“Transition comes to everyone,” Sister Jannette Pruitt, OSF, says “and when it does, I trust in God and try to take life one day at a time.”
“I thank God for the two vocations he gave me,” says Sister Jannette Pruitt, OSF. “One is being a mother of three beautiful children whose families have grown, and now I have seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. The other is being a Sister of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana, where I find in my sister friends much wisdom and spirituality. The prayer life fills me up and completes my happiness.”
Sister Jannette is the second of five kids born in Biloxi, Mississippi, and raised in Bay St. Louis on the Gulf Coast, approximately 45 minutes from New Orleans. She is a self-proclaimed “cradle Catholic” and describes her family as very loving. They were the first of their generation to settle there, and much of their time was spent with their grandparents. Her grandfather was a carpenter and helped build the small town of Bay St. Louis.
Jannette would walk with her grandmother to church every morning for confession, wondering, How much sinning could Grandma have done? She just went to confession yesterday. However, it made an impact on her. She recalls the day she was to receive her first Communion. “I really wanted to receive Jesus,” Sister Jannette says. “I didn’t want anything to spoil my special day, so to avoid any possible occasion to sin, I sat with my grandfather all morning, doing nothing, until it was time to go to church.”
After her marriage to a childhood friend didn’t end well, Jannette took her two daughters and son to Menlo Park, California. She got a job as a nurse in addition to working furiously in the church, trying to raise her kids on her own. In the early 1970s, the young mother and her three children joined St. Francis of Assisi Church in Palo Alto, a very forward-thinking parish for the time.
Her daughters were altar servers, and Jannette joined a parish group called the Black Catholic Apostolate, whose mission was to navigate how to be “Black and Catholic” in service to the Church. Through this group, Jannette became friends with Sister Thea Bowman, who was very involved in the work. They spoke to bishops, informed the people, gathered together, and hosted dialogues sharing the message of “who and whose we are.”
Years passed and Jannette’s kids grew and left home while she spent time in New Orleans, helping to care for her ailing mother and walk her through the dying process. Several years after that, she moved to Indianapolis at the urging of her friend Rose, who asked Jannette for help picking out a church to attend. The two settled on St. Rita’s, which is built like an amphitheater, the entrance being at the crest, so that “everyone saw who was coming in late.” A compliment made by the pastor about her hand-sewn dress turned into a request for Afro-centric vestments for Kwanzaa and then employment at the church and school.
The first time Sister Jannette recalls God opening the door to religious life for her was during her second year teaching at St. Rita’s. She was working on Kwanzaa plans, looking at materials to use for the celebration, when an item from the bulletin caught her eye. It was an invitation for a “Life Awareness Weekend” to see what it would be like to be a sister. “The bulletin hit me like a ton of bricks, but since I had to finish the Kwanzaa plans, I threw it aside,” Sister Jannette recalls. “But God has a way of making sure we listen to him.” The paper about the weekend kept showing up again and again. Jannette finally wrote it down on her calendar and called to find out about it. The cost to attend was too high, but again God’s will won out.
Through a scholarship that was available, she was able to attend. “I was a bundle of nerves as I packed for the weekend, realizing I wasn’t going to know anyone,” Sister Jannette says. “When I got to the retreat center and stepped up to the check-in table, my nerves melted away. There were priests and nuns from every order milling around.”
She saw nuns in habits and thought, No, I can’t do that. Then she saw a young woman who had gray hair like hers and wore a pantsuit, and she thought, I can do that. Jannette looked at a display of photos of a beautiful motherhouse with gorgeous grounds, and all the nuns looked as if they were having a great time. The woman with gray hair whom Jannette had spotted came up behind her and introduced herself as Sister Marge Wissman. Sister Marge invited Jannette to come see the motherhouse and the grounds personally and informed her about the possibility of staying at their Nia Kuumba Spirituality Center. Nia Kuumba’s mission is centered on providing African and African American women a community where they can be challenged and encouraged to live, as fully as possible, lives of purpose (nia) and creativity (kuumba).
Jannette visited the Oldenburg Motherhouse for a few days during her Easter break and then headed to Nia Kuumba house in St. Louis. While there, she met Marian, a sister who was “so welcoming and full of life.” Upon her arrival, two pictures she saw in the house inspired peace: one of Sister Thea Bowman and one of a young African American girl with beads coming off the ends of her braids. She met so many inspiring women and had a great experience hearing all the wisdom from around the table.
Sister Jannette entered the Oldenburg community in 1997, spending a year and a half under the guidance of Sister Marge. In 2004, she made first vows with her children participating in the Mass. She took her final vows in 2007 and has never looked back. Now she lives with 10 others and works within the community making donation cards and taking life one day at a time. Sister Jannette is still sewing, mostly making face masks for protection against COVID-19. “Transition comes to everyone,” she says, “and when it does, I trust in God and try to take life one day at a time.”