Sister Joan Pokorny, OSB, 78

“Nature is my healing place,” says Benedictine Sister Joan Pokorny, 78. “It’s where I am most myself.” Growing up on a farm in Oakridge, Oregon, she felt a bond to the wonders of creation at an early age.

“My mother started telling me that I was going to be a sister when I was 4 or 5. I even had a nun doll,” Sister Joan recalls. “And I thought it would be a nice thing to do because I was always caught up in the mysteries around me. But, oh, I still grappled with it. Even coming to the convent, I was sort of dragging my feet. And then I got here and thought, ‘It’s a match!’ When I came, we had cows, chickens, pigs, and a big barn. We had gardens and acreage. It was a big miracle that God put me here.”

In 1962, Sister Joan entered the novitiate of the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Angel in Mt. Angel, Oregon. She had just graduated from Mt. Angel College, where she trained as a teacher. Sister Joan spent a total of 34 years teaching—24 years in parochial schools and another 10 in public schools, mostly at the junior high school level.

Following teaching, she turned her focus to spiritual direction and began ministering at Shalom Prayer Center, her community’s retreat center. For some 20 years, she gave retreats and served as a spiritual director. She also coordinated a training program for spiritual directors. “My community is monastic,” she explains. “We pray at different times throughout the day and have daily Eucharist. This is a very rich place for spiritual growth.”

Although Sister Joan has retired from full-time ministry, she remains active with the Shalom Center. She continues to serve as a contact for those seeking spiritual direction and as a mentor for those in training.  “A big part of my ministry is being a resource person—someone people can talk to if they run into an issue or need someone to bounce ideas off of,” she says. Sister Joan also makes sure the retreat center gift shop is stocked with helpful books and materials. “I belong to Spiritual Directors International, and I keep up with trends and changes,” she says. “I also follow the news and read different materials on my computer.”

After 56 years in religious life, Sister Joan stays true to her roots. “I spend a lot of time in nature, being still,” she says. “My peace is in encouraging people to be quiet and to have time for reflection. I pray a lot, and I do believe in miracles. They’re not a cliché.”