Sister Ann Ashwood-Piper

June 11, 2010 by

Ann Ashwood was born in Moline, Ill., but her family soon moved to Phoenix, and then to Indiana. That pattern, it turned out, would repeat itself over and over for half her life.

Ann, now 65, graduated from high school in a suburb of Milwaukee and then enrolled at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. While there, she spent a semester at Knoxville College, a historically black college in Mechanicsville, Tenn. (“It was the ’60s and I was one of three whites on a campus of 900 blacks,” she recalls. “And I was exactly where I wanted to be.”)

When she transferred to Marquette University, she had a different kind of immersion experience: Rasied as a Presbyterian, she was surrounded by Catholic students and Jesuit priests. She was struck by importance religion played in the lives of her classmates. “I really admired their faith,” she says. “These were college kids who went to daily Mass.”

She also became acquainted with the Jesuit priests who taught at Marquette — “very bright, very committed men,” Ann recalls — and ultimately asked one of them for instruction in the Catholic faith, and she eventually converted.

While at Marquette, Ann also met the man who would become her husband, and the driving force behind several more moves in the coming years as he launched his career. First the couple moved to St. Paul, Minn., and then “to the outback of West Virginia.” It was there they adopted their first child, daughter Rebecca, now 36.

The next move took them to Minneapolis, where they adopted son Zachary, who is now 35.

Then, 33 years ago, they made one more move — to Grand Junction, Colo., where Ann still lives. There they adopted Hannah and then a year and a half later added brother and sister Tony and Abby to the family. Hannah and Abby are both 30 now, and Tony is 31.

(“My last three kids are all within 10 months of each other, so it’s kind of like a litter,” Ann wisecracks.)

And Ann was doing more than tending the growing family. She completed a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, taught in a number of Catholic schools, then taught in public schools for 17 years, eventually earned another master’s degree — this time in educational administration from Northern Colorado University — and seven years ago took over as principal at Grand Junction’s Holy Family Catholic School, which has some 420 pre-school through eighth-grade students.

It was during those years that Ann and her husband divorced, and a year later he died.

She had always been active in her local parish, but it was through her role as an educator that she got to know Sisters Pat Lewter and Faye Huelsmann, who live and work in Grand Junction. After Ann became principal at Holy Family, she invited Sister Pat to work there as a part-time counselor.

“About four years ago, I went out to dinner with them and (Sister) Nancy Meade, and Faye told me about this new form of membership their congregation was introducing,” Ann recalls. “The more I heard, the more I felt it was designed exactly for me.”

Ann came to Concordia in 2008 to begin the formal process of becoming an agrégée sister. She returned in the summer of ’09 to take part in an intensive monthlong seminar on the history and origins of the Sisters of St. Joseph. And this summer she is here to profess her vow of fidelity to the congregation.

“I love God and I love God’s people, and this is my avenue for expressing that love,” she explains. “Being an agrégée is about my relationship with God.”

That is not something that her five children necessarily understand. There is a hint of sadness in her voice when she explains that none of her children, or her six grandchildren, attends any church regularly. But, she adds, they support her decision to become a Sister of St. Joseph even if they don’t completely understand it. “I have a very loving family, and by loving me, they allow me to make choices for myself.”

Those choices include adding “Sister” before her name when she returns to her job this fall. “I’ll be Sister Ann as a witness, both to the kids and to their parents, of service to God and the dear neighbor,” she explains.

But with Ann, the seriousness doesn’t last. “This has to be an authentic choice directed by God,” she says before adding with a laugh, “Whoever heard of a 65-year-old mother of five kids becoming a sister?”


2 Responses to “Sister Ann Ashwood-Piper”

  1. Cecile Goldthorn on March 11th, 2013 10:31 pm

    This is what I have been looking for all of my life. I entered the SSNDs in St. Louis in 1962 at age 17. I stayed a year. This was a time of great change and upheaval in religious life. Changes in just about everything. A year after I left, the St. Louis Province split and the South Central Province in Dallas was formed on the Campus of the University of Dallas. Those of us who were from the south were asked if we wanted to begin again on “home” territory. I went in August of 1964. The changes were so new, and we were attending classes on campus at the university with co-eds, driving to classes, etc. I was in shock and although the atmosphere and prayer were so much healthier. I, once again, left after a year. I married and have three grown daughters and five grandchildren ages 18 to 6. I have been searching, searching (like the old song says). I even went to Wales to visit the Poor Clares; I felt so at home and would probably have stayed then and there if not for the distance across the pond Having family and a beloved 4-legged friend here, my visits would be few and far between.. After much prayer I decided that wasn’t what God had in mind for me. This belonging, being attached to is what women my age (68) are searching for. If only other communities would offer this, it would be a new age for the Church that is lacking in religious women.

  2. Gwen Huber on June 13th, 2011 4:25 pm

    Just to let you know, if you do not already know:

    Sister Ann Ashwood’s Mom, Helen, died either last Thursday night, June 9th or early Friday morning before dawn on Friday, June 10th. Death notice or obituary is not in the newspaper yet.

    Sister Ann has been my principal the last few years and my friend for several decades. I would like to contribute a financial memorial in honor of Sister Ann and her mother, Helen. Could you please tell me how to do that?

    Gwen Huber

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