Names and Faces: Sister John of Somerville

By: Sylvia Villarreal & Brenda Sims Email
By: Sylvia Villarreal & Brenda Sims Email

Sister John, as she's called, joined the convent in Rome, and ever since this feisty Italian stepped foot in the Brazos Valley, she's truly touched the lives of all who've been around her. But before she arrived, she endured many hardships.

"I grew up in the war time, the Second World War," she explained. "It was rough. When they talk about poverty, I say you don't know about poverty. When you don't even have a piece of bread to eat, then you know what poverty is."

After living through some of life's toughest times, Sr. John chose to dedicate her life to serving God and answering that call has brought her to the Brazos Valley. Her path started in Rome, and since the early 1960s, she's called Somerville home, but if she were to be honest, and had she been allowed to pick her own path, she would have chosen elsewhere.

"My dream since I was a little girl was to go to Africa," she said. "That's always been my dream. When they sent me here, I cried for months. I didn't want to go, but you don't have choice. You have to go where they send you."

When she arrived in Somerville, besides helping a young priest build a parish with the help of his struggling parishioners, she was sure their fund-raising endeavor was different.

"When I saw the first rodeo, I thought everybody was crazy," she said. "I said, 'I'm never going to write my family and tell them what I see because they're going to come and get me.'

"The first rodeo, rain was pouring down and the people say we cannot barbecue, it's raining," she continued. "He said, 'you go barbecue it's not going to rain.' So he sat outside of the door, crying and saying the Rosary and blessed the rain. I said, 'really, these people are crazy. They're really crazy.'"

But everyone, including Sr. John weathered that storm, and soon thereafter, she discovered she was entering another whirlwind. She was going to be a teacher.

"I ended with 18 kids," she explained, "and I looked and said, 'what am I going to do? What am I going to do?' The priest at the time was Fr. Mahoney and said, 'if I can picture terror, you were in terror, weren't you?' I just looked and said 'I cannot do this, I can't.' He said, 'yes you can.'"

More than 30 years later, she's still teaching, in fact, she's proud that she's taught three generations of the same families, and most will say she's done it the only way she could possibly have done it: Sister John's Way. That special way has earned her one big honor: a street named after her.

This no-nonsense nun has found a home in the last place she would have picked to call home.

"This is my family," she said. "I consider all my family, all my children. I will do anything for them...anything."

Friday, Sr. John and her kids are holding a trike-a-thon to help raise money for St. Jude Children's Hospital. It's something they've done for years, and over time, they've raised more than $20,000 for the charity, which is a record for a group so young.

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