Sister Paul Mary Janssens is retiring from leadership of the Springfield Dominican Associate Program after eleven years in this community ministry. During Sister Paul Mary’s final commitment ceremony Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, prioress general, called her a “superb animator” of the associates. Sister Beth Murphy sat down with Sister Paul Mary for a conversation about her years of service.
What have these last 11 years been like for you?
They have been vibrant, relational, and spiritual. I have loved the associates. They are good people; we have good relationships; I’ve enjoyed them. We will continue our relationships because I’m still living here [at Sacred Heart Convent] so I’ll see them now and then and that will be good.
What does it mean to be an associate of the Springfield Dominicans?
The associates first experience a nine-month program of formation that is the cornerstone of associate life. We have sisters who address a different topic at each monthly meeting. They do a wonderful job covering everything from prayer and spirituality to Dominican history and the social teaching of the Catholic Church. So many of our associates tell me how valuable the period of formation is to them. That is the first thing. Then, as the associates make commitment, they are helping us carry out our charism. They are doing such wonderful things. A couple from Jacksonville are serving the men in the Jacksonville prison through a prison ministry program. Not everybody can do that sort of thing. Other associates are helping a homebound couple in their parish, visiting nursing homes to lift people’s spirits, ministering to those with addictions. They are serving on boards at the hospital, for Salvation Army, working at Catholic Charities food pantries, assisting at homeless shelters, recycling and caring for the environment, teaching religion classes in their parishes, so many things. I’m happy that they are so active and doing so much good. Sometimes it puts you to shame how good they are. They are doing very charitable works, works of love for others, and I think that is important.
What have been the best moments for you during your tenure?
Actually, the days of reflection and meeting those wonderful speakers that we have had. Someone like, last year Sister Mary Ann Weismann-Mills, and this year Sister Ann Willits is returning. Sister Terry Rickard from New York is president of Renew International. They are good people to know and cherish.
What is next for you?
I am going to assist with the mission advancement office. I am going to renew relationships with many of the people I have known in Duluth, Minn., in Aurora and Sugar Grove, and right here in Springfield.
What is your hope as the associate program moves forward?
I’m hoping that it will bring everyone closer to God. That they will develop their spiritually and prayer life. That is essential. I would like to bring more young people into the associate program, too. Young people are involved in so many things and it is harder for them to give up the time to do it but you know we bring in more people in their 60s and 70s than we do the 30s, 40s. I wish we could find a way to meet the needs of younger people, too.
I see how generous young people can be. They are good at preaching by their actions. For example, when these young people come over from Sacred Heart-Griffin it’s wonderful. They have a beautiful spirit.