Sister Joette Ebert enjoys spending time with summer camp students.
“I couldn’t think of anyplace else to go, and then I remembered who you are.” These words from a past student of Sister Joette Ebert clearly exemplify the impact of her presence on her students.
An educator for 40 years, Sister Joette has spent 35 of those years teaching religion and English to junior high students at St. Anthony Elementary School in the inner city of Washington, D.C. “I love what I do, and thoroughly enjoy the kids. I consider myself blessed.”
Many of Sister Joette’s students experience painful home situations. As a way of helping them deal with such issues she allows students to “take five” when they feel they need to talk about their situations with those who understand. Students in turn pray for the intention. “I want them to feel loved and safe,” she says.
Teachers and parents have also experienced her Franciscan presence and prayer. Three days a week, she meets with teachers and mothers who come together to pray. “It’s a great joy. People have invested a lot of truth to me and let me know how things are going in their life and ask me to pray for them. They trust that I will do that. And I do.”
Beyond the classroom, Sister Joette’s “side ministry” as she calls it, extends into her neighborhood in Hyattsville, Md. where she rents a basement apartment. Her neighbors are from places like El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico.
Down the street from where she resides, is a community of young lay people whom she visits frequently. “We talk about what’s going on in D.C. and the world and eat popcorn.” In one of their conversations, Sister Joette had the opportunity to talk about the radical nature of St. Francis, about Franciscans and about building authentic relationships. One of the young men asked, “So what do you do with those relationships?” In response she said, “That is one of the best ways we get to know our God.”
Sister Joette often rides the bus to school in the morning with a couple of these young people. One morning the same young man introduced her to the young lady sitting next to him. “This is Sister Jo,” he said. “She teaches, but mostly she loves.”
When incredible storms hit D.C., Maryland and Virginia in the summer of 2012, neighbors were concerned about food spoiling since they were without electricity. “Inspired by the Spirit,” Sister Joette says she asked several men in the neighborhood to bring out their grills, and a grand cookout took place with the most amazing variety of foods which were enjoyed by about 70 people.
The next morning several of the neighbors knocked on her front door with a homemade certificate that read, “This award goes to Sister Jo. … She is our good neighbor. … She loves God a lot … she figured out how we could all eat together.” Since then, the neighborhood has had about five of what some call “loaves and fishes” parties.
Sister Joette says, “My life is pretty simple, but always blessed. It’s full of bits and pieces. What I know deep in my heart is that God has been remarkably good.”