By Angelica Casas
Sister Jane Ann Slater, Ph.D., president of Our Lady of the Lake University, has been a sister of the Congregation of Divine Providence for nearly six decades.
Slater grew up in Texarkana, Arkansas as an only child to a widowed mother after her father passed away in a car accident when she was only one-year-old. She attended St. Edward’s Catholic School in Texarkana, where sisters of the Congregation of Divine Providence taught her. Among her teachers was Sister Adrienne Marie Schmidtzinsky, who taught Slater from first to fourth grade, and whom Slater had already decided would be her role model.
“I just thought she was the most wonderful person in the world,” Slater said, adding that she wanted to be just like Schmidtzinsky, who is still alive and living in the Convent’s Reagan Hall. “I don’t think I was very holy, but I wanted to be like (the sisters).”
After graduating high school from a small class of 14 students, Slater came to Our Lady of the Lake College. Slater entered the convent the summer of 1955 after her freshman year, guided by Sister Elizabeth Ball, who was her chemistry professor.
Q: How did you discern that this was your vocation?
A: They talk a lot about discernment today. In those days… all of the people that entered the convent with me had been taught by sisters. The discernment – we just didn’t have to do all of that. I felt at home, it was done quickly. I mean it takes people today forever to discern, to decide. Part of that need to discern is that most of the women who are considering vocations today haven’t had experience with sisters. Not only do they have to look at the whole thing of belonging to a religious congregation of women, but they also have to find the congregation… the women who have joined us, what they tell us is that when they came to visit us, they felt at home. And that’s the way I have always felt with the Sisters of Divine Providence. I’m at home; I’m where I belong.
Q: What has been your most memorable experience as a consecrated person?
A: I’ve been blessed in my years as a sister. Whatever I’ve done, I’ve enjoyed… I really love teaching, but it’s hard work. One of the things I like most about having taught at Providence most recently, I run into my students everywhere and it’s so much fun. In the big picture of everything, my years in teaching in both elementary and middle school, high school and university, that’s been so rewarding. You just know you make a difference in people’s lives.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced while being consecrated or because of your consecration?
A: When I was at school at the University of Colorado – I was there in my life between 30 and 33 – it was a 4-year span. I was out by myself, I was working in the lab, I was taking courses, I had friends. I think if you’re ever going to have a challenge to your vocation, women in particular, this comes along about 33, when Jesus had his passion, his terrible part of his life. Because as a person who doesn’t have children, who lives a celibate life, women start thinking, “If I really want to be married, if I want to have children, I’m going to have to do that pretty soon” because you can’t have children all your life. I had a really hard challenge to my vocation but I came through that, had good friends and good advice, prayed a lot and I think it grounded me more.
The other part that’s both a blessing and a challenge in religious life is community. Think about it. I entered with 13 other young women. All of us had come from different families with different customs and different ways of doing things… being put together like that is difficult; community is difficult. Very often, it’s not the big things that irritate you; it’s the little insignificant things. I can’t tell you how much I value being part of a group of women who have the same value system, the same trust in Providence, the same mission and willingness to serve… I just love being a part of that group of women and I get irritated sometimes.
Q: Describe your years of consecrated life.
A: I have been trying my best to live out the mission of the Sisters of Divine Providence. We say in our constitution, which is our rule, that by virtue of Providence, we are co-creators with God to improve the world…. I’ve really been blessed and challenged to live, not only our trust in Providence, but I’ve grown to understand more our other virtues that tour founder gave us, which our poverty, charity and simplicity. We’re all in this together and I love it.
I’ve had a great life, I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I’m grateful, I’ve been happy all my life. One of the things that I am most grateful for is the fact that I have an “at homeness” in the congregation and in what I do and I’m grateful every single day.