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Young nun focuses on education, witnessing to religious life

Sister Anna Joseph

Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration M. Anna Joseph Nelling, pictured with students in St. John the Evangelist School on Sept. 30, professed her permanent vows with the religious order in August. The 28-year-old Pennsylvania native is an adminstrative assistant and religion teacher at the St. John school. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)


By Anthony D. Alonzo

Northwest Indiana Catholic  


      With clarity, intensity and yet with a light, joyful attitude, Sister of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration M. Anna Joseph Nelling shared the story of her calling to the religious life.

      The 28-year-old Pennsylvania native professed her final vows – pledging to live until death in poverty, obedience and chastity as a religious sister – in August, on the feast day of St. Clare. She returned to Northwest Indiana, where she has worked on her educational and administrative support apostolates at St. John the Evangelist School in St. John.

      Sister Anna Joseph’s days are structured around work. Her time is, however, punctuated with opportunities “to witness that (religious life) is a pathway to holiness that is valid and life-giving in our culture.”

      Each morning she walks past the parish’s Eucharistic Adoration Chapel. She participates in common prayer in the convent and takes time for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament  –  and in those moments between greeting youngsters in the school hallways.

      The spiritual support of her fellow nuns is solidarity of ultimate goals.

      “We’re not trying to climb a career ladder, we’re just striving for holiness,” Sister Anna Joseph said. “To know that there are other women who I’m sharing my life with that have that same goal is a great blessing.”

      On a recent morning at SJE, principal Sister Gianna Marie Webber, OSF, viewed Sister Anna Joseph’s entranceway St. Francis display. “We’re putting together different facts and stories about St. Francis to share with students,” said Sister Anna Joseph.

      Sister Anna Joseph explained how the sisters shared not only “the story of St. Francis preaching to the birds” but also his impact on the Church in Europe and then the New World.

      St. Clare of Assisi, a female protégé of Francis and the foundress of orders following the Franciscan rule, also factored into those lessons.

      “St. Clare was inspired by that and attracted to that way of life,” said Sister Anna Joseph. “St. Claire’s spirituality was definitely influenced by St. Francis, then as a woman’s Franciscan community, we do look to St. Clare and her spirituality.”

      Presently working under the title mission and curriculum coordinator at SJE, Sister Anna Joseph utilizes her bachelor’s degree in English and master’s in secondary education, both from Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio).

      “I’m really enjoying that,” said Sister Anna Joseph, who likes playing the guitar, and works on computers but does not own a smartphone.

      She believes the students also react well to the nuns’ presence at the school.

      “The students really enjoy having the sisters here in the school,” Sister Anna Joseph said. “One of the nice things about my position now is that I’m able to be out greeting the students in the morning.”

      Sister Anna Joseph, whose immediate family residing near Philadelphia includes parents Ed and Sharon Nelling, twin brother Ryan, sisters Laura, 25, and Kathleen, 22, and brother Edward, 21, said she had long been encouraged to pursue her dream in supportive Catholic environments.

      “Being in a place where people were more open to religious life and open to different vacations, I was very much affirmed in that vocation and people were very excited for me,” Sister Anna Joseph said, recalling her college days at Steubenville.

      “My family’s been very supportive of me as well. I mean, they heard me say that I wanted to be a nun when I was 11, so they knew it was there in my mind. I shared different things with them as I went along,” Sister Anna Joseph continued.

      No one knows exactly where their life will go, and part of the mystery of religious life is that direction from God often comes through the instructions of religious superiors, according to Sister Anna Joseph.

      “When I finished school, my Mother Superior had asked me to come here to St. John,” Sister Anna Joseph said. “Our sisters were here for almost 100 years until 2001, when we left. Then in 2011, they came back. There was a position opening up because another sister was being transferred.”

      Once again finding only kind words, but getting a laugh out of a question about the flatness of the region, Sister Anna Joseph complimented her adoptive state.

      “I have definitely grown in appreciation of its beauty, as I’ve spent time in Indiana,” Sister Anna Joseph said with a smile.

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