Nun from city publishes memoir on her life and advocacy

May 4, 2023 | Matt Conway

Sister Jane Morrissey stands at the front of the class during a visit to St. Mary’s Parish School, her alma mater, in Westfield in 2016.
Reminder Publishing file photo

WESTFIELD — Following decades of aiding her community, Sister Jane Morrissey from the Sisters of St. Joseph details her life and legacy in her new autobiography “Finding Jane in the Box — A Memoir.”

Morrissey recently celebrated the book’s launch with a reading and signing on April 11 at her collegiate alma mater, Elms College in Chicopee.

A native of Franklin Street and Court Street in Westfield, and former pupil at St. Mary’s Parish School, Morrissey initially joined the Sisters of St. Joseph, a Catholic order of nuns, roughly 60 years ago. She recalls traveling to New York City as a youth, when she was presented with the idea of being part of the organization while weighing her future opportunities. Morrissey ultimately felt compelled to embrace the religious life as a way to give back to people in need.

“I think I know with certainty now that this is the life God wanted me to lead. Like most of the choices we make in life, we make them one day at a time and go on a certain path. If we are honest with ourselves, we know if it fits. This certainly fit for me,” said Morrissey.

In her career, Morrissey worked in a multitude of roles. She was one of the founders of the Gray House at 22 Sheldon St., Springfield, a nonprofit that helps Springfield North End residents facing hardships by providing food, clothing and education in a positive environment.

Morrissey and her peers purchased the property for $500. They performed significant restorations on the structure before re-opening it as a home for a variety of programs. She expressed pride that the Gray House became “a place that belonged to the neighborhood.”

When asked about positively impacting the community, Morrissey said it was those that the Gray House helped whom she learned valuable life lessons from.

“More than my reaching them, they were reaching me. They were teaching me what really matters,” said Morrissey.

In addition, Morrisey entrenched herself as an educator after graduating from Elms College and earning a doctorate in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She taught individuals at the Gray House and the Homework House of Hermano Pedro in Holyoke. The latter program offers free academic support to children in grades 1-8.

Teaching various subject matters was important for Morrissey, but she also focused on empowering students to achieve their best selves academically.

“I learned that only when I trusted that the children I was with at Homework House could do better did I really enable them to do better. They saw that they could do better, and that’s more than teaching subject matter. That is teaching people,” said Morrissey.

Additionally, Morrissey was named an Ambassador of Peace by Pax Christi USA in 2022.

Morrissey started focusing on her memoir as she transitioned away from academia and her role at the Gray House. When leaving the Gray House, she began packing away her things when a box of journals and old term papers she wrote was discovered. Morrissey initially planned to throw away the box before a staff member of the Gray House informed her of the box’s potential significance.

“He said, ‘Sister Jane, are you sure that you want this to go to the rubbish?’” she recalled.

Morrissey used the recovered artifacts and her extensive experience in literature as fuel for writing her memoir. She also participated in a writing group that gave her encouragement on her reflections on life and service.

“They said, ‘Sister Jane, you should write your story,’” said Morrissey.

With the book now on the market, Morrissey said it’s been a tremendous honor to receive positive responses during various book signing events. In addition, several friends, colleagues, and community members have been in attendance to express their gratitude for Morrissey and her lasting impact in the community.

“I hope people who are reading the memoir in their own ways are learning life lessons from me,” said Morrissey.

“Finding Jane in a Box — A Memoir” is available for sale at Lulu.com. The proceeds will benefit the Sisters of St. Joseph.

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