Congregation of St. Joseph of Peace photo
Sr. Susan Francois professes vows in presence of Srs. Margaret Byrne, Beth Taylor and Alexandra Kovats.
Congregation of St. Joseph of Peace photo
Sr. Susan Francois professes vows in presence of Srs. Margaret Byrne, Beth Taylor and Alexandra Kovats.
BELLVUE, Wash. — A former Portland City official took perpetual vows in November as a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.

Sister Susan Francois, who reclaimed her faith during the late 1990s at St. Philip Neri Parish in Portland, was also a leading Catholic peace activist in Oregon during the run-up to the Iraq War.

“My heart is filled with peace and joy as I make this lifelong commitment to follow Jesus and serve God’s people in need,” Sister Susan told the group of Sisters, family and friends gathered at the congregation's chapel on the shores of Lake Washington. “Confident of God’s faithful love, I join my heart and life with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace as we seek peace through justice for our broken world.”

Sister Susan, 39, professed final vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience and intends to continue combatting human trafficking, abuse of immigrants and other problems. She's a staffer at the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle and edits the organization's journal.

"This is where I'm best able to use the gifts that God gave me, to best serve the world," she told the Catholic Northwest Progress.

Born in Washington, D.C., Sister Susan attended Catholic elementary and high school in suburban Maryland. Finding the church irrelevant, she stopped practicing Catholicism at age 17. In 1994 she graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a degree in political science and history and eventually began work as elections officer and management analyst for Portland city government.

During her off hours, she volunteered at soup kitchens and a homeless shelter, and for a child-abuse hotline. Still, she didn't feel fulfilled. Then a friend invited her to a function at St. Philip Neri.

"I will never forget going into St. Philip's that day and sitting in that pew and just feeling like I was at home," she told the Progress. The next Sunday, she decided to go to Mass, some 10 years after leaving the church.

About a year after getting active at the parish, while walking along an Oregon beach, the thought of becoming a Sister hit her. "It seemed really insane and crazy," she told the Progress. "I wasn't ready for it."

She became deeply involved at St. Philip Neri, where she served as co-chair of the Peace and Justice Commission, vice-chair of the pastoral council, and Sunday school teacher.

“It was through my volunteer ministry at my parish and my work for peace and justice that I realized I might have a religious vocation,” said Sister Susan. “I yearned for a community grounded in the gospel where I could use my gifts to foster peace in our world. I am so glad that I decided to take the risk and explore religious life.”

Meanwhile, she led marches opposing the Iraq War, called for nonviolent solutions and helped establish a Portland chapter of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace group.

Her pastor, Paulist Father Steve Bossi, invited her to come talk about how God might be calling her to use her gifts. That set her on the way to the congregation whose name includes "peace." She was received as a novice in 2006, joining a group she sometimes refers to as "groovy Sisters."

Her blog, Musings of a Discerning Woman, documents her entry into religious life and her life as a young Sister.

She's now studying at Seattle University for a master's degree in pastoral studies, while continuing her work at the center.

— Jean Parietti of the The Catholic Northwest Progress contributed to this story.