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All things possible with Sister Janice Smith

Sister Janice Smith visits with a horse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

Sister Janice Smith visits with a horse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

Maybe the seed was planted when Sister Janice Smith attended the Aspirancy of the School Sisters of Notre Dame as a high school student.

Maybe the seed germinated into a sprout when she attended a seminar called “God, are you talking to me?”

Maybe the sprout was fertilized as she watched the movie “The Green Mile.”

And maybe the sprout reached its blossoming state when she said in prayer, “God, if you are there, find me, because I can’t find you.”

Sister Janice knew she was at a turning point in her life when she looked around her California condominium one day and realized something was missing.

“I worked for Hewlett-Packard for 14 years as an instructor and manager. I had a very lucrative salary, a company car, a nice little condo, all of these things,” she said.

“There was nothing wrong. That’s the biggest part. Everything was right. I was doing a lot of parish work as a volunteer in different parish ministries. Everything was fine, but I was still really restless.”

Then came the realization. “I remember walking into the condo one day after I had it situated the way I wanted it. I’m looking around and thinking ‘Now what? Now what!’ I had reached this kind of marker place where I wanted to be in salary, and I thought ‘Now you have that. What does any of this mean?’” she explained.

Perhaps it was then that her desire to become a woman religious was being rekindled, even though she may not have realized it.

“I entered the Aspirancy when I was 13. I stayed for two years. They were going to close the school, so I escaped, never to be heard from again for the next 30-odd years,” she said. “Maybe the feeling never really left. It wasn’t the right time for me then. It was something that stayed in the back of my mind and I pushed it waaaay back there.”

Then came the seminar. “It led me to another prayer invitation called the Ignatian Exercises. We were told to not be surprised if these prayers and meditations made a major change in our life. I sort of dismissed it. I got to the end of the cycle, then this thing started gnawing at me. I said, ’Nah, nah, nah, I can’t do this. This is crazy. Maybe I can do another ministry at the parish,” she said.

She put off registering for another religious education conference to see what would happen with Y2K mania. After the new year, she called and found an opening in the seminar scheduled for the next week. “I thought, ‘This is it. All roads are leading to Rome now,’” she said.

A different sprout from the stem of the plant offered yet another twist. “I have this thing about Ireland. I don’t know if I have any kind of Irish ancestry, but I just love Ireland. I called the vicar for religious life in the Diocese of Orange. I was very nervous. This nun answers the phone and she has this big old Irish accent. I looked to the heavens and said, ‘You don’t play fair.’”

Then came the movie. Sister Janice said, “I was sitting there watching Tom Hanks talking at the end of it about how he couldn’t rectify this man being sent to the electric chair and his complicity in that as a guard. He said, ‘How can I face my maker and say that I did this because it was my job?’ It made me think. How can I face my maker at the end of my life and say I didn’t even try? That was the moment. Tom Hanks will never know the effect he had on my life.”

Then came her personal prayer. She said she became frustrated with her own feelings. She struggled with her beliefs in the church and in God. She wanted her discernment to follow a logical path. It didn’t. She heard something speaking to the turmoil but couldn’t grasp it. She prayed her personal prayer and asked God to find her. Gently, God did.

Eventually, the flower of discernment bloomed and Janice Smith became Sister Janice Smith, entering the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Sept. 14, 2000. But even then she kept one foot in the secular door by taking a one-year leave of absence from Hewlett-Packard.

“I didn’t have to make the decision until after my first full year. By that time, I was seeing a little more of what community life is like and what religious life is like. The first year was pretty rough. It’s a shock to your system, even if it’s good,” Sister Janice said.

“I was leading this status-quo existence for a while. I wasn’t really focused on those things that are truly the most important things in going through this life. What does God mean to me? Where is God in everything we do? What about social issues like the death penalty? I had compartmentalized my faith. It wasn’t integrated into my whole life,” Sister Janice said.

“Coming to the Sisters of Providence, I am so much more aware. It’s hard to contain it. When I see other people, I want to say, ‘Look, look what’s going on. Open your eyes. I can say that because I was walking the same path,” Sister Janice said.

Having stretched her own boundaries, her message to women in discernment is, “Stay open, keep looking, keep searching. You can’t force it. Stay open to the movement of the Spirit within you, and don’t try to prescribe what might happen.

“I couldn’t have picked a better congregation,” Sister Janice said. “The sisters are so connected to their God. They all have different ways of expressing it. Everyone seems willing to accept you for who you are.”

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Dave Cox

Dave Cox was media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence for many years. Prior to his work with the sisters, he spent over 30 years in newspaper newsrooms.

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