“God was always part of our life as a family. However, it took 27 years before I could say, ‘Yes,’ to religious life.” said Sister Juana Gutierrez, a  Sister of St. Mary of Oregon. 

This July, Sister Juana will celebrate 25 years of service to God during the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon’s Jubilee celebration.

Sister Juana was born in Jalisco, Mexico and grew up with nine siblings. In 1992, her family moved to Hillsboro, Oregon and found a community at St. Matthew Catholic Church. She enjoyed going to prayer, Mass and spending time with friends that were also part of the young adult community in both St. Matthew and Sr. Alexander Parishes. 

Sister Juana had no intention of becoming a Sister. She did not attend Catholic school and was not exposed to Catholic Sisterhood as a child. Her time spent in her faith communities was the start of discovering her passion for God. 

In 1995, a close friend of Sister Juana invited her to a discernment retreat at the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon Motherhouse. At that time, she had not yet come to know her vocation, but when she observed Sister Elizabeth Ann Vanderzanden’s peaceful demeanor at the dinner table, she said to herself, “If one day, I become a Sister, I would like to be like her.” That was all it took.

At age 28, Sister Juana joined the SSMO community and spent her novitiate years learning the ways of religious life and improving her understanding of the English language. After three years, her ministry took her to Sr. Anthony Parish in Forest Grove and later to Valley Catholic Early Learning School. This is where she discovered her desire to minister to children. “I just love being around children,” said Sister Juana. “They’re so easy. They’re not complicated at all. And their problems are easy to solve. They give me a lot of joy. I love being with them.” Currently, she is teaching third grade at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Milwaukie. 

Reflecting on her unique path to ministry, Sr. Juana concludes, “Try before you say no. Pray and be open. Visiting multiple communities and staying a few months is helpful in discerning God’s call for you.”