Sister Jean Steffes: A Legacy of Leadership
As Sister Jean Steffes completes her 17th and final year as General Superior, we look back at her leadership in the congregation.
Sister Jean was the first of a new generation of CSA’s leaders who went through their religious formation as the Church and the congregation were grappling with the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
Professed in 1967, she taught English at Immaculate Conception High School in Elmhurst, Illinois, and St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac. While at the Springs, she also served as CSA’s Novice Directress. Recognizing her leadership potential, Sister Judith Schmidt, then General Superior, asked Sister Jean to become a Regional Coordinator in 1982, where she was primarily con
cerned with the welfare of the sisters in the eastern part of the country.
Four years later, she was elected to her first term as General Superior. She was reelected in 1989 for another four-year term, after which she served as Vicar for Religious and Chancellor of the Diocese of Phoenix. The congregation again called her to leadership, electing her as General Superior in 2013 and 2017.
A talented administrator, Sister Jean embraced the challenge of finding concrete ways to integrate CSA’s mission with the larger Church, specifically by answering Vatican II’s call for preferential treatment of the poor. During her tenure, and at the behest of all the sisters, CSA has taken on a greater role in advocating for social justice issues including anti-human trafficking, economic equality, rights of women and children, and climate change.
Sisters are encouraged to choose ministries with direct impact on the problems of poverty in the United States and Nicaragua. Sister Jean invited more lay women to join the boards of directors of CSA’s sponsored institutions and encouraged employees of those institutions to integrate their spiritual values with their work life. Through a combination of installing its own solar panels and purchasing more from a local community project, CSA’s motherhouse is now 100% solar-powered. The nearly complete Katharine Drexel Homeless Shelter in Fond du Lac also is benefitting from CSA’s generous donation and purchase of solar panels for their building.
A theme of Sister Jean’s time in leadership is transitions and evolution. In 1987, CSA took over sponsorship of Waupun Memorial Hospital from the School Sisters of St. Francis. In 1990, CSA’s St. Anthony Hospital merged with Hadley Memorial Hospital in Hays, Kansas. And in 2018, CSA made the emotional decision to transfer sponsorship of St. Agnes Hospital, Monroe Clinic, and its other healthcare facilities to SSM Health.
Through it all, Sister Jean has led the community in its evolution toward a future with fewer sisters, but an invigorated sense of mission by continually answering Mother Agnes’s call to take on courageous initiatives.