July 23, 1934 – February 14, 2000
Sister Jan liked to share a motto: “May the peace of Christ disturb you. I cannot be without disturbance and I pray that other people will discuss and begin to do something.”
When she entered as a Dominican Associate in 1971, Jan Stobbart was a woman of 36 years, independent mind and broad experience, and a convert of four years. She had found the love of Christ and had been drawn to the Order because of its emphasis on contemplation.
Born in Cumberland, Maryland, July 23, 1934, Sandra Joanne Stobbart had lived in Saginaw much of her life. She was the only child of English-born Frank, a Christmas-and-Easter Episcopalian, and Dorothea of Welsh and Irish ancestry and an earnest Presbyterian. Jan early gave up church attendance and strove to meet her father’s demands for perfection. “We were upper-middle-class with aspirations to the Country Club set, but too much real common sense to kowtow to such complete hypocrisy.”
From the age of six on, Jan was involved in “show business” – magic, pantomime, dancing, and singing in front of audiences. In school she was often bored but excelled in expressing herself through the violin and writing. “By the ninth grade I was voicing strong things about loyalty, justice, and truth, and got the only black girl at the common junior high school to be my campaign manager when I ran for president of the student body. I lost the campaign, but won a clear definition of my position in life.”
Between the ages of 18 and 31 Jan “adventured” her way through life, trying to prove herself and find purpose. She went to Central Michigan University for a while and tried different occupations. She delved into Catholicism, Buddhism, other Christian denominations, humanism, agnosticism, objectivism, and atheism. Then she took a position as librarian in Brant Township, where she met Christian people whose generosity and simplicity led her to accept Christ and become a Catholic. “I saw there the acts of faith among people where there was no gain, no remuneration, no score keeping.” Within a few years, June 19, 1971, she entered the Dominican Order at Marywood. She was received on June 11, 1972 and given the name Sister Jan of the Holy Spirit. On June 10, 1973 she made first vows and on September 1, 1976 final vows.
As Sister Jan, she completed her education at Aquinas College and soon put to good use her talents in communication. Her first appointment was as Associate Director of the Saginaw Diocesan Office of Communication. After a year she became director. In this ministry she spread the Christian message through the media of radio, television, and newspaper. She assisted parish groups in their communicating and was involved with ministerial associations and social agencies. She appeared as “Auntie Jan” on a locally produced children’s television program and gave a variety of personal appearances and lectures. To meet the needs of shut-ins, she launched a weekly televised Sunday Mass from a specially constructed set in the local TV studio.
Sister Jan’s next appointment took her to the Diocese of San Francisco, where she began as assistant to the executive director of the Archdiocesan Communications Center and became director of public service for radio and television. There she coordinated the televising of Sunday Mass to seven dioceses for an audience of over 200,000 ill and elderly persons. She was presented a Gabriel Award for her work in radio and television. In 1981 she became regional coordinator for Paulist Communications in the Western and Southwestern States.
In 1987 Jan returned home to Saginaw to help care for her legally blind mother. While remaining regional representative of Paulist Communications, she trained through the Mature Worker Program and began advising other persons on how to care for aging parents or spouses. She became a member of the advisory board of the Alzheimer’s Disease Community Outreach education program. In 1995 she published a booklet, Ministry Exploration, of Home Health Care, Human Service Agencies and Diocesan Services in Saginaw, Michigan. She herself visited the homebound and helped care for Alzheimer’s patients.
Jan was a community activist. She was a member of the Area Police Advisory Council # 6 and helped develop the police department’s Vision 2000. She belonged to the Northwest Neighborhood Association and served as secretary of the Saginaw Neighborhood Network. Moreover she was on the City Council Liaison Committee and was a judge of the citywide Beautification Awards.
At the time of her silver jubilee in 1997, Jan wrote: “The grace of God and a sense of humor have carried me across miles of itinerant ministries, but it is the character, care and candor of so many wonderful Sisters that has mentored me through the challenges. I thank God and our Dominican community for what has been, and lean forward with enthusiasm to whatever will be.”
Whatever was to be took the form of illness leading to an early death. In mid-January Jan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Characteristically, she personally notified her friends and began planning a “farewell bash.” Before that could be, however, she suffered a massive stroke on February 13 and died the following day. Her memorial service and funeral were first celebrated at St. Andrew’s Church in Saginaw where she served as a faithful choir member. Later in February a memorial liturgy will be held at Marywood.
Jan once listed as her interests: “Everything everywhere!” More specifically she mentioned appreciation of God’s natural creations, both earth and people, travel, writing, poetry, sketching, music, and carpentry –“if I’m ever again in one place long enough to build anything.” Her days of activism on earth have ended, but it’s safe to predict that she will continue to be on the heavenly watch committee.
Sister Jan is survived by her mother Mrs. (Frank) Dorothea Stobbart of Saginaw, an uncle Howard L. (Buzz) Lewis of Saginaw, several cousins and many friends. Her father Frank C. Stobbart predeceased her May 16, 1989.
Entered eternal life on February 14, 2000 at the age of 65 after 27 years of religious life
We commend Sister Jan to your prayers.