For Diocese of Lansing seminarians, Jane is a 'second mom'
Jane Sessions welcomes visitors into the Department of Formation’s Office of Seminarians with a warm, wide smile and sparkling eyes. Strangers or friends, secular or religious, Jane offers hospitality, assistance or a listening ear to each person.
For 20 years, Jane has helped men navigate the discernment process. From the moment of first contact to ordination, Jane is the voice, hands and heart helping with paperwork and deadlines. Administration assistance isn’t all she offers seminarians, though. Jane also shares her faith, nurtured from childhood. Her simple but profound belief that God guides her through trials and celebrates her joyful moments is inspiring, and her joy in Christ fills her words and actions.
“At a really young age I fell in love with Jesus,” Jane says.
Her spirituality began to develop when Jane would escape the cacophony of her large family by retreating to her room and reading the white, zippered Bible her parents had given her for Easter.
“Being the middle child, I didn’t like a lot of chaos,” Jane says with a smile.
Those quiet reflective moments were balanced with many activities in the neighborhood Methodist church she attended with her siblings. It was a special place for Jane, filled with activities around which she centered her childhood and young adult life. Her introduction to Catholicism came from neighborhood friendship with three large Catholic families. Jane remembers games of kick the can or hide-and-go-seek ending at one family’s home where she would be invited to share in their evening ritual of praying the rosary.
“Being that I already loved Jesus, I thought honoring his mother was really awesome,” she says. “And then I got the opportunity to go to Mass several times.”
During the Mass, Jane marveled at the presence of Christ she witnessed on the crucifix and in the Eucharist. Jane’s exposure to Catholicism intensified when she began dating her husband, David, in high school. He would pick her up from teaching Sunday school at the Methodist church and they would attend Mass together. After high school and David’s return from a tour of duty with the Air Force in Vietnam, they became engaged. Jane found her growing love for her fiancé was mirrored in her growing love of Catholicism. Before Jane and David married, she went through the RCIA program and came into the Church.
“I love the rituals of the Catholic Church,” Jane says. “I love the traditions.”
Married life added new faith experiences, both as a stay-at-home mother to three daughters and through her participation in different activities at St. Gerard Parish in Lansing. Shared activities with David included teaching religious education classes, working in the marriage preparation program and participating as a team couple with World Wide Marriage Encounter.
“The Catholic Church, family life and the vocation of marriage are deeply rooted values to both of us,” Jane explains.
These faith experiences and David’s unexpected job loss led Jane to apply for a secretarial position 20 years ago in the formation office of the Diocese of Lansing. After being hired, Jane remembers asking Father Mark Inglot, who was seminarian director at the time, why he wanted her for the position. Father Mark said that he could train someone with business skills to do administrative work, but her faith, attitude and natural smile were gifts that couldn’t be taught. She believes her faith and skills have increased from her experiences working for five different directors. “Each priest helped deepen my faith and sharpen my skills in unique ways” Jane says.
She sees her position as a ministry that, along with her faith, and her family, she feels deeply blessed by and gives thanks for every day.
“I’m very proud of our diocese for all that they do to assist our seminarians during their discernment. It’s not about numbers, it’s about good priests and the Diocese of Lansing is very blessed” Jane says.
From first contact, Jane is there to guide each man through each step of the application process for the diocese and the seminary. She created checklists and timetables to make life easier for the applicants to keep deadlines from being forgotten. Jane coordinates financial sponsorships for each seminarian from more than 40 Knights of Columbus councils in the diocese, which provide support for their personal needs such as books and supplies. Along with other duties under the department chairperson, she administrates the Joseph Albers Trust Fund, which was set up by Bishop Albers to help with tuition grants for college seminarians – expenses not covered in contributions made to the Diocesan Service Appeal for theology seminarians.
“Jane really is, in many ways, the connection of these young men with the diocese, especially during the application process,” says Father John Linden, director of the Office of Seminarians.
Father John credits Jane’s joy-filled and open personality as providing comfort and security to young men feeling vulnerable about their new direction in life.
“It is very important to have that warm person as you walk in the door,” he says.
When Father John introduces each new seminarian to Jane, he explains that Jane will be the man’s third mother, right behind the Blessed Mother and the seminarian’s mother.
“The least we can do is give them someone they can find comfort with,” Father John says.
Jane is the friendly voice on the other end of the phone for the seminarians who even study in Rome. She communicates regularly with families of seminarians and creates a community for all the families together through special events.
“It is a privilege for me to witness up front as each of these men grow in their journey to the priesthood, and celebrating their success at ordination. I get pretty sentimental at an ordination as I reflect back on the first time I connected and worked with him as a candidate through the application process,” she admits.
Jane’s relationship with seminarians does not stop after ordination. She often receives visits and phone calls from her former seminarians, and sometimes one becomes her boss, like Father John.
“She’s authentically Jane, and the same person I met 13 years ago,” Father John says warmly. “There was Jane to welcome me both times in my insecurity and help me feel secure,” he says of her powerful and soothing presence when he started in the seminary and years later as he became the department chair and the director of seminarians. He appreciates Jane’s faith and experience, as well as her support of him the past two years. “It makes my work more joyful,” says Father John.
“It’s all about answering God’s call in your life and giving it your all; God’s grace will do the rest,” Jane says. This simple yet profound belief has kept Jane close to God all her life and helped her to support and inspire a generation of seminarians and priests.