This article is one of a series by Aquinas College students for National Catholic Sisters Week SisterStory Project. This article is written by Aquinas College Junior Ellyse VanderKamp with Sr. Joan Thomas.


As someone who is not at all familiar with the Catholic tradition, I was interested to see how my lack of knowledge would influence my involvement in the SisterStory project. Not knowing the language, ceremonies, traditions or religious titles that encompass the Catholic faith, I knew there would be at least a small learning curve when entering into conversation with Sister Joan.

When we first met, it was obvious that she was committed to her faith, which I really admired. What I didn’t expect was for her to be so ecstatic and high energy when it came to her faith, her life and the opportunity to be a part of SisterStory. Sister Joan’s positivity was contagious, and being a rather outgoing and extroverted person myself, we definitely had a lot to talk about.

The topic of religion and faith was brought up frequently in the many times we met and talked with one another. Sister Joan was committed to making me feel included in her experience while still understanding that she may have to explain and walk me through some concepts. This gave me a fuller and richer understanding of Catholicism as well as the religious vocation. From this she has taught me so much.

One time when we were talking, Sister Joan explained to me that she did not come from an exclusively Catholic home. Her mother was Catholic and Sister Joan did attend Catholic school, but her father was Methodist and therefore brought another religious view into her life. This was so special to Sister Joan because she was very grateful for having and understanding many world views so that she not only understood her own religious experience better but could be more understanding and accepting of other people’s beliefs as well. When I learned this, I was filled with admiration, as many stereotypes I had been carrying in the back of my head broke down around me. I was in the presence of someone who was committed to their faith without sacrificing the ability to embrace diversity.

Written by: Ellyse VanderKamp, Aquinas College Junior. Ellyse is a junior at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. She majors in Business and Communication and minors in Women’s Studies. Recording oral histories is new for Ellyse, and she is eager to capture the authentic past in order to preserve it for the future.

This blog is part of the national SisterStory project, a project of National Catholic Sisters Week. The regional SisterStory project has been coordinated by Sister Barbara Hansen, OP and Aquinas College Professor Amy Dunham Strand, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies and Director of the Jane Hibbard Idema Women’s Studies Center. Read more of the Aquinas Student/Dominican SistersStories.