Sr. Joan Schaefer, SSND
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—[says] the Lord—
plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.
When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.
Q. Sister, how have you experienced God’s goodness in your life of ministry?
A. God’s goodness was with me from an early age as my parents nurtured me in the Catholic faith. I continued to experience that goodness while I was educated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame from kindergarten through the twelfth grade. Years later, after I had joined the SSND congregation and became a missionary in Africa, I experienced God’s goodness in a new and surprising way.
In my part-time ministry to women prisoners, I proudly thought I was bringing Christ to them, but one day it hit me hard that, in spite of their great hardships, these women were bringing Christ to me by their singing, dancing, and cheerful spirits. That enlightenment spilled over into other areas of my life. Some of my usual negativity and paranoia were lessened, and I felt tremendous gratitude to God and to those women who introduced me to a God of joy who is everywhere—including prisons.
Q. In what ways was your active ministry an example of servant leadership?
A. My belief is that all who minister in the Church are servant leaders in one way or another. My particular ways were as a teacher and an administrator, but even more so as a caring community member. I was always ready to pitch in and do my part, having grown up in a large family where that was expected. I feel that my willingness to serve others was a good example to our young African sisters with whom I lived. While they may have learned from me, I also became better enculturated through them. As an American I tend to be task-and-time-conscious, but Africans showed me that people and their needs always come before the clock. They showed me that it is truly life-giving to “waste time”—their expression—with and for others.
Q. What does the Catholic Church and/or Catholic faith sustain in you?
A. I know that I owe a lot to the Catholic Church and my faith; from the time of my baptism until now, these are the biggest blessings of my life. As the years moved along and many things changed in our Church and our religious congregations, I willingly changed, too. I saw the wisdom in adapting to new paradigms, and I feel grateful to our SSND leaders who have always led the way.
Above all, we never lost sight of the importance of the Eucharist and the sacraments, and these continue to sustain us. Our leaders also helped us to discover the value of contemplative dialogue, and we have come to realize more and more that salvation is not about saving my soul but about living the mission of Christ, which includes all of humanity and all of creation.
Q. What gives you hope in the Church today?
A. Our SSND goal of living the mission of Christ, which includes all of humanity and all of creation, is true not just for SSND but for all who try to live the gospel of Christ. Today there are women and men who feel the call of Christ to serve others, a call similar to ours in the last century, but now moving in a different direction. The current needs are on the horizon as we can witness every day in reports about immigration, racism, climate change, trafficking, and other dehumanizing realities of life.
I hope the Church continues studying the needs and finds ways to address them through individuals and groups. It makes my heart glad to read about and witness the way young folks have stepped up to answer various needs during the pandemic. Christ continues to call. I have great hope that our Church, other denominations, and people of good faith will support the social issues and make this a better world.