Show me a sign: sisters answer your questions
Ask a sister: Q&A series with our Franciscan community
Sister Beth Saner
Q: How did you get involved in the field of education?
A: As a new Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration in 1966, our options were hospital work or education. I registered as a medical technology major but had no idea what that would mean. When we toured the hospital, it occurred to me that I would have to work there. Yikes! I changed my major to music education the next day. A Catholic sister who knew me well said to me, “I wondered how long it would be until you came to your senses.” It had been six weeks.
Q: What has been your ministry experience?
A: I was an elementary teacher for one year, then a high school teacher for two years. I spent the next 18 years working in the music department at the college level as well as in campus ministry. I was also the choir director for 14 years for the Diocese of La Crosse in Wisconsin. For the past 20 years I have been a spiritual director, 18 of those years co-facilitator of the Spiritual Direction Internship at the Claret Center, Chicago, Illinois. I have also been guiding women in our FSPA incorporation process — the stages to the profession of perpetual vows —for the past 16 years. Each experience provided a stepping stone into the next opportunity.
Q: What has been your favorite or most inspiring time in ministry?
A: I loved my years as a college faculty member. Working with college students and adults returning to school was always satisfying to me. In hindsight, what I do now was hidden in what I was doing then. I was an informal listener and companion. I listened as students spoke about their struggles in school, in making their lives work, their relationships, deciding what to do next or next year … I was never much of an “advice giver” since I really had no idea what they should be or do in most instances. I did invite them to hear and think through what they were saying and make choices.
Q: How do you see your current ministry as an evolution of FSPA’s tradition of education?
A: On the surface, education appears to be about imparting information and concepts. The education process itself deepens and expands as the teacher engages students in the process of learning to learn, to compare and contrast, to reason deeply, to think critically. When I was hired as a teacher, the focus of my contract was to do that. However, teachers also have a relationship with their students. Teachers often become mentors and confidants for students who need a place to process their lives and the experiences they are having. I was always one of those teachers who had students at the door seeking extra help and just needing to talk. Today, my ministry is focused on listening to others as they hear themselves in their own ongoing search for meaning and for the holy in their lives. Both spiritual direction itself and the training internship focus on the invitation to trust one’s experience and to live into its invitation to wholeness.
Q: What wisdom would you share with discerners considering religious life and education as a field of ministry?
A: Trust your experience. Trust your inner voice as it forms the question, “Is this for me?” Listen both within and around you. Notice what you notice. Find someone to chat with about your nudges. Listen to what you hear yourself say as you share your heart. There is just so much to learn every day. Serving the growth of the kingdom as an educator puts you right in the midst of that learning.
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