Sr. Justina Marie Miller first met the Sisters of St. Francis when she entered first grade at St. Gertrude School in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Throughout her years at the school, she was inspired by the kindness, simplicity, and teaching skills of the sisters. In fact, she recalled her high school principal commenting on how well the students from St. Gertrude’s were prepared for high school. Those early impressions seemed to have had a lasting impression on Sr. Justina herself. Most of her years in ministry have been dedicated to education—both as teacher and principal. Following a sabbatical, she began looking at ministry opportunities and knew that her heart was in teaching. Following an interview with Theresa Huke, director of Neumann University’s Academic Resource Center (ARC), Sr. Justina began volunteering in the ARC. That was 11 years ago. Today Sr. Justina continues this volunteer work three days a week. Very often her assistance involves meeting with students to proof a writing assignment— often from an English, history, or religion class—usually focusing on spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. “Learning about the students’ background, their struggles to achieve an education, and their dreams of a successful career are great incentives for me to continue in this ministry,” she explained.
As in any ministry, there are challenges as well. For Sr. Justina, the major challenge is dealing with students who make an appointment and fail to keep it. In most cases, however, poor grades usually serve as a reality check—and experience as a formidable reminder! “Often a teacher requires a student to request comments from me on a given assignment,” Sr. Justina added, “which is also an incentive to keep an appointment!”
Looking back at Justina’s childhood experience with our sisters in Lebanon, the educational aspect wasn’t the only factor that seems to have left a lasting impression.
One of Justina’s favorite memories was cleaning the convent kitchen and chapel. “It seems as though cleaning at home was a chore but cleaning the convent was a privilege,” she laughed. “And the milk and cookies also tasted
better in the convent!” Like most busy people, Sr. Justina is still quick to offer her services in multiple areas. In addition to her work in the ARC, she also provides service in the university’s chapel—gathering up the altar linens each week and taking them home to be laundered. In her own parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Morton, she serves as a lector. When possible she makes weekly visits to the sisters in Assisi House and also sends get well cards to sisters and parishioners who are ill.
Does Sr. Justina have any free time? Well, when she does, reading is one activity that she particularly enjoys—especially the daily paper and mystery books, and…cookbooks! “Strange as it may seem, I also enjoy perusing cookbooks looking for different ways to prepare meals,” she said. Recalling Justina’s childhood memory about milk and cookies at the convent, might this be one more example of the impact those earlier sisters had on Sr. Justina’s life and the many ways in which that influence continues to motivate her in serving others?
– Ann Marie Slavin, OSF