A Franciscan Sister of Chippewa Descent

I am Sister Jan Villemure, a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, born in Newberry, MI and moved with my family to Manistique, MI at the age of 3. There I attended St. Francis de Sales Grade School. I am certain my vocation as a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity had its birth in my Grandmother Villemure’s prayers. She and my Dad encouraged my vocation. My Dad’s sister, Sister Paul James, was an Adrian Dominican. I never considered the Adrians because I knew and loved the Franciscans personally who taught me.

Franciscan Sister JanOur Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity made me the teacher I am today. They have instilled in me a love for learning, investigation, reading and hard work beginning at a very young age at St. Francis de Sales School in Manistique. My teachers were so enthusiastic and passionate about their teaching. They helped me marvel at the world of life and appreciate every cell and process and organ in living things. One boy at Catholic Memorial High School where I taught in Waukesha, WI said, on studying the nervous system, “ How can someone not believe in God after studying this?”

I remember a class assignment I did in the 70’s when I was taking a summer course at Silver Lake College on our Motherhouse campus. This assignment was in a file and was used in the 90’s by a study committee to redirect the water flow into and out of Silver Lake, a lake bordering our Motherhouse. I  mapped all the vegetation along the shoreline, identifying the genus and species of the plants-requiring many an exhilarating trip in a pontoon boat. I once sat on a hill of biting ants for ‘a lunch’ break and stepped on a ground wasp nest on another day. This did not lessen my fascination for the field of science.

Franciscan Sister Jan teaching high school studentsI am presently working at Silver Lake College of the Holy Family in the Education Department. I recently taught science and theology classes at Yuma Catholic High School in Arizona. Teaching junior high math, science and religion for 25 years and high school biology, anatomy/physiology and Introduction to Lab Science for 17 years, my assignments as a Sister have taken me to Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Hawaii and Arizona. Experiencing life in these varied locations of our country has given me opportunity to swim with the monk seals, eat raw yellow-fin tuna fish called ‘sashimi’, and also to snorkel, boogie board and whale-watch up close.

For many years I taught religion classes at school, for CCD programs, summer CCD or Confirmation programs. Presently teaching theology to high school seniors, I enjoy relating to the students on a deeper level and see how much they grow in their faith since I taught them as freshmen in science class. Truly we give a lot as teachers, but we also receive much from those we teach.

As a result of being missioned in many states, I’ve have encountered three holy people I greatly admire. I met Mother Teresa twice at the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia in 1976. I prayed next to her at a Eucharist for the Native Americans and kissed her hands at the sign of peace. I spoke to her before her speech in the civic center and had my picture taken with her. I visited Molokai where Father Damian did his great work with the lepers. I also met the man for whom Maximillian Kolbe offered his life, Franciszek Gajowniczek, at a talk he gave in West Covina, CA.  I am forever grateful.