Houlton native named General Superior of Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon

10 months ago

WINSLOW, Maine – “The worldwide Synod process that the Church has called us to challenges us to ‘Enlarge the space of your tent’ (Isaiah 54:2), and my tent stakes have just gotten widened big time!”

The initial reaction of Sister Judy Donovan, CSJ to her appointment as General Superior of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon is equal parts joy, excitement, and anticipation of the many responsibilities the Winslow resident will face when she assumes the role in August. Sister Judy was elected to the position for a 6-year term.

“The focus of my ministry will now be our entire congregation which includes over 450 sisters and hundreds of associates and partners in mission in 16 different countries. We are in some of the most conflict and crisis ridden places in the world, so the challenges and opportunities for service are great,” she said. “There are so many things to put in place here in Maine, but it was an awesome thing to go through the discernment process with my sisters and to say ‘yes’ in faith, trusting that God will direct us and be there to support and guide us.”

Sister Judy has been the leader of the Maine sector of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon since 2017, but her time as a Sister began 39 years ago. Although born in California, her family moved back to Houlton and her paternal potato farm roots when she was a child. She earned bachelor’s degrees in both psychology and philosophy from the University of Maine in Orono then entered with the Sisters to begin her initial formation.

“After my first vows, I worked for St. Andre’s Home in Lewiston and then was missioned to Brazil where I did pastoral work for eight years before returning home to make her final vows and begin graduate school studies,” she said.

Sister Judy earned a master’s degree in social work from Boston University before embarking on a 28-year journey along the Texas-Mexico border and throughout California.

“I worked for a national community organizing network helping diverse religious groups develop their leadership for social justice ministries and returned to Maine six years ago to help the Sisters and to engage in local and stateside ministries with Spanish speakers, the LGBTQ+ community, earth justice projects, and local interfaith anti-poverty efforts.”

Sister Judy’s leadership in Maine has followed the simple but powerful mission statement of the Sisters, “Loving God and Neighbor Without Distinction,” and an expanding schedule of helpful programming followed and still continues, including technology workshops for people ages 55 and over, in-person and online meetings for LTBTQ+ persons, an initiative that offers free environmental education events in “Saint Joseph’s Sanctuary,” and a nonsectarian support group for those with a loved one incarcerated. The Sisters also host Gospel reflection groups and other opportunities for people in the wider community to grow in faith.

Though she will now be based in France, Sister Judy will hardly be a stranger to Maine moving forward.

“Although I’ve lived most of my religious life thousands of miles away from my Sisters and family in Maine, it’s been a real grace of these last six years to be back in the state, able to work closely with my Sisters, and be close to family, especially my Mom, who will turn 99 on the day I take office,” said Sister Judy, who has two siblings and their families in the Bangor area and a younger brother and his family in Portland. “Being far for long periods will be a big change and a challenge but I trust that God will care for us all.”

Sister Judy’s focus in her new role has already been decided upon, encouraging her fellow Sisters to be “Women of the Dawn.”

“This comes from Pope Francis’ challenge to women religious to be like the women who went to the tomb after Jesus’ crucifixion expecting to find death and darkness but instead encountering new life and a new mission,” she said. “Amidst the darkness and death all around us, we want to be women of radical boldness, sustaining hope, collaborating with life-giving efforts wherever and however we can.”

 In essence, collaborating with the Holy Spirit who is already at work among people of goodwill around the world.

 “Our work in leadership will be to journey with our sisters and their partners around the world – listening, dialoging, discerning and acting with them – to support their efforts and help them deal with their challenges,” said Sister Judy. “As a Sister of St. Joseph, with a charism to live and promote the love of God and neighbor without distinction, my mission has always been as big as God’s love. With this new ministry, my ’neighborhood’ has just gotten bigger.”