Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Sister Janet Druffel, Guatemala missionary, celebrates golden jubilee in Colton

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the July 1, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Don, Sister Janet, Alice, Jim, Polly Druffel
The Druffels gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Religious life for their sister, Sister Janet of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Sister Janet is second from left. Her siblings, from left: Don, Alice, Jim, and Polly. (IR photo from the Guatemala Commission)

The small but faith-filled community of Colton came out in abundance on Sunday, June 15, to honor one of their own.

The joyful congregation of St. Gall Parish took the occasion to celebrate and applaud 50 years of Religious life of Sister Janet Druffel of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Following Mass, celebrated by the parish’s pastor, Father Victor Blazovich, Sister Janet was the guest of honor at a reception attended by her sisters, brothers, and a multitude of other well-wishers from the Colton-Uniontown area.

Sister Janet is a native of Colton. She recalls that some years ago, when she was a second grader in her parish school, her teacher said that there were no School Sisters of Notre Dame from Colton. Janet tucked that revelation away in her memory for several years, and after finishing school, young Janet set out to remedy that situation. She joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minn., and embarked on her own Religious and teacher training activities.

By 1962, Sister Janet’s qualifications included theological studies and a fluency in Spanish. That year she and two other School Sisters of Notre Dame traveled to Guatemala. There they founded a primary school (Colegio Santa Catarina) in the mountainous Quiché Indian village of Nahualá.

The remote territory around Nahualá was also the designated home of some of the “Padres de Spokane,” the first priests assigned to Guatemala under the Sister Diocese Program that had been initiated two years earlier by Bishop Bernard Topel of Spokane and Bishop Angelico Melotto of Sololá, Guatemala. One of those padres was Father John Rompa, now pastor of St. Ann Parish in Spokane, who founded the “Voice of Nahualá” radio station in 1962.

In 1965, when Father Rompa moved on to another assignment in Guatemala, Sister Janet assumed responsibility for operation of the radio station in Nahualá. In addition to training and managing local personnel, she devoted considerable effort to program development. In this work, she was grateful for the continued financial support from Sacred Heart Parish in Pullman.

Under Sister Janet’s guidance, the religious and educational impact of the Voice of Nahualá continued to grow. The radio became the medium of communication to remote areas, providing a variety of programs that addressed the spiritual, economic, and social needs of the Mayan Indian people. Program content ranged from basic instruction in agricultural techniques to health issues and methods of dealing with alcoholism.

The Voice of Nahualá was a beacon of light to many of the people in remote areas during the long years of Guatemala’s civil war. As the radio station personnel became more experienced, Sister Janet prepared them for self-sustaining operations. She sought additional outside funding and groomed local personnel for managing their own operations. In 1990, she transferred leadership of the Voice of Nahualá to a lay board of directors.

Sister Janet’s quiet and soft-spoken style of leadership is a reflection of the peace and integrity that are so inherent to her personality. In contrast to the autocratic style that holds sway in much of America today, Sister Janet has truly led by being a humble servant of others.

In 1991 she was awarded the papal medal for excellence in her work in the Spokane Mission.

In a congratulatory letter on this occasion of Sister Janet’s golden jubilee, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane cited her inspiration, not only to those of her order of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, but also to all in the Diocese of Spokane who know of her work. “Your leadership has not only helped guide the lives of thousands of people, but it has also laid the foundation for progress in the years to come,” he said.

With 50 years of service behind her, one might think that Sister Janet’s work in Guatemala is finished. It is not. She returns soon to continue to enhance and ennoble the lives of the poor in another poverty-stricken area of the country.

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