Sister Jean Michalec combines teaching ecology and environmental issues to university students with volunteer commitments, including an ecumenical ministry with migrant women and interfaith/ecumenical peace activities.
Sister Jean came to Maryknoll in 1962 from New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada after receiving her B.Sc. in Bio-Chemistry from the University of B.C., Vancouver. She was assigned to Japan in 1966 and after language study began teaching middle school students in Yokkaichi, and doing parish work in Suzuka.
In 1971 she began doing graduate studies and teaching English in the Jesuit Sophia University. After receiving her M.A. in Bio-Chemistry at Sophia in 1973, she continued studying, teaching while mentoring and doing research in Developmental Neurochemistry, completing her Ph.D. work and graduating with a Doctor of Science degree in Bio-Chemistry in 1979.
In the 80’s, she was asked to leave Japan and work in Vocation Ministry in the Western U.S. for three years and wrote, “Leaving Japan was a hard uprooting experience for me but was made gentler by my friends and co-workers in the lab, the parish and the university and most of all by my Maryknoll Sisters in Tokyo. I felt sad to leave but very much gifted by all the persons and experiences that have become the threads and colors in my life tapestry.”
While she was working in Vocation Ministry in San Francisco, CA another of her talents came out in the photos she took of murals on buildings. One included the Four Churchwomen, two of whom were Maryknoll Sisters killed in El Salvador in 1980. She wrote, “Our parish has a friendly atmosphere and since most of the parishioners are African American, we often enjoy rhythmic and heartwarming liturgies with music in the style of Spirituals.”
Returning to Japan, she resumed teaching at Sophia University. Today she continues as a part-time instructor of Environmental Issues in the Sophia University International Faculty of Liberal Arts. There she encourages the students to become more knowledgeable about ecological processes and environmental problems and find their way to connect and be active agents for change in society.
For fifteen years she also has visited foreign inmates at Fuchu Prison in Tokyo as a volunteer counselor and held monthly classes in “Survival Japanese.” After ten years, she received a Certificate of Appreciation for volunteer services in counseling and Japanese classes for foreign inmates and with the certificate, a copper vase crafted by prison inmates. She recalls especially the annual Christmas celebrations which grew over the years, to include a spirited entertainment following the Mass. The prison visitors and chaplains arranged for groups to come to perform dances and to sing. It was always a highlight for the men (one which they can no longer enjoy due to stricter regulations). Jean’s role was to be the M.C. Among the inmates attending, there were also many Moslems who expressed touching prayers for their families and fellow inmates. Another Maryknoll Sister now continues this ministry.
Over the last five years, Sister Jean has moved into ecumenical and peace activities, joining the volunteer ministry at the Kalakasan Center for migrant single mothers and their children and meeting with neighborhood housewives for discussions weekly. More recently she was asked to work at the Nunciature temporarily to help with English communications of an ecclesial and international nature. As she leaves the Sophia campus next spring, there is the promise of new things!