Intercom Feature Articles
By Carolyn Kesterman, Communications intern
Growing up, faith was an important facet of the Deiters household.
After many years of different ministries, Sister-sisters Julia Mary and Joan Deiters are once again living in the same house just in time to celebrate their jubilees with the Community, 70 years for S. Julie and 65 years for S. Joan. While their ministries have taken them on different paths, the bonds they formed in childhood have always kept them close.
“I had two brothers but no sisters, and I wanted a little sister very much,” S. Julie recalls. “When I was getting ready for First Communion, I started talking about my ‘little sister,’ and mother said, ‘What is this about a little sister?’ I said, ‘Well, S. Rose Gertrude said whatever we pray for, we would get when we made our First Communion. So they tried to explain to me that God does hear our prayers, but doesn’t always answer them the way we want them answered. I guess that went in one ear and out the other, and I went on my way praying for my little sister. The following year, the day I was confirmed, my little sister, Joan, was one week old and was baptized!”
Although faith was an important facet of the Deiters household, Sisters Julie and Joan and their brother Robert, who became a Jesuit priest, all made the decision to enter religious life on their own. “When I was a senior in high school,” S. Julie says, “we made a retreat, and I said to my friend in the bus on the way home, ‘Well, I decided one thing during retreat, I’m not going to go to the convent,’ and she said, ‘Well, I decided I’m going.’ Five years later, she was married and I was in the convent.”
S. Joan was in the eighth grade when S. Julie decided to enter the Sisters of Charity during her junior year of college. Religious life was something S. Joan had considered, but due to reading up on the Jesuits after her brother had joined them two years earlier, “I thought I would like to be a Jesuit, but of course that wasn’t possible,” she says. In high school, she felt called to religious life again, but of her own call. “I didn’t enter the convent because Julie was there. In fact, I thought I should go to a different place to blaze my own path, but by the time I was a senior in high school, I decided I would enter the Sisters of Charity.”
S. Joan didn’t have to worry long about blazing her own path. Though both were involved in the sciences and education, their ministries took them in different directions and different states.
Sister-sisters Joan (left) and Julia Mary Deiters celebrate their jubilees with the Community in 2017, 65 years for S. Joan and 70 years for S. Julie.
S. Julie’s initial education ministry teaching primarily high school math and science took her to several schools in Ohio and Michigan, including St. Mary High School in Chillicothe, Ohio (1952-1962). After three years teaching at St. James High School in Bay City, Michigan, she became the school’s principal in 1966, and in 1968, she left St. James to serve for one year as assistant principal at All Saints High School, also in Bay City. She returned to Cincinnati to teach math at Seton High School for six years (1969-1975). While there, she was helping some Dominican Sisters in downtown Cincinnati who knew of some adults who could benefit from tutoring. “There was a man who owned a small grocery store and happened to be underselling himself because he didn’t understand the arithmetic, so I helped him with that,” she says. “In doing that, I wondered what there was available for adults who realized they needed more education. Besides going back to a normal high school, what was available?” Adult education became a passion for her, and she became the director of a Mennonite inner-city program for adult education from 1975 to 1980. In 1980, she was asked to initiate an adult education program for Terrace Guild, an organization serving low-income individuals and families in Winton Terrace in Cincinnati. “It was surely needed. The people were grateful to have something like that.” While serving as the director of adult education there from 1979 to 2003, she also created an adult education program at St. Leo the Great Parish. Her efforts in her service with adult education led to her being named one of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Women of the Year in March 2002 for her compassion, conviction and quiet leadership to make Greater Cincinnati a better place. She served part-time at Terrace Guild for some years, but is now fully retired, residing in Assisted Living in Mother Margaret Hall nursing facility.
While S. Joan also went into education, her path took her a different direction. She began by teaching elementary school in Ohio and Michigan, and she spent two years as the assistant principal of St. Dominic School in Cincinnati (1960-1962). Sister was then sent to study for a Ph.D. in chemistry. For 10 years, she taught chemistry at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati (1968-1978). “It was difficult for me at the college, because at that time, there weren’t a lot of science majors,” S. Joan says. She decided to try teaching somewhere else, and found a home at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. “I loved teaching there. There were a lot of people taking chemistry, and I could teach as hard as I could.” She remained there for 18 years (1978-1996), completing training in spiritual direction during this time as well. She retired from teaching, then, and took the opportunity to go back to school and study psychoanalysis to aid her in spiritual direction. From 1999 to 2017, S. Joan had a thriving practice in Poughkeepsie, seeing people for spiritual direction and psychoanalysis. “When I got to be 82, I thought, I need to be back in Cincinnati, closer to home.” So this past August, S. Joan came to live at the Motherhouse, where she continues to offer spiritual direction and retreats.
The four Deiters siblings had the opportunity to visit with each other during a two-week trip to Japan in 2010.
Although the Deiters sisters have spent most of their ministries far apart from each other, they have never let the physical distance come between their bond. Traveling together has been a highlight of their sisterly friendship. “One year, we rented a car and drove up through the Canadian Rockies,” S. Julie remembers. “That year, it so happened that our brother Robert, who’s been stationed in Japan since 1952, had to go to a meeting in Mexico, and in flying from Japan to Mexico, flew right over Canada. So he changed his ticket and came down in Canada, and we were together for almost a week, exploring the Canadian Rockies.”
The two sisters have also gone to Japan to visit their brother a couple times. “More recently, the two of us and our brother Paul went to Japan in 2010 to visit our brother Bob. We spent two weeks together, the four siblings. We had a great time together.”Their brother Paul died last year, making the sisters’ new togetherness a recognized blessing. They enjoy spending time with their nieces and nephews, and play Scrabble avidly. Simply being able to talk to each other in person is a delight, and celebrating their jubilees together this year has been an added joy.