Climbing the face of Yosemite National Park’s most familiar rock formation, Half Dome, places you almost 5,000 feet closer to heaven than the valley earth below. But it takes strength and energy to get there, sometimes down on both knees.
For Sister Jane Ann Slater, CDP, the climb up the side of a mountain once named Tis-sa-ack after a legendary Native American mother, wasn’t easy. But, like her journey on earth, where she has served as teacher, counselor and mother superior, she loved every minute of it.
The all-day hike several years ago, according to Sister Slater, counts as the craziest thing she’s ever done. Committing her life to God and the Congregation of Divine Providence, by contrast, was the easiest.
From the time she longed to be just like her first-grade teacher, Sister Schmidtzinsky, CDP, at St. Edwards School in Texarkana, Ark., the young Slater always felt called. She entered the community after her first year of college.
“I have to say when I look at it now that it was not so much about being holy that I admired then. That wasn’t the base of it yet,” says Sister Slater, who professed her vows with 12 other women in 1957. “But when I got my habit, it was a very emotional sense of entering into something mysterious, and I knew this was where I belonged.”
Like her new sisters in Christ, Sister Slater departed Our Lady of the Lake Convent, degree in hand, to teach. Her new post in Shreveport, La., put her closer to her childhood home and extended family, for what she calls “two great years.”
In fact, even while busy serving as a virtual CEO of the CDPs in her two stints as superior general, she has kept in touch with many of her former students. She considers teaching the greatest blessing of her life.
The former students Sister Slater taught at San Antonio’s Providence Catholic School are returning to school this weekend for the annual “Reaching for the Stars” Gala which will honor their former chemistry teacher and beloved mentor, while raising funds for student scholarships at the all-girl campus.
“I love the students there. I love the fact that they are down-to-earth young women, from salt-of-the-earth families and open to being challenged to becoming their best selves,” says Sister Slater. “They go from being little girls to being confident young women who know that there is more in life than just having a lot of money. They have a sense of justice. I just love what the school does.”
Though her six-year term as superior general is coming to an end in June, Sister Slater says she has too much energy to retire from teaching and leading — “I will know when it’s time.” She plans to follow up some travel this summer with a position at Assumption Seminary.
Sister Slater will continue to live at the convent, where a fire in 2008 devastated the community, while giving the school new life. “It was a horrible feeling (to watch the fire consume Main Building), but hearing what the sisters and students had to say about how God’s providence would take care of us was so life-giving at the same time,” says Sister Slater.
“To be a Sister of Divine Providence … what a gift to have that charism of providence in God’s guidance of us, holding us, encouraging and challenging us and getting our attention to help us make the right choices,” says Sister Slater.
She would not make the choice to climb Half Dome again, she says, though enjoying easier hikes is still in her future plans.
“I don’t think we’re aware of how much God loves to spend time with us, to enjoy what we enjoy. Did I know that 54 years ago? I don’t know, but through the years, this has grown in me, and my spiritual life has deepened.
“I wouldn’t want to be anyone else than who I am.”
Shari L. Biediger is a San Antonio freelance writer and grant writer. Her two daughters attend Providence Catholic School. Contact Sister Antoinette Billeaud, CDP, principal, at email@example.com making donations to Providence in honor of Sister Slater.