Meet Sister Jeanne Ranek
It took a while for God to get my attention. From toddlerhood through my first year of college, I never entertained the notion of becoming a nun. In fact, as a second grader attending Saturday catechism class, I stayed firmly planted on my seat when the teacher asked all the little girls who wanted to be sisters when we grew up to stand. I thought I’d like to have babies, and already I could see that the two choices would be incompatible.
So, a drawing to the religious vocation took me by surprise at the end of my freshman year of college at Mount Marty. I dismissed the idea repeatedly, but it never went away for long. Finally, during my senior year of college, I could no longer ignore the strong pull toward the religious life.
In those days (the early 60s) one could not visit communities the way searchers do now. Instead, I read books — about Benedictines, Carmelites, Maryknoll, and others to sense where God might be calling me. Graduating with a degree in social work, I explored a community invested in those ministries but quickly let that go in favor of monastic varieties of life. I corresponded for a while with a nun I now know to be a famous author, a member of an enclosed monastic community on the East Coast. At the time, those nuns were never allowed to visit families, and that did not seem right to me. I’d grown up on a farm within a family of loving parents, two brothers, and a sister, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of their lives through the years while honoring my primary commitment to community. I kept searching and slipped into the darkened chapel late at night to pray about it. Suddenly I knew where to go, and the journey led right next door.
When I entered Sacred Heart Monastery, ministry options were nursing or teaching. Since my education clearly did not qualify me for the nursing profession, I was assigned to begin teaching at Mount Marty High School during my postulancy. After the novitiate, I returned to teach full time at MMHS and supervise up to 90 resident high-school students for several years until the very sad moment when the community voted to close the school in the spring of 1969.
That year I was asked to enroll in graduate school, and I earned a Masters Degree and Doctor of Philosophy from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. That led to a ministry of research and consultation with our own and a number of other Benedictine communities and of teaching sociology and psychology courses at Mount Marty College for 10 years. After that I served as the first Director of The Shelter for abused women and children in Omaha. Later I was chaplain to men and women in treatment for chemical dependency in Topeka, KS and the Hazelden Foundation in Minnesota, before establishing a solo counseling practice out of an office at the Monastery.
In 1990 I had the opportunity to begin working full time in spirituality ministry at a Benedictine Retreat Center in Oregon where I also began teaching and directing a two-year ministry formation program for individuals called to be spiritual directors, a program I’ve continued for 27 years. After three years on the West Coast, I returned home and continue working in spiritual direction, retreats, and adult education while serving as Director of the Benedictine Peace Center at our own monastery in Yankton.
Nunhood has blessed me with the opportunity to serve many women and men locally, in other Benedictine communities across the United States, and in East Africa and the Philippines as retreat director, facilitator, and consultant. Through the years, I was privileged to serve in leadership positions with the American Benedictine Academy, Association of Benedictine Retreat Centers, and the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue Board.
I am amazed at the variety and richness of all these experiences as a Benedictine Sister. I am grateful that I didn’t stay sitting when I finally heard God’s call to get up and come!