Ed LangloisProvidence Sister Jeremy Gallet, one of Oregon's most visible women religious, is celebrating 50 years in religious life. Known for her sense of humor, the Archdiocese of Portland's director of the Office of Worship says that five decades ago she was probably seen as "least likely to succeed." But she abides and would do it all over again.
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Just as the Second Vatican Council was beginning, she entered the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods, Indiana — not to be confused with the Sisters of Providence who founded hospitals in the Pacific Northwest. As a sign of more changes around the corner in the 1960s, the Sisters in Indiana had just modified their habits, removing a headpiece that blocked peripheral vision. Young Sister Jeremy was glad; that meant she could drive a car safely.
Called at a young age, she began investigating the many religious communities in Chicago. None seemed the right fit. But in high school, she was taught by the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods and was impressed by their intellect and skill. "They were consummate educators," she says. Just as appealing, the Sisters seemed to like each other.
She decided to give the life a try. The community she joined was still under pre-Vatican II rules and the new girl was "not so straight-laced," prone to her own ideas and opinions. The changes that came soon to community life were exciting, interesting and difficult all at once, and were too much for some, who left. Sister Jeremy, by contrast, was able to adapt and thrive as the congregation was asked to reclaim the charism of its founder, doing "works of love, mercy and justice."
She graduated from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College with a bachelor's degree in music education then taught music and art for years. Along the way, she received a master's degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages from Indiana University and a master's degree in theology and liturgy from the University of Notre Dame and then a doctorate. She has loved the liturgy since she was a girl going to daily Mass with her mother and grandmother.
Sister Jeremy served as director of religious education and liturgy at Illinois parishes and as associate director of liturgy and diocesan director of liturgy in the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Texas. She was pastoral associate for St. Augustine Parish in Oakland, Calif. and director of music for St. Barnabas Parish and adjunct faculty member at the Jesuit School of Theology, both in Alameda, Calif.
As with marriage, religious life is not always easy. "Some of it is a matter of endurance," she says. "Or just when you think 'I can't possibly do this any more,' you get an infusion of grace that keeps you going."
Sister Jeremy has embraced the role of liturgist, convinced that liturgical life is where people experience the church most. "Worship and liturgy are just critical," she says. "They are formational and rich."
In liturgy, she works to embrace the many cultures that are part of western Oregon. She calls cultural emphases "a gift to the entire church."
Along with fostering vibrancy, one of the finest things the Second Vatican Council did, she says, was to bring a wider array of scripture to Mass. She does understand that, after the council, some liturgists changed too much and lost solemnity.
"There is a richness in our legacy we don't want to lose," she says. "Balance is hard. People want to go all one way or the other. I see my job sometimes as keeping the balance."
This month, Sister Jeremy traveled to Indiana for a jubilee celebration at the motherhouse. The community was founded in 1840 on what was then the American frontier by St. Mother Theodore Guerin.
During the celebration, a former student sought Sister Jeremy out to say thanks for teaching him guitar. She had not seen him for 43 years. And now, after the jubilee is done, she is sitting down in the brief quiet of summer to write thank you notes.
Her mother lives at St. Anthony Village in Southeast Portland, where Sister Jeremy visits regularly.