Four months after facing her cancer diagnosis with extraordinary courage, dignity, and grace, Sister Judith Ann Oland died peacefully in Benet Hall at St. Scholastica Monastery on September 11, 2017.
During her lifetime, Judith came to experience the joy and comfort of being a gardener. For many years she knelt on Mother Earth, contemplating the rich possibility of empty land. Working the soil and planting the seeds, she patiently waited for a small plot of land to be transformed into beauty and life. She first discovered her love for gardening as a Chaplain at Wilmar State Hospital. Little did she know that in the future she would garden the terrain of the human heart.
Born in Hibbing, Minnesota with Norwegian and Croatian roots, blue-eyed, blond haired Sister Judith was first planted in her family garden with her brother Tom, her sister Wanda and their parents Rose “Rhoda” (Maras) and Norman Oland. As her family grew, she was blessed with her beloved niece, Paige, and her grandnephews, Max and Danny. From early childhood, music played an important part in her life. Little Judy would sing Sunday school songs with gusto in her Pentecostal Church. One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus was a hymn that remained a favorite of hers and one that she sang often throughout her life. Having attended Ensign Lincoln Elementary and Lincoln Junior High Schools, she went on to graduate from Denfeld High School. During her teenage years Judith was active in music and drama. The creative arts and her love for music continued to enrich her throughout her life.
Her deep faith and search for God led her to the Catholic Church where she was received as a convert during her junior year in high school. On September 8, 1961, Judith entered St. Scholastica Monastery. Upon entering the Novitiate, she received a new name and was known as Sister Justin. Together with eighteen other women, she professed final vows in 1966. She celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 2013.
She received her B.A. in Elementary Education from The College of St. Scholastica. After teaching children in the Catholic schools of the Duluth Diocese for nine years she pursued Pastoral Ministry. In 1977 she participated in a CPE Program at Wilmar Regional Treatment Center and was certified as a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor. There, for nine years, she ministered to the mentally challenged and adult psychiatric residents, while at the same time serving as Pastoral Associate at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Kandiyohi, Minnesota. In 1988 she received her M.A. in Theology from St. John’s University, Collegeville. She returned to Duluth a year later and served her Benedictine Community as Formation Director. In the following years she also served as subprioress, as a member of the Monastic Community Council, and as a trustee on the Boards of St. Joseph Medical Center, Brainerd and The College of St. Scholastica. In 1991 she became a CPE Supervisor at Essentia Health – St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth, and from 1999 until the time of her medical diagnosis she was also the Program Director of the CPE Center.
Judith dedicated herself to CPE, a transformational process wherein the potential of the human spirit is unleashed. For nearly four decades, men and women of all faith traditions have been sharing the fruits of that experience in a rich diversity of ministries. Through her students, the seed of Judith’s life has been scattered within families, parishes, prisons, nursing homes, businesses, and medical centers, transforming the landscape of the wider community. Her students have held her in high esteem with heartfelt gratitude, appreciating her gentle presence and her delightful sense of humor. They speak of her as a sentinel of courage, wisdom, creativity, compassion, and integrity. She challenged and encouraged them to spread their wings beyond the familiar and to embrace their own fertile land, rich with the possibility for new growth. Discovering the gift of watercolor later in life, Judith created beauty in a world of shadow and light and knew, in the words of May Sarton, “that without darkness nothing comes to birth as without light nothing flowers.” She indeed became a gardener of the human spirit and many lives have been forever changed because of her.
Judith knew that gardening of the earth and the human spirit took commitment and patience. During the transition times in her life, she found encouragement and comfort with the words of Teilhard de Chardin:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
Two months before she died, with the help of her friends, Sister Sue Fortier and Sonja Anderson, Judith was able to fulfill her dying wish of seeing her beloved friend, Sister Rosemary Ferguson, one more time. Together Judith, Sue and Sonja traveled to Adrian, Michigan for what became a sacred reunion. In sharing her faith on that journey Judith said, “When I think of the immensity of the cosmic journey, I feel we make our world so small and narrow. No matter what happens, even in death, our lives are so much bigger than what we see and know of them.”
Judith was a teacher up until the end of her life, teaching us not only how to live but how to die. She once said she wanted to live her life in such a way that she would make a difference in the lives of others. Like a generous gardener, she gave of the bounty of her life so those she served would come to know the richness of their own lives.
Judith was preceded in death by her mother Rose “Rhoda” (Maras) Bjork, her father Norman Oland, her beloved brother Tom, her infant sister Mary Jo, and her good friend Fr. Frank Garvey. Left to cherish her life are her treasured sister Wanda and brother-in-law Dewey Johnson, stepsister Julie (Rulmyer) Williams, dearly loved niece Paige (Bruce) Jensen, grandnephews Max and Danny, her Benedictine Sisters, and many friends. Judith will be deeply missed by all who have been privileged to know and love her.
Sister Judith’s wake service and Mass of Christian Burial were celebrated in Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel at St. Scholastica Monastery on September 18, 2017. Father Tom Foster presided. She is buried in Gethsemane Cemetery at St. Scholastica Monastery.