No matter what area we choose to serve in, we are here to help people.
Sister Janet Slingerland celebrates her 70th year of service to God this July during the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon’s Jubilee celebration.
Sister Janet grew up in Portland as the oldest of three children. She has fond memories growing up in a Dominican neighborhood with lots of friends and welcoming neighbors. “All of us kids were close and enjoyed our time together and our neighbor’s door was always open,” Sister Janet said. “We often found ourselves around her table enjoying fresh baked bread.”
Grade school was fun because of her many friends, but things became difficult when Sister Janet’s father left while she was in the fifth grade. She recalls it as a heartbreaking time for her entire family. Her mother was pregnant and the family struggled with the upheaval. They had to move but found stability at Immaculate Heart Parish and here with the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon.
Sister Janet’s aunt was able to talk with Sister Consilia Mosey, Dean of Grade School Residents at that time, and she was allowed to continue her education at St. Mary of the Valley. “The edification of the Sisters was very helpful for me,” Sister Janet said.
Even as a young child, Sister Janet felt strongly about her vocation. Her time at the boarding school learning from the Sisters, especially Sister Theresa Margaret Yettick and Sister Consilia, helped nourish her passion and guide her steps. She joined the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in 1953 and finished her senior year of high school as a postulant.
Sister Janet joined the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon at a time of rapid growth. She recalls that there were about 20 novitiates at that time. “It was wonderful for us. We all grew up together, learned together and worked together,” she says.
Sister Janet continued her education by earning her bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst College and master’s degree from Mount Angel Seminary. From there she would spend 30 years as an elementary school teacher, vice principal and principal in Oregon and Washington. She also served as Dean of Residents at St. Mary of the Valley.
“I didn’t think teaching would be for me, but I soon realized that I was a very passionate teacher,” Sister Janet says. “My childhood experiences helped me connect with my students and read them. I had a knack for figuring out their monkey business.”
Thirty years in a profession is a great career for many people. For Sister Janet it meant it was time to shift focus and go back to school. She decided it was time to focus on health care so she continued her education at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Springs, Maryland and at Washington Theological Union in the District of Columbia. She had to get used to the site of blood. “The site of blood used to make me faint – even a small scrape and I would pass right out,” she said. She worked constantly to move past that, placing mind over matter to care for people in the hospital setting. That work proved helpful because she was assigned to an intensive care unit that focused on open heart surgery. “There was always blood in the emergency areas. I just had to get comfortable being around it.”
During this time, Sister Janet was certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains and received chaplain advanced status from the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, specializing in bereavement. She found God’s help in the way He could speak for her while serving women and teens who were suffering from trauma. “There are so many things that can fuel anger in people. Death, rape, abuse, even just a wrong word to someone can fuel an anger and pain that is difficult for people to process,” she said. Sister Janet found strength in God’s ability to help her support and encourage women, teens, and families dealing with grief, trauma and anger.
“There were many tough situations and your heartbreaks for people in these situations,” Sister Janet said. “What really helped me process these situations was the joy I got from spending time with my fellow Sisters.” Sisters Rita Rose Stohosky and Theresa Ann Bunker have been Sister Janet’s best friends for decades. She acknowledges that they could always make her laugh.
Sister Janet has great admiration for her best friends and the feeling is mutual. Sister Rita Rose says, “Sister Janet is generous, fun-loving and cheerful. She has always been there for me. From helping me with our studies, to lifting me up with her wonderful laugh, to even saving my life.”
Sister Rita Rose did not know how to swim when she entered the convent. One day several of the Sisters were swimming at Marylhurst. She got comfortable making her way to the deep end, but literally got in over her head when she accidentally belly-flopped off of the diving board. “The impact took all the air out of me and I struggled to stay above water, thankfully Sister Janet spotted me and sprang into action,” she says. With the help of Sister Edna Rae Crosier, Sister Janet was able to safely grab Sister Rita and pull her to the side of the pool. “I always give her credit for that,” Sister Rita Rose says. “She is a real blessing to me.”
Sister Janet acknowledges that it has been a wonderful life. “I have had so many amazing experiences. The friendships, the edification, the direction I received would have never been realized outside of religious life,” she said. “That is what makes religious life special. It is a dedication to help people. No matter what area you choose to serve in religious life, you are here to help people.”