January 13, 2006

2006 Religious Vocations Supplement

Franciscan Sister Jannette Pruitt
appreciates her life of sisterhood

By Mary Ann Wyand

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina last August, Franciscan Sister Jannette Marie Pruitt of Indianapolis learned a special lesson about the meaning of sisterhood.

The native of Bay St. Louis, Miss., couldn’t locate her relatives who lived there or in nearby Waveland, Miss., and New Orleans for a week after the devastating Category 4 storm struck the Gulf Coast states on Aug. 29. She was afraid they had been hurt or killed by the high winds, powerful waves and flooding that destroyed entire communities.

She said it was the most difficult week of her life, but members of her religious community—the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Oldenburg—offered their prayers and support, which helped her cope in the days after the disaster while she waited for word about her family.

When Sister Jannette was finally able to contact her family members displaced by the hurricane, the Oldenburg Franciscans also provided financial assistance to help pay for some of their transitional living expenses.

“My whole family lives there,” Sister Jannette said. “When the hurricane hit, I didn’t know where they were or if they were OK. I just prayed that everybody would survive. All their houses were damaged. My mother’s best friend died in her house.”

Sister Jannette is a “sister mom” and grandmother who joined the religious community at age 50 after raising three children as a divorced single parent. She worked as a nursing assistant for 24 years in California and New Orleans.

During the second part of her religious formation, Sister Jannette is living at St. Rita Parish in Indianapolis and volunteers as director of religious education.

She also is completing undergraduate studies in pastoral ministry at Marian College in Indianapolis, which was founded by the Oldenburg Franciscans in 1936. Several times a month, she drives to the motherhouse in Oldenburg for community activities or formation programs.

Sister Jannette’s 18-year-old granddaughter, Christian Curry-Jeffries, was displaced by the hurricane and is living with her to complete her junior and senior years at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis.

“The sisters arranged for Christian’s airplane ticket,” Sister Jannette said. “When she got here, they enrolled her at Cardinal Ritter. She will be living with me for the rest of this year and next year. I know that God is giving us this time together. She will be graduating from high school and I’ll be making final vows [with the Oldenburg Franciscans] in 2007. She’s really excited about being here with me and I’m excited about having her here.”

This support from her community means so much, Sister Jannette said. “They are my backbone. Sister Jean Marie [Cleveland, the congregational minister] told me, ‘It’s not what you’re going to do anymore. It’s what we’re going to do.’ I told them, ‘You really make me feel like you want to be my sister as much as I want to be your sister.’ ”

Sister Jannette professed her first vows with Sister Kathleen Branham on July 5, 2004, at the motherhouse chapel in Oldenburg. Divine Word Father Charles Smith, one of her spiritual advisers with Franciscan Sister Catherine Schneider, was the celebrant for the Mass.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘How did you come to know that you’re Franciscan?’ ” she said. “I tell them, ‘Well, I’m from New Orleans so that was a given. In New Orleans, we are full of joy and we exude that feeling in hospitality. People are not strangers. People are to be greeted with love. I just give out whatever God has put into me, which is a lot of joy.’ ”

Sister Jannette said she believes God called her to sisterhood when she was a young woman.

“I believe he called me first to sisterhood,” she said, “but at that time they were not taking that many African-American women into religious life. They didn’t even tell us in school where to pursue this so I figured I was supposed to be a mom.”

The National Black Sisters Conference recently featured Sister Jannette and 11 other sisters in a national Religious Life Stewardship campaign to promote “the mosaic face of religious life.”

In the campaign brochure, she describes her life journey as a “God-quest” and explains that a true steward follows the call to be a disciple of Christ.

“I am a person of the Church,” Sister Jannette explained in the brochure. “I am black, Catholic, [the] mother of three adult children and [have] three granddaughters. And now I am called to serve the Lord as a Sister of St. Francis of Oldenburg.” †


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