When Sister Barbara Anne Stowasser, CSJ, ’60 started at Mount Saint Mary’s in 1956, she wasn’t a typical student. She attended class while dressed in full habit.
“I joined the Sisters of St. Joseph right out of high school,” she says. “Even as a child, I always had a feeling that I needed to do something special for God. At that time, there weren’t many opportunities except through religious life. My mother said, ‘They will send you home in a month!’ but 62 years later, here I am.”
When Stowasser entered the novitiate in 1955, she was one of 68 women who joined. After six months, the young women became novices, were given full habits and the ones who joined out of high school started taking classes at the Mount. Approximately half of the women already had college degrees — one had even been a captain in the Army — and were able to start serving the community at that point.
Today, women are expected to have college degrees or work experience, and habits are no longer required, though some still don one, or a veil, at least among older sisters. But back in the 1950s, the young women entering religious life stood out from their peers.
“We were the oddity,” she says. “We weren’t supposed to talk to the other students and our classes were small, so we were fairly isolated. Most professors came down to teach us at the Carondelet Center. Even our graduation ceremony was held separately in the library.” Given the choice between teaching or nursing, she chose teaching and majored in history.
Her ministry in the years following was rich and fulfilling. Stowasser spent the first 18 years in education. Next, her ministry took her to Tucson, where she first served as the Regional Superior, then as director of St. Elizabeth’s Clinic, and finally as a hospital patient representative. After that, she returned “home” to the Carondelet Center.
These days, only a handful of young women are becoming sisters, but that doesn’t worry her. Even without the number of sisters increasing, their mission continues.
“There are so many opportunities to respond to God’s call these days,” she says. “Today, we have seven women from across the country serving right now as St. Joseph Workers, living together in a house for a year, such as sisters would do, and ministering in nonprofits throughout Los Angeles,” she says. “It won’t grow our community, but the work is continuing."
Stowasser says that if she hadn’t become a sister, she probably would have gotten married. But she is thankful for her vocation and has never looked back.
She was thrilled to have been invited back to serve a second term on the Mount’s Board of Trustees last fall, having first served from 2014 to 2017. “The Mount is a tremendous gift to society,” Stowasser says. “Think about the alums across the nation who are lawyers, doctors, judges, etc. They are making a difference and I am excited to be part of that future.”