Sister Jan Craven
Years in the Congregation: 27 years
If the 1960s were known as the roller coaster of social change, then Sister Jan Craven loved every high-speed twist and turn.
Society was changing. The Catholic Church was changing. Jan Craven was changing. Her father was a devout follower of John Kennedy and took young Jan to see him in her hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, in 1959. No one can argue that Kennedy later brought change to the United States’ political landscape.
In 1968, Jan, a recent high school graduate, campaigned for presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy at the Democrat National Convention in Chicago where social tension generated devastating riots.
“Society was changing rapidly and I loved it,” Sister Jan said, admitting she was too excited to understand the tremendous danger that lurked on Chicago streets.
But if society’s hair was blowing in the tailwind of the white-knuckle transformation, some observers would say the changes in the Catholic Church were among the more dramatic events. One of Sister Jan’s former professors, a renowned Protestant theologian, called the Second Vatican Council one of the three most noteworthy events of the 20th Century, along with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the use of the atom bomb. Young Jan was going through her own metamorphosis. The typical teen-age identity questions were challenging her. Then she decided to attend a retreat as a way to avoid doing school work.
“Even though I had a great childhood, those teen-age years were always rough in the sense of self image. My self image was transformed in that retreat,” Sister Jan said. “It had to do with God.”
Her quest began and she had plenty of options. Her mother had worked as a secretary for a United States senator from Ohio, then she worked for a judge. Her sister worked for and married a probation officer. He went on to become the state probation supervisor in Ohio. “I think they had plans for me,” Sister Jan said. She also had a strong urge to join the Peace Corps.
Of course, Sister Jan also had a great desire to become a stewardess or a professional mountain climber. “In those days, I thought that earned money, foolish child that I was,” she said.
But a teacher? “No, I never wanted to be a teacher,” Sister Jan said. “So why did I enter a community of teachers? I was a fine teacher. I loved teaching. It was not one of my goals.”
But before she reached that point in her life, there was that retreat.
“It was there that I really had a transformational experience. I said to myself ‘I have to look at myself in a better viewpoint because I’m insulting God if I don’t.’ Well, my brothers and sisters couldn’t get over me when I came back from that retreat,” Sister Jan said.
She leaned toward the familiar influence she had with the Ursuline sisters who had a small congregation focused almost
exclusively in the Youngstown area. She knew them and had graduated from Ursuline High School.
“I had to do something with this overpowering feeling of goodness that came over me,” Sister Jan said. “I couldn’t try marriage for a month, but I certainly could try religious life for a month. That was my goal, try it for a month. Well it was a long month that has lasted 37 years. I don’t think I would have picked it unless I had gone on that retreat.”
The Second Vatican Council ended in 1965. Jan graduated from high school in June 1968. She entered the Ursuline congregation in September 1968.
“It was an exciting time in the Church. I loved the changes. They made sense to me. It really was a time of transition and I wanted to be part of it,” Sister Jan recalled.
The Ursuline congregation was declining in numbers and had limited ministerial opportunities. She was the youngest member of the congregation for seven years. Still, Sister Jan stayed the course and was in preparation for perpetual vows, taking courses at St. Louis University. That’s where she met Sister Paula Damiano, a Sister of Providence.
They became friends, partly because they grew up about 40 minutes apart; Sister Jan in Youngstown, and Sister Paula in New Castle, Pa.
Sister Paula invited Sister Jan to travel home with her. On the way, Sister Paula said she had to make a stop at her motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
“As soon as I went through those gates, I was mesmerized. I was in awe. I couldn’t have been met with more open arms or open hearts,” Sister Jan said. “I was enamored with the grounds, the place, the beauty. I happened to meet a sister who was in the process of transferring from another religious congregation. I talked to her. I spent a couple days getting to know some people, then we drove home.”
Sister Jan’s next year as an Ursuline was spent in conversation with a spiritual director as she considered her own transfer. Seeking something more, Sister Jan decided to transfer during the summer of 1978.
“I’ve never regretted it. It was the best decision, and it was the best decision originally to become an Ursuline,” Sister Jan said.
Religious life is a life that still excites Sister Jan.
“Religious life is not only an option for women today, it is an extremely exciting, viable option. If people only knew what a great life this is. It is so fulfilling,” she said. “I feel like I am contributing to the betterment of the planet, not just a little tiny neighborhood or community. We have an opportunity to really make a difference. It sounds trite. It’s an opportunity to make a difference that has true, deep meaning, a lasting difference.
“To be with this band of wild women is my idea of a great time. It is the ‘www,’ meaning wonderful, wild women; wild in the best sense of the word. They’re not afraid to take chances that are worth it, not afraid to take a risk, not afraid to make their mark on the world.”
Favoritesactress: Susan Sarandon
movie: Sweet Magnolia
hobby: crafts, cardmaking
sport: ice skating
dessert: German cream puff
time of day: morning
least favorite course: chemistry
If I weren’t an SP: I’d be very unhappy
web site: HGTV and Food Network
course in school: math, but not until college
food: pasta and bread
least favorite food: liver
saint: my grandmother
childhood activity: playing softball and badminton
my best friend says: I’m a good best friend and a woman of insight and compassion
book: “The March of Folly” by Barbara Tuchman