Sister Jean Marie Van Dyke

Sister Jean Marie Van Dyke

The life and ministry of Sister Jean Marie Van Dyke: In her own words

March 14, 1939, just could not wait to welcome me as a new member of the human race. I, Joanne Theresa Van Dyke, was born prematurely to Theodore Matthias and Petronella Vandehey Van Dyke in Verboort, Oregon, at the home of John and Constance Hermens Van Dyke. On March 17, Joanne Theresa was baptized at Visitation Catholic Church by Father Jonas.

I came into the world as the tenth child of what soon would be 16 children. There were nine boys and seven girls. Two of the boys were twins, Norbert and Norman (Salt and Pepper by name), as one had light hair and the other dark.

Growing up in a large family has many pluses and minuses. We grew up on a small berry and hop farm in St. Paul, Oregon, a community of approximately 250-300 families when I lived there. Yes, we had to work hard but I don’t recall a lot of griping and complaining. We knew our tasks and we got them done as soon as possible so we would have time for play. Oh, yes, play. Coming from a large family does not provide many luxuries and pleasures outside of food, clothing, and shelter. So, we improvised. We thoroughly enjoyed the normal games of childhood but when all the minds met we could also be quite creative. There was never room for boredom nor a dull moment! The twins were double trouble. What one did not think of the other did. For instance, could you drive a ”farm tractor” up on a 50 gallon wine barrel and keep it dangling there on one wheel while you jumped off and scurried into hiding? Or, what joy it must have been to see how long it would take to burn all of the cushions and doilies from the living room in the fireplace while the rest of us were enjoying our Christmas elsewhere chattering? Or, can you imagine a search and rescue team of fourteen of us frantically searching the house and farm for Salt who would not respond to our calls, our bribes, etc. We had searched every inch of the house and yard, so we thought. When we were about to call the police, something inspired me to look under and behind dad’s desk in the formal dining room. There, curled up in a ball and sound asleep, lay Salt. He was not about to let all that raucous and concern bother his nap time! And, we could go on with many other antics.

Yes, I can remember the hand-me-down clothing, shoes, etc. but to each of us it was new so who cared until school chums began to make fun of them or talked behind my back. I guess that is when I learned how to sew very quickly. That was to be a blessing in disguise for years to come. About this same time, when I was 10 or 11 years old, my mother almost died of infectious hepatitis contracted through a blood transfusion. That caused my sister, Ethel, and me to mature very quickly as there were still 13 of us at home and no mom to care for us. Dad was super busy just trying to make a living. Ethel and I took turns staying home from school until an older sister, Eileen, could quit her job at Meier and Frank in Portland. Our neighbors, Edward and Eleanor Davidson (Sister Sharon Kirk’s aunt and uncle), were a great blessing to our family. They helped in so many unbelievable and loving ways especially during mom’s illness. As in any large family, all of us were given jobs, almost like a factory work schedule. As the oldest left home, the next one moved up and took that job. We were very organized in that way and accomplished much.

The first and foremost childhood memory that constantly comes back to me is the longing and waiting for my brother, Ed, to get back from World War II. I would sit and wait each day for the mail to come to see if we had received any letter from Ed. I was about five years old at the time and pictures of me holding the one star flag indicated my deep grief of not being able to talk with him. What a joy when he finally returned home. I just could not understand war and all that was going on, but I did understand an aching heart.

I remember, as I grew up over the years, Mom would be sitting in her favorite rocker and I would sneak over and cuddle up beside her. We would just sit there and talk or share family stories.

Speaking of family: There were some great moments during my adolescent years. I really think that is when thoughts of religious life really came to me. Since we did not have a public library and the school library was very minimal, I read whatever I could get my hands on when I had time between work and play. Most of my reading centered on the lives of the saints (that was about all the books they had at school) and the missionary magazines that came to our home. At this time I was determined I was going to be a saint and unbelievably made sacrifices, prayed (aside from the family rosary every night) and was super good to my brothers and sisters. Even my siblings wondered what had happened to me.

I had the Holy Name Sisters as teachers for four out of my eight years of elementary education. They were fantastic! Sister Francis Madden was one of my favorite teachers. From fifth grade on, the Sisters or the public school principal would call upon me to take a classroom when a teacher could not be there. I supervised (so to speak) the lower grades and when I was in seventh and eighth grades I took the middle grades for the lay principal (public school). Who could have known how that experience would play out in later years? Actually, I think the Holy Names knew  they were constantly and politely talking to me about religious life.

My high school years found me very busy – not only with school work – but different offices I was elected to. All of these opportunities led to great possibilities as graduation was nearing. The experience of being student body treasurer and district book fund treasurer opened up several job possibilities in that area with the local store, bank and school district. The auditor gave me excellent recommendations which opened those doors. With that, I decided I could work my way through college to become a teacher. I was also given a scholarship to Mt. Angel College which was within traveling distance. Now the discernment becomes very difficult. In the back of my mind, I had the nagging thoughts of religious life but also wanted the experience of work and college. However, my dreams were always filled with religious life events. In the end, I followed those dreams and entered the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in September 1957. It was because of my brother-in-law that I entered our community rather than the Holy Names or Providence Sisters.

I spent 18 years teaching elementary grades, mostly at the junior high level. I did a few rounds as principal that also included teaching 50 students all day and supervising playground & maintenance in addition to the office work of a principal. My first love has always been teaching and I felt trying to do both principal work and teaching sacrificed one or the other, so I opted for teaching. I was the bookkeeper for St. Mary of the Valley (now Valley Catholic) grade school, high school, residency, and music department for about six years.

In 1985, Sr. Barbara Ann Klapperich asked me to drive down to Lakeview, Oregon, with her as she was looking into a job there and did not want to drive that distance by herself. God works in strange ways. Sister Barbara Ann knew immediately that she did not want the job. I got home and had dreams about the place every night. I sat down and talked with Sr. Anna Hertel, our newly elected Superior General. She felt it was God calling me there. Hindsight definitely proved that to be true. A lot of uncomfortable things had happened during those latter ten years that depleted my self confidence and self worth. I will be forever grateful to the people of Lakeview who, unknowingly, picked me up, built me up, and made me whole. Hardly a day goes by without me thinking of them and praying in thanksgiving for them. This was also the beginning of my pastoral work. It was while I was at Lakeview that I attended Santa Clara University in the summers, studying in pastoral and liturgical areas.

All roads have lumps, bumps, twists, turns, high points and low points. My life has had all that and more but I would not trade it for anything else. I have learned from each experience and hopefully have become a better person as a result. I thank God for his great gifts to me!

A photo album

We invite you to enjoy photos from the life and ministry of Sr. Jean Marie Van Dyke.