Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Sister Janet Druffel: from the fields of Colton to the airwaves of Guatemala

by Lisa Sharkey, for the Inland Register

(From the March 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Sister Janet Druffel (right) and Sister Mary Bertrand (center) met with Archbishop Blase Cupich in February 2014 in Guatemala. Sister Janet will be among the honored guests at the Guatemala Celebration May 18 in Spokane. (See sidebar at right.) (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

“God’s call came and went from the time I was in the second grade. My decision to enter was definitely influenced by the School Sisters of Notre Dame who taught me from the first grade through high school.” This a quote from Sister Janet Druffel upon the 2004 celebration of her 50th Jubilee as a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND).

She was born in Colton, Wash. After finishing high school, she joined SSND in Mankato, Minn., where she made her first profession on July 21, 1954 and took the name of Sister George Marie.

By 1962, Sister Janet had studied theology and was fluent in Spanish. About that time, Spokane’s Bishop Bernard J. Topel asked the Mother Superior of the SSND to send some Sisters to aid his diocesan priest, stationed in the mountainous Mayan village of Nahualá. Her background made Sister Janet an obvious choice to send to Guatemala.

She and two other Sisters spent one year working with Guatemalan Catholics who had been without a priest for at least 60 years, but had kept a simple, deep faith. These people lived in adobe homes with dirt floors and roofs of tile or grass. They travelled by foot and had no running water.

In this environment the three Sisters founded a primary school, Colegio Santa Catarina, in January 1963. Sister Janet taught first and second grades.

After a year back in the United States, Sister Janet returned to Guatemala to teach. She also began working with the educational radio station, The Voice of Nahualá (in Spanish, “La Voz de Nahualá”), established by Father John Rompa, a Spokane Diocese missionary to Guatemala. In 1965, she assumed responsibility for the operation of the radio station when Father Rompa returned to Eastern Washington. In addition to training and managing local personnel, Sister Janet devoted considerable effort to program development. The station provided a variety of programs that addressed the spiritual, economic and social needs of the Mayan people who lived in remote areas of the highlands of Guatemala. The Voice of Nahualá was a beacon of light to many during the long years of the Guatemalan Civil War.

In 1971, the radio station became an independent non-profit corporation called The Association for the Development and Popular Education (ADEP). At this time it was one of the few professional institutions in Guatemala that used radio for adult education and promotion. Sister Janet was an important element in the foundation and development of the Guatemala Federation of Radio Schools.

She also was one of the founding members and served for two years on the board of directors of the Latin American Association of Educational Radios. Meanwhile, Sister Janet continued to prepare the increasingly experienced personnel of La Voz de Nahualá for self-sustaining operations. She also sought outside funding. In 1990, she transferred leadership to a lay board of directors.

In 1991 Sister Janet Druffel was awarded the papal medal “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (“For the Church and the Pope”) for her work in the Spokane Mission in Guatemala. The award, the Church’s highest honor for laity, recognizes individuals who have made significant strides in spreading the Gospel.

Sister Janet’s feelings about her mission work in Guatemala are summed up in her “Jubilee Wisdom,” upon her 50th anniversary of Religious life: “I went to Guatemala thinking I would teach the people and found I learned more about culture, life and Christianity from the Mayans there.”

She is now retired and living in Guatemala.

(Sister Janet will be honored at the third Annual Diocesan Guatemala Celebration to be held on Monday, May 18, at Barrister Winery, 1213 W. Railroad Avenue, Spokane, from 5:30-8 p.m. All are welcome.)

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