Walking the Many Paths of Religious Life

Written on: December 10, 2015

In elementary school classrooms, as Activities Aide and then Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg, New York and now as a retiree, Sister Donna Jean Tavernier (Sister Mary Jude) exudes a quiet, gentle presence. Musing over a puzzle in the community room of Holy Redeemer D’Youville Manor, she separates the puzzle pieces by color and speaks of her current life, living among men and women of other faiths.

“They are my friends,” she says, simply. Sister Donna Jean constructs puzzles and plays Bingo and Brain Games with her friends. She worships with them at daily Mass, joins with them in praying the Rosary and sips decaf coffee with them at the afternoon socials.

Sister Donna Jean entered the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart congregation at age 17. She became an elementary school teacher and says that teaching first grade was her favorite assignment. “I said to our Superior, ‘Send me anywhere to teach first grade and I’ll go’.” Her wish was granted: she was sent to St. Mary’s School in Potsdam, New York for seven years. “Wonderful years,” she remembers. All told, she taught elementary school for 32 years.

Later on in her ministry life, Sister became Activities Aide at St. Joseph’s Home in Ogdensburg, New York and enjoyed the interaction and fun of recreation with senior citizens. She eventually replaced Sister Rita Gleason as Chaplain at St. Joseph’s and was then a source of spiritual comfort and support for the residents. Those experiences served her well in preparation for her life now in a personal care facility.

She observes that sisters may be better than some at adapting to change. “We had to go when we were sent, where we were sent, in obedience.”

Adjusting to the sale of the Motherhouse and the resulting new structure for congregational living has not been easy, she admits. But she has faith in the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart Leadership and praises their open and ongoing communication about all of the changes.

Sister Donna Jean is now in a new phase of religious life. “I minister here by being who I am. I am present to the residents. They confide in me and I listen. That’s my ministry now.”


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