Sister Jeanette Marie Lucinio
Years in the Congregation: 53 years
My best friend says: I make everyone feel welcome
No telling what spark one nice, well-intentioned smile might kindle in the human spirit. Just ask Sister Jeanette Lucinio what one smile did for her.
“I was first attracted to the Sisters of Providence when I saw them at Mass in my home parish of St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette (Ill.), I was attracted because one of the sisters turned to pick up her missal and smiled at me. She made me think about them. My mother explained to me who they were. She said they were women who devoted their life to God and would teach me about God when I went to school,” Sister Jeanette said.
Unbeknownst to a 4-year girl with her mother, that smile sparked a relationship that eventually led Sister Jeanette to the Congregation.
“My anticipation was so great. I could hardly wait until I could go to first grade,” she said.
“Sister Alice Marie Twohig (RIP) was my first grade teacher. I was so inspired by what she taught us, especially in religion lessons. I would come home from school, gather all the kids in the neighborhood, sit them on the porch steps and teach them the lessons I learned that day,” Sister Jeanette recalled.
“Another early experience was with Sister Louise Gertrude Bordenet (RIP). She would read Gospel stories about Jesus to us. We would be so enthralled with the stories she would read that we wouldn’t even want to go to recess,” she added.
“All of my teachers were wonderful women, just extraordinary. One who stood out was Sister Marie Wolf (RIP). She taught me in fourth grade. She used to put mission magazines on the table in the front of the room. I looked at the pictures and would imagine myself as one of the sisters in foreign lands proclaiming the Gospel to people,” Sister Jeanette said.
Sister Jeanette’s recollections might be great examples of how Sisters of Providence have made differences in the lives of many children at schools throughout the United States, but the direct connection inspired by one smile from one sister opened the door to the call that was within Sister Jeanette.
The journey toward her commitment wasn’t always without challenges. She went to a high school in the Chicago area for one year, and realized on the first day that it was a mistake. She longed to go to the Sisters of Providence-sponsored school but her mother made her stay at her school for a full year.
Then, a friend who is now Sister Cathy Buster, another Sister of Providence, showed Sister Jeanette a brochure about the Aspirancy, a high school at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was allowed to come to the Congregation’s motherhouse grounds for three years of high school. In her junior year, she was pulled toward missionary life again, and at the same time, she was very attracted to a contemplative lifestyle.
She also coped with the normal ideas of having a family, children of her own and her own home. “But I always came back to this desire to be a sister.
“I went back to the root of what my mother told me. The sisters gave their work entirely to God and that is what I wanted to do,” Sister Jeanette continued.
Competing opportunities and questions continued to challenge Sister Jeanette. “My years in the novitiate were very difficult. I continued to struggle with questions about vocation and what God wanted me to do,” she said. “I can remember the day when all the questions went away. We came in from a walk on a Sunday afternoon. I realized that all of the worry was gone. It just lifted.”
Sister Jeanette spent 21 years as a classroom teacher, starting with a class of 70 first-graders on her first assignment. “Preparing them for First Communion probably set in motion for me an avenue toward a mission of sacramental life in the church.
“As I taught them, I deepened my own love for the Eucharist,” Sister Jeanette said.
She was asked to join the Center for Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Chicago. She did that for a year, but longed to be in parish life again. She became a pastoral associate and director of religious education for St. Zachary Church in Des Plaines, Ill.
She was recruited away from that ministry to join the staff of the Department of Word and Worship at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, where she spent 25 years. Today, she retains the title of professor emerita at CTU, but she also serves as director of catechumenate for Sacred Heart Parish in Palos Hills, Ill.
Sister Jeanette enjoys working at the local parish level. “That’s where the church is; that’s where it happens. I have told my students at CTU that CTU is an ivory tower. You learn the ideal. Where the church really happens is in the local parish,” she emphasized.
But Sister Jeanette also has had an opportunity to fulfill her desire to be a missionary. In 1992 she was invited to accompany a group of Catholic teachers to Russia at the invitation of the Russian government. She has taught during summer months in all the major cities in Russia and Lithuania and some of the country towns as well.
“It is part of the world I never expected to be involved with. I used to think people of Eastern Europe as being so different from me. I was so astonished to see how they were so warm and welcoming. They were on fire to restore the church after coming out of 50 years of Communist occupation,” Sister Jeanette said.
Her mission there was to help Lithuanians learn more about the contemporary ways of education and faith.
The thread of sharing God’s message has been woven through all of Sister Jeanette’s ministries and that fits perfectly with her lifelong desire. “From the time I was really little, I have had the desire to tell other people about God, about Christ,” she said.
Joining the Sisters of Providence helped her fulfill her ambitions.
“Religious life is a wonderful way of living human existence. Being part of a mission that is bigger than anything you could ever do alone — the way is so wonderful. It’s God’s way of helping live life fully and you are able to share the gifts you are given with many, many people who are hungry and searching for God,” Sister Jeanette said. “I believe religious life is a tremendous gift to the church. It’s a life of consecration, having a single-hearted focus, giving of yourself totally for the mission of the Gospel.”
And it all started with one smile.
“One smile did it. I wonder who that sister was who smiled at me. She started the whole thing rolling. It’s the power of hospitality,” Sister Jeanette concluded. “I know that’s what attracted people to Jesus. They always felt his attractiveness was his hospitality. He welcomed them into his circle and never pushed anyone away.”
Favoritesvacation spot: the mountains
least favorite subject: math
time of the day: early dawn
If I could invite one person for dinner: Brian Swimm
saint: Therese of Lisieux
style of music: classical
scripture: “God so loved the world…”
movie: “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”
flower: flowering trees in the spring