Story and photo by LIZ QUIRIN Messenger editor
At 55, she is one of the youngest women in her religious order. This, she sees as an opportunity, not a burden. But then her life has been about opportunity and growth — in faith and in relationship with God.
Sister Janis Yaekel, a Belleville native, did not, at first, easily accept her vocation to religious life. A graduate of the Academy of Notre Dame in Belleville, she said the caption under her senior picture could have read: “Person least likely to be a nun.”
After high school, she studied at the School Sisters of Notre Dame college in St. Louis, which had been opened to day students who were not pursuing entrance into the religious order.
A snow storm on the last day of class forced her to spend the night at the convent.
“Maybe God is trying to tell you something,” she said to herself, “but I’m not listening.”
At St. John the Baptist in Smithton, she met the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, also teaching at the school.
“I got to know the sisters as individuals, and I started to see things differently,” she said.
Community life appealed to her, and she talked to a priest at St. Meinrad Seminary where she was enrolled in a master’s degree program.
It became evident that it was not “whether” she would enter a religious community but “when.”
After requesting and receiving papers to apply to the Adorer community, she decided she “was not going to do this.”
Later, with the papers filled out, she headed to the mailbox. “When I put the application in the mailbox, I felt a sense of peace (that) it was right.”
She “never doubted this was the right choice. The Spirit confirmed me. It was God’s gift of a sense of ‘rightness’ of the decision. It was a very powerful experience of God.”
From that day, she has moved forward in her life as an Adorer.
Sister Yaekel spent eight years running an ecological farm called Earthworks in Plymouth, Ind., where she learned, and later taught people, to care for the earth and the environment.
“I learned to plow and disk with a tractor,” and learned from “Tommy Lee Turkey,” one of the animals on the farm. You can learn a lot by studying animal behavior and how they respond to their environment, she said.
Her time on the farm provided “a wonderful experience,” she said.
In the 1980s people in a parish in Ozark, Mo., encouraged her to follow her gifts to become a spiritual director, and in 1987, she completed an internship in spiritual direction.
These days, Sister Yaekel is energized not only by spiritual direction but also by her role on the ministry team at King’s House Retreat and Renewal Center in Belleville.
Sister Yaekel, firmly rooted in the charism of the Adorers said women religious have a special role in today’s society and in today’s church.
“As women religious, we need to start claiming our voice,” she said.
That voice should be raised to speak of inclusiveness. “Jesus was expansive in the way he loved,” Sister Yaekel said. “We need to widen the space of our tents and be more inclusive.”
To encourage vocations, “We need to be inclusive. God is calling all kinds of people. Let us open our arms and let them see what we have to offer.”
A woman who becomes a religious does not seek a life of safety and security, she said.
“Sometimes people look at women religious and wonder why we do it,” she said.
Those people may not see “we’re responding to a call, and it doesn’t have to make sense to other people; it’s not about a career. It’s about responding to God. To me that makes perfect sense. It’s where I’m supposed to be.”