Sister Jean Ann Walton

June 11, 2010 by

Jean Ann Walton literally began life with the Sisters of St. Joseph: She was born almost 61 years ago in the Sabetha, Kan., hospital then owned and operated by the Concordia congregation.

Her family soon moved to Augusta, Kan., where she grew up and lives today. After graduating from high school in 1967, she enrolled at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan.  While there, she says, the young woman raised in a Protestant family “became aware of Catholicism.” By the end of her second year in college, she had converted.

But as she left her childhood religion behind, so did she leave behind college. In 1969 she enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served for six years.

Returning to Kansas, she began a spiritual quest that led her — eventually — back to the Sisters of St. Joseph. She spent a year at Manna House of Prayer as a lay volunteer, but she also spent time in the inner city of Houston as a volunteer with the Jesuits.

By 1982, she believed she was ready for a total commitment to religious life, and entered the Concordia congregation as a postulant. In 1985 she professed temporary vows, but two years later asked that those vows be dispensed with.

“I came to realize that I wasn’t called to religious life at that time, even though I was grateful for what I learned from the sisters,” she says now of her decision to leave. “What I didn’t realize was that they planted a seed in me for down the road.”

And, she notes with some lingering pain, “When I left, I also basically left the Church. But I never left God. And God never left me.”

About seven years ago, Jean Ann explains, “I began to feel a need to go back to church — and I found a church where they are very mindful of ‘the dear neighbor,’ as the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph puts it.”

That was St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Andover, Kan., roughly 12 miles from her home in Augusta.

“Because of that welcoming church,” she says, “it began to tug on my heart to come back to this community.”

It was then she learned of the agrégée program launched in 2006 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, to recapture a form of membership that existed when the congregation was founded in the mid 17th century.

“I went to the very first ‘Agrégée Information Day’ (about three years ago) and here I am,” Sister Jean Ann notes with a laugh. “It’s been an awesome journey.”

It hasn’t been a journey that’s taken her away from Augusta, however.

After Sunday’s ceremony, she will return to her job as a shipping clerk for Aerospace Logistics at Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita. She will also continue her service at St. Vincent de Paul, as a religious education teacher, lector, eucharastic minister “or anywhere else God calls me to be.”

“There won’t be any huge changes because I already carry the charism within me,” she says. “This really is a calling from God. And what God wants, God gets — even if it takes a lifetime.”

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