Sister Maria Pesavento of Joliet Catholic Academy’s Business Office was recently recognized by multiple generations of her community.
Friends and family, ranging in age from 8 to 95, came together to celebrate Pesavento’s 50th anniversary as a sister of St. Mary Immaculate during a jubilee celebration held by the Joliet Congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis.
Reflecting on her lifetime of service and commitment to religious life, Pesavento said, “I believe that Franciscan religious life means deep Gospel living. This requires a commitment to pondering the life, mission, values, and actions of Jesus and trying to act on them in today’s world.”
Pesavento was born and raised in Joliet. She attended Catholic grade school and St. Francis Academy high school. Becoming a sister was in the back of her mind at a young age. Pesavento felt a calling to religious life while in grade school and considered entering the order of nuns that staffed the school. However, her experiences at SFA caused her to reconsider.
Pesavento saw a difference in the order of sisters who staffed the academy. They seemed happier, more content with their lives. Sister Noel taught mathematics and was one of Pesavento’s favorite teachers.
“She made math very understandable, fun to learn,” commented Pesavento.
After graduating from SFA in 1960, Pesavento entered the convent. Upon professing her commitment as a Sister of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate in 1963, she was assigned to teach high school mathematics in Louisville, Ohio. After two years, she was reassigned to Bishop Ready High School in Columbus, Ohio.
In 1968, sister Jane Meara recruited Pesavento and welcomed her back to Illinois with a teaching position at SFA, where she taught math from 1972 through 1976. During that time, SFA was the sister school for Joliet Catholic High School. The schools would often collaborate on events, including Jubilation, the primary fundraising event for both schools.
As the academy was closed in preparation for the event, SFA teachers would teach mini-courses at JCHS. The program of mini-courses was titled “Partners in Learning.” These classes were not academically driven and often contained an element of fun. Pesavento and lifelong friend, sister Faith Szambelanczyk (past JCA president), taught courses such as “Italian in a Nut Shell” and “Soap Operas.”
In 1976, Bishop Ready’s Bill Groce recruited Pesavento to return to the school. After ten years in Ohio, Pesavento was appointed by the congregation as its assistant treasurer and held that position for six years. Elected to the congregation’s governing board in 1992, Pesavento spent the first four years as a counselor, the next four years as counselor and general treasurer, and served as congregation president from 2000-2004.
After a short sabbatical, Pesavento was asked to serve as an administrator for Our Lady of Angels, where she served for five years and obtained her Illinois Nursing Home Administration License. After a couple of years off, she returned to the Joliet Catholic Academy family as a member of the Business Office in 2011.
There has always been a special place in Pesavento’s heart for JCA. Having been a graduate of SFA and later teaching there, Pesavento’s affections for the school are great.
“I wanted to come back and have another presence of a sister here at JCA so that, hopefully, the faculty, staff, and students could experience more of the ‘flavor’ of what it means to be Franciscan,” she said.
Pesavento enjoys being back and working with teenagers again.
“I love the enthusiasm kids bring to life. It helps me stay young and involved,” she said.
What does being an angel mean to Pesavento? It means an “excellent education, being grounded in faith, a family that I will always belong to.”
Being a sister for 50 years required a deep commitment, but it doesn’t mean you cannot have fun. Pesavento is an avid sports fan. You can catch her cheering on the Chicago White Sox, the University of Notre Dame, and Joliet Catholic Academy.
She enjoys volleyball, word puzzles, reading, and computer games. Her favorite Sox player of all time is Nellie Fox , and she has read her favorite book, Jane Eyre, about five times.
Celebrating Pesavento’s Jubilee were family and friends, including her older sister, Arlene (Maury) Corn, from California; younger brother, Stephen (Rita) Pesavento from Minnesota; and Aunt Alba, cousins, life-long friends, and her JCA family.
“These are the people that through my life gave me love and support,” she said. “They have been with me through various stages in my life.”
Pesavento’s advice to a young woman considering entering an order, “Follow your heart. You really have to love what you’re doing. If you can’t give whole-heartedly you won’t be happy. Being a sister is a privilege; the congregation becomes family.”
Also celebrating was JCA’s first president, Sr. Lucille Krippel (60-year Jubilee), along with 16 other Jubilarians.