Janet Gottschalk, MMS: Rest in Power

“They hate her who reproves in the gate, and they abhor her who speaks the truth. …For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. … Seek good, and not evil, that you may live … Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate. …  Lt me hear the true music: let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”–Amos 5:11-15, 24 Today we laid to rest my friend Janet Gottschalk. She was 91. It was time. For some reason, that doesn’t make it any easier. Janet was such a good friend to me during her years in Washington, D.C. While I knew of Janet’s work on various Catholic justice committees in DC (she was not one to be overlooked or forgotten!) and as convener of the Alliance for Justice with Susan Thompson, we became friends in 2004 on an extraordinary trip to Venezuela with Maryknoll. From January 2004 until she moved back to Philadelphia to the MMS motherhouse and then to the Protestant Home in 2015 for more intentional care, we were together nearly every week for meals, Mass, margaritas, Bible study, protests and demonstrations, getting arrested, discussing current events (sometimes from the DC jail holding tank), and various celebrations. Her participation in the World Conferences on Women, including the 1994 meeting in Beijing, reflected her deep deep solidarity with women on the margins. Her public health classes in Texas on the border–including a pioneering bi-national, bi-lingual community nursing certificate program–opened new generations of students to linking healthcare with social justice. She was a recognized authority and leader in public health around the world. And her students and coworkers never stopped calling on her for her wisdom, expertise, and incisive questions to keep their work grounded in the real experiences of women.  Our biggest project together was writing the book Drawn by God: A History of the Medical Mission Sisters from 1961-1991 (published in 2012). In fall of 1967, a small but extraordinary group of women arrived in Rome. Some had suffered through the cataclysmic struggles of World War II on opposing sides. Some were from countries that had only recently thrown off colonial masters. The majority were health professionals from large urban hospitals or rural health clinics. As Medical Mission Sisters, they came to Rome “because the documents of Vatican II touched us deeply and opened us to a whole new way of thinking about ourselves as part of the Christian community, as members of a religious congregation with a mission in the world.” More than 50 years later, Medical Mission Sisters now serve in 20 countries, with leadership growing in Asia and the Global South. These courageous and pioneering women are a shining affirmation that they are, indeed, “drawn by God … to be a healing presence at the heart of a wounded world.” Drawn By God was a labor of love and tremendous work on Janet’s part. She took up the work from Sr. Sara Sommers, who had done remarkable research but was unable to complete the project. Janet took up the work. She was bull-headed and committed to telling the story–even as her eyesight failed and she adapted to using Dragon software for speech to text translation. She literally dictated most of that book! She would use a magnifying light at night to read through the research, then dictate the chapters in the morning. She would then send me the files and I would work on cleaning up the copy. Then we would sit for hours drinking tea and reviewing and making edits. It’s a story that the broader church desperately needs to hear and understand. I’m sorry the book has not received wider circulation. It builds, of course, on the monograph Janet wrote titled She Stepped Out of Her Class: The Life and Times of Agnes McLaren, MD (2003) about the medical doctor who was the inspiration for the founding of the Medical Mission Sisters. Janet was completely dedicated to telling the stories of the bold, brave, brash and bullheaded women of the MMS, whom she loved, struggled with, and laid down her life for–and who did the same for her. Janet was my friend. One of the great friends of my life. She called me the daughter she would never have.  I’m glad her final assignment to Sector Heaven has come through so she can get back to work. We need her brilliance, commitment, unvarnished speech, and skilled organizing at work among the Cloud of Witnesses.–Rose Marie Berger[]

One comment

  1. Beautiful reflection, Rose. Janet is unforgettable. I wish everyone knew someone like her. The friendship you two shared was such a gift to you both.

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