this corner of Nebraska, sharing ideas for running the school, and doing this project together.

Life has been different since I received my theological education, being the only School Sister of St. Francis ministering at a place. You adapt, and it is good. This is my 24th year teaching at Belmont Abbey College, where I am happy to have helped shape the minds of several thousand students.

Perhaps my happiest time in ministry was at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, on a nine-person pastoral team at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish and Catholic Student Center. I was the director of continuing education. Our main offering was a course called “Catholic Faith for Adults.” It helped college students who were raised Catholic to deal with their new campus setting, with people of many religions (and no religion), when they realized they had to learn more about their own faith.  It was a good challenge to help them navigate the state university environment. 

My most challenging ministry was serving two terms on the U.S. Provincial Leadership Team.  I felt a responsibility for all the sisters and the staff, and, as an officer of the corporation, for property, investments, and sponsored ministries.  Visiting the sisters was the visible part; I didn’t think about the behind-the-scenes responsibilities before I was elected. 

When I think of what I have accomplished, I could name highlights from any of these ministries, as well as the labor of earning my Ph.D. in theology at Notre Dame. But I will end with my record of editing the Pastoral Ministry Network Newsletter for 43 years and being a contributing member of the network, from its founding in 1978 to its “retirement” in 2022. This network helped scores of us share our struggles, joys, and ideas in true School Sister spirit.

Congratulations, Sister Jane, on your 60 years of living religious life in our congregation!

<< Back to Jubilarian list