Keeping a secret from Sister Jo Anne Depweg, SNDdeN is no small feat. As Sister Jo anticipated celebrating her 90th birthday on May 11, she was a bit disappointed. Her sister told her that because it was such a busy time of year, none of her family was available to come to her party. However, as Jo was finishing lunch on May 11, Jo’s sister Carolyn, her two daughters, her son and his wife from Indianapolis, and Jo’s niece from Kansas entered the dining room singing the “Birthday Song” and carrying gifts. Jo was so surprised and happy! Later Jo, her family, the Sisters, and the Staff gathered for birthday cake and ice cream. Jo’s relatives and the Sisters shared a few stories about Jo and her adventures over these 90 years. Jo said, “It was a great party. Everyone had a good time with lots of love and laughter!”
With five sisters and three brothers, Jo Anne grew up in Hamilton, Ohio, a city she continues to love because of her family and all the friends she made there in elementary and high school. While in elementary school, Jo’s teachers, the Oldenburg Franciscan Sisters, often asked her and others to participate in activities to serve the poor. As a student at Notre Dame High School, where she met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, she decided that she wanted to give her life to serve the poor. Jo believes that St. Julie planted this seed in her heart even before she knew of St. Julie and of her love of the poor. After high school, Jo entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. After making Vows, she taught elementary school for five years. In 1965, she volunteered to be in the first group of SNDdeNs to begin our ministry in Brazil. Upon arriving, the Sisters attended language school for total immersion in Portuguese. At the Center for Intercultural Formation, CENFI, they learned the Brazilian culture and the importance of listening to, learning from, and walking with the people. By going through CEMFI, our Sisters brought a common approach to ministry. Much of Jo’s ministry involved forming small Christian communities who would reflect on the Word of God and apply it to their daily lives.
After several years, Jo returned to the US to discern her next ministry. While in the US, she spent time at Big Laurel in West Virginia; in Brownsville, TN, where her eyes were opened to discrimination; in Cincinnati working with Judy Tensing and with Habitat for
Humanity; and in Nicaragua renovating houses with Sister Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN.
With a heart for the poor and a love for being with the Brazilian people, who are so open and simple, Jo returned to Brazil. Jo learned a great deal from Dorothy Stang about being with the people and accompanying them in their struggle for justice.
Encouraged by her nephew to return to the US to enjoy her family and get to know the younger family members, Jo returned to Cincinnati in 2019 after 40 years in Brazil. Jo says, “My whole life changed when I went to Brazil. I don’t know who I’d be if I had not gone to Brazil.” She realizes how people have come into her life and taught her. When Jo left Brazil, the people blessed her with the words, “Go and be faithful to all we taught you.”
Written by Sister Rita Sturwold, SNDdeN