Sister Jane Ann Slater: A rare gem retires
July 12, 2021 | posted by Carol Baass Sowa
Sister Jane Ann Slater: A rare gem retires
Her light has shown far beyond the little town of Texarkana, Ark., where Sister Jane Ann Slater, CDP, grew up. Raised by her widowed mother and nurtured by the Sisters of Divine Providence at their 12-year school, she would not only become the first in her congregation to serve twice as superior general, but would step up, at a time of crisis, to serve as president of Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU), 2013-2015.
The latter earned her the distinction of being the only sister at that time to serve as president of a Catholic university or college in the Southwest and one of only 30 women religious leading a Catholic institution nationwide. Topping that off, came the singular honor in 2015 of being appointed the first female chancellor for the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Born in Pittsburgh, Sister Jane Ann was only a year and a half old when her father died from complications related to a car accident in which both her parents were injured. To be near family, she and her mother returned to her mother’s home town of Texarkana where, in first grade at Providence Academy, Sister Jane Ann decided she would one day become a CDP -- just like her beloved teacher, Sister Adrienne Marie Schmidtzinsky. “I wanted to be just like her,” recalls Sister Jane Ann.
By the time she graduated high school, the school’s name had changed to St. Edward’s, but her resolve to become a Divine Providence sister remained. She was advised to try a year of college at Our Lady of the Lake first, however, which she did in fall of 1954, majoring in chemistry. It was good advice. “I had a year of having to be somewhat independent,” she relates, “although Our Lady of the Lake was run like a little convent, but I had to manage my own affairs and it was a great year.” She took first vows in 1957 and began teaching while in college.
Over the years, she taught elementary, junior high and high school classes, in schools that included St. Joseph’s, Shreveport, La.; St. Louis, Castroville; St. Joseph’s, Yoakum; St. Mary’s, Lawton, Okla.; and Providence, San Antonio. While chemistry was her specialty, she also taught biology, physics and math, as needed, and of course, religion classes. “Teaching is hard work,” she says, “but I loved it.”
She taught for a year at OLLU, after which came graduate school and a National Defense Education Act fellowship for four years at the University of Colorado, earning her doctorate in inorganic chemistry. (She later received an honorary Doctor of Pastoral Leadership degree from Oblate School of Theology.)
Returning, she served 18 years in congregational leadership -- six on council and two non-consecutive six-year terms as superior general, between which she taught 11 years in OLLU’s chemistry department. After her final term as superior, she spent another 11 years teaching chemistry at Providence High School.
“One of the most fun things about teaching chemistry in high school -- and in college,” she relates, “was watching people catch on to something. They’d look puzzled and then, all of a sudden, their eyes would kind of open and you could see those ‘aha’ moments.”
Next, she served the Archdiocese of San Antonio as director of studies for Assumption Seminary and on the committee assisting Archbishop Gustavo in developing his pastoral vision for the archdiocese.
Her two-and-a-half-year stint as OLLU president came at a time when morale there was down and a thorough search for a new president needed to be conducted. Sister Jane Ann was firm though about not signing on as a short-term interim president since many serious things needed to be addressed, including letting faculty know they were appreciated.
Definitely in her element, she happily set about accepting invitations to drop in on classes. “I saw some phenomenal teaching going on,” she says. “It was just amazing what they were doing, how they were interacting and how their students were progressing. I was happy to have been a part of that.” Ultimately, programs or majors previously slated to be dropped were saved in new ways, led by a specialist in assessing programs and with everyone pitching in to implement changes.
As her presidency drew to a close in 2015, Sister Jane Ann was on her last day visiting Tucson when she realized she had faithfully checked e-mail daily, but not her phone. A quick look revealed six calls from Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, MSpS, and two from the Pastoral Center, leading to a quick meeting with him in San Antonio early the next morning, before he left for Chicago and she interviewed a presidential candidate for OLLU.
“I want you to be my chancellor,” the archbishop told her, quickly filling her in on what the position required. She needed to pray about it and get permission from then superior general, Sister Ann Petrus, CDP, but after that, her answer was, “I’m willing to do this.”
As chancellor, Sister Jane Ann served as chief notary and record-keeper for the archdiocese, certifying documents, preparing the archdiocese’s quinquennial report to the pope, being liaison with apostolic groups and overseeing revamping of the archives space. Also under her bailiwick were preparing letters of good standing for laity, gathering information for the Official Catholic Directory, getting out the quarterly memo for priests and organizing retreats, socials and the like for archdiocesan employees.
Now officially retired, she looks forward to the spontaneity this will afford. On June 30, a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Gustavo in the Sacred Heart Chapel at OLLU, followed by a reception, marked her final day as chancellor. “I have been blessed with loving all of my ministries, this one as chancellor included,” she says. “I’m a providential woman. I believe that we co-create with Providence. We make the world better by our lives. It’s been a great life. I wouldn’t change anything.”