Sister Jean Lalande

It is a common misconception that entering religious life means living a lifestyle with drastically-reduced opportunities and even limited physical mobility. Take Sister Jean Lalande: Her vocation has led her to extensive field research as a National Science Foundation fellow, given her the opportunity to guide myriad students into exploring the flora and fauna of the Camas Prairie, and even provided arenas for her to express her athletic gifts. Many of her students will remember Sister Jean tucking up the skirts of her habit so she could join them in a game of basketball or tennis.

“More of life opened up to me because of my vocation,” she says. “In fact, it was the strength and joy of the Sisters that first attracted me to St. Gertrude’s.”

From the very beginning she was taught by the Sisters at St. Paul’s school in Nampa. “There was just something about them,” recalls Sister Jean. “They were like angels to me…just a little 6-year-old being raised by her grandmother. Sister Valine [Kachelmier] was one of the teachers I encountered. I thought, ‘What a beautiful nun!’”

The young girl told her French Canadian grandmother and her father – both strong Roman Catholics – that she wanted to enter St. Gertrude’s out of 8th grade. Her grandmother was supportive but her dad objected. He insisted she finish high school and experience something else besides the Sisters.

She began public high school and loved it, playing volleyball, basketball, and tennis. She had a tennis partner who was also her boyfriend. “I enjoyed my high school years,” smiles Sister Jean. “But I never doubted my vocation.”

Sister Jean was professed as a Benedictine Sister on June 14, 1956 and was assigned to teach. “I always wanted to be a teacher, to be like the sisters who taught me.” As a PE, science and math teacher Sister Jean did not find wearing a habit a hindrance. “I hiked up my skirts, tucked them into my belt, tossed my veil back over my shoulders, and took off running.”

In 1965, she received her Bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in math and taught at St. Gertrude’s Academy and Bishop Kelly High School in Boise until 1977. “Biology was my love because I could take the kids out for field trips. This is a perfect place to teach biology; we would go up the hill to study plants and trees.”

Sister Jean applied for and received a National Science Foundation grant that allowed her to obtain her Master’s degree from the University of Idaho. Her research work included collecting and identifying mushrooms with botanist Dr. Tolutke. Her advanced degree allowed her to teach college-level biology.

Sister Jean faced a transformational time in 1977 when she was asked to give up her teaching to return home and minister as formation director.

The next decade found Sister Jean not only guiding new sisters, but also becoming certified to practice massage therapy. “My science and physical education background, plus my own contemplative and monastic nature, provided a perfect fit to offer this complimentary healing modality.”

Then in 1999, Sister Jean was elected prioress. “It was a big surprise,” she recalls. During her six-year term she led the community through visioning meetings that required a new level of listening. These exercises set the stage for making a big decision for the future: To build Spirit Center, the community’s 21,800 square foot retreat and conference center.

“During my years as prioress I was grateful to have played a part in developing a team approach to leadership. The job of prioress is too immense for one person.”

Sister Jean was almost drawn away from this life – literally – in 2005 when she was involved in a serious auto accident. After several weeks in intensive care and time at a rehabilitation facility, she returned home to the monastery to continue her healing.

“I find that each and every minute is a sacramental moment. Choosing with each breath to live for God, the earth and others takes courage and faith. Each day I start over, choosing life.”