Serving Others with a Passion for Peace and Justice

I was interviewed last week by a reporter from the local Archdiocesan paper, the Catholic Northwest Progress.  Here's the article:

Serving Others with a Passion for Peace and Justice
Susan Francois found an integrated life, grounded in the Gospel, with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace

Susan Francois had plotted out her path in life — a career as a civil servant, social-justice volunteer work in her spare time, early retirement, then volunteering full time "to make the world a better place."
But a few years into a successful career, Francois began to realize something was missing.
Though she grew up Catholic and graduated from Catholic schools in Maryland, Francois struggled with some of the church's teachings and couldn't see its relevance in today's world. She stopped practicing her faith at age 17.
In a journey spanning two decades, Francois explored other religions, returned to the Catholic church, became "the ultimate church and peace-and-justice geek," discerned a religious vocation and, this month, professed her final vows as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.
Now, as a staff member for the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center in Seattle, social justice is both her ministry and her profession.
"This is where I'm the best able to use the gifts that God gave me, to best serve the world," she said.
Return to faith
After college, Francois went to work for the city of Portland, eventually becoming the elections official. It seemed like a natural path, since both her parents worked in the political arena. They also taught her the responsibility of helping the needy and working for social justice.
During her off hours, Francois energetically volunteered at soup kitchens and a homeless shelter, and for a child-abuse hotline. Still, she didn't feel fulfilled.
Then a good friend asked Francois to attend her installation on the pastoral council at St. Philip Neri Parish in Portland.
"I will never forget going into St. Philip's that day and sitting in that pew and just feeling like I was at home," she said. The next Sunday, she decided to go to Mass, some 10 years after leaving the church.
"Before I knew it — literally within six months — I was a sponsor for RCIA. I was teaching Sunday school, and I got involved in the peace and justice commission. I went from completely not thinking about organized religion to [realizing], this is where I want to be," Sister Susan recalled.
About a year later, while walking along an Oregon beach, the thought of becoming a sister hit her. "It seemed really insane and crazy," she said. "I wasn't ready for it. I clearly remember making a little deal in my head with God that, maybe when I was 40, I would think about it. I just made final vows and I'm 39. It's pretty funny how God works."
Seeking an integrated life
Francois became more open to the possibility of a religious vocation after working through her struggles with God during times of "personal and collective suffering" — her mother's death from cancer in 2003, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Francois became even more involved in her parish, but felt a disconnect between her parish work and her day job. Then her pastor, Father Steve Bossi, emailed her in 2004, suggesting they talk about how God might be calling her to use her gifts.
"If he hadn't sent me that, who knows if I'd be here?" she said.
Francois started exploring religious life in 2004, at age 32, and began a blog, "Musings of a Discerning Woman," (www.actjustly.blogspot.com) to chronicle her journey.
"My real hope was to find an integrated life — where life in God, life in prayer, life in ministry, was my life," she said.
Finding a home
In October 2005, Francois became a candidate with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, which promotes social justice as a way to peace. She began spending regular weekends in Seattle, living and praying in community with the CSJP sisters.
She felt called to join these "groovy sisters," as she refers to them in her blog — "groovy" because they're up-to-date, concerned about what's going on in the world, working for peace and justice, and having fun doing it, Francois explained.
After a two-year novitiate, she professed her temporary vows in October 2008 and began working at the Intercommunity Peace & Justice Center.
"Every step, I felt more part of me and more part of God's plan," Sister Susan said. On Nov. 11, she took perpetual vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience.
Today, Sister Susan is studying at Seattle University for a master's degree in pastoral studies, while continuing her work at the IPJC. Besides editing the quarterly journal and coordinating programs for young adults, she gives presentations at schools and parishes about human trafficking, immigration and other issues tied to Catholic social teaching.
"I yearned for a community grounded in the Gospel, where I could use my gifts to foster peace in our world," Sister Susan said of her journey. "I am so glad that I decided to take the risk and explore religious life."

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Very cool Sister Susan. Very cool.