“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Sr. Jan Gregorcich, SSND, a School Sister of Notre Dame who spent 12 years on mission in Guatemala. After returning to the United States, Sr. Jan continued her mission work by founding Global Partners: Running Waters, an organization whose mission is to build relationships through collaboration on water, food, and health projects in Latin America.
Making God’s Love Visible
Losing Her Heart to Guatemala
The Gospel, Sr. Jan Gregorcich, SSND says, especially John 10:10, called her to mission. Initially, she thought her calling would be to do mission work in Nicaragua where she had gone to study Spanish. Sr. Jan believed she would become one of the first School Sisters of Notre Dame to work in that country. However, it would be Guatemala that ultimately “won her heart”.
For a while Sr. Jan ministered in Raymond and Clara City, MN. During that time, the father of Sr. Karen, another member of her Notre Dame congregation, lived nearby. Since Sr. Karen was missioning in Guatemala, Sr. Jan often took it upon herself to visit Sr. Karen’s elderly father. He would greet her with an offer of apricot brandy and ask if she would like to hear the latest news he had received from his daughter. She remembers that, sitting there, listening to Sr. Karen’s letters, she “really got interested in Guatemala.” This spark of interest grew and Sr. Jan would eventually join her sisters on mission in Guatemala for 12 years.
Returning Home to Continue the Mission
Upon returning to the United States, the leadership of the SSND community presented her with a wonderful opportunity. They asked her to find a way to continue being involved with mission work here, as well as to do reverse mission. This invitation by her religious community meshed well with Sr. Jan’s existing desire to find a formal program in order to bring others to Guatemala and show them the country’s history and culture.
Dianne Henke, a woman Sr. Jan had encountered while doing advocacy work in Washington, DC to protest the use of landmines, accompanied her on her first trip back to Guatemala. It was Jubilee Year, a time for giving back, and Dianne wanted to give back both locally and globally. “Globally, she wanted to do something for Guatemala,” Sr. Jan remembers, “because she always heard me talking about Guatemala.” However, Dianne did not yet know what she could or should do for the people. Sr. Jan told her to come to Guatemala and see for herself what the needs were. So this stay-at-home mother of three children traveled to Guatemala “and had such a conversion she is now leading solidarity groups.”
Dianne Henke’s father-in-law had passed away the previous year leaving a small inheritance and she was unsure what to do with it. Her trip to Guatemala with Sr. Jan helped Dianne realize that a good use of her money would be to help fund a water project for the people of Guatemala. She donated the inheritance to Sr. Jan’s community, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, for such a project. Sr. Jan and her community leadership decided to form their own nonprofit organization to carry out the water project. That was the beginning of Global Partners: Running Waters.
The goal of Global Partners: Running Waters, Sr. Jan explains, “is to build relationships between North and South through collaboration on water, food, and health projects in Latin America.” She currently serves as the organization’s executive director.
On another of Sr. Jan’s trips to Latin America was a deacon from a parish in Prairieville, LA. She remembers how he was “touched by the reality of the people, the lack of water”. Upon returning to the United States, this deacon went back to his parish and told his youth group what he had experienced on his trip. For a year and a half, that small youth group held fundraiser after fundraiser to raise money for water, raising over $10,000 for a water project in Guatemala.
In this youth group there were two siblings who had a little brother named Teddy. Teddy was too young to be in the youth group, but he also really wanted to raise money for a water project. Teddy pestered his father nonstop for a month until his father finally went to the school principal to see if such a water project was possible. The principal immediately agreed to let Teddy promote the project in school. “Teddy sold raindrops,” Sr. Jan says. He put a big cloud on a wall at the school and sold raindrop cutouts for a dollar. Teddy raised $1100 for water that first year and remains committed to raising money with falling raindrops.
Continuing the Collaboration
Sr. Jan believes that “mission is making God’s love visible wherever we are. So mission happens at home and abroad, wherever we are. I think it’s so needed in today’s world.” Sr. Jan continues to do mission and make God’s love visible through working with high school and university students on their service learning projects, organizing trips to Guatemala and El Salvador that are filled with the Gospel, reflection, and prayer. This is an important part of Global Partners: Running Waters, she says, and a way of exposing these youths to the peoples and cultures of Latin America and their needs. These students learn much about themselves through the experience and “it’s amazing how people move forward after this and start doing things on their own.”
Sr. Jan plans to continue her work with Global Partners: Running Waters, focusing on collaborative efforts and relationship building in order to support the many water and health projects needed in the region.