Sister Spotlight: Sr. John strives to positively impact the lives of others


Photo credit/ Thomas Kerrigan

Sr. John Michele Southwick has spent 34 years impacting the lives of members of the Marywood community.

Sr. John Michele Southwick had not wanted to join the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), but after 55 years in the IHM and 34 years in campus ministry at Marywood, she does not regret her decision.
“I never wanted to become a sister,” said Southwick. “I wanted to get married, and I wanted to have lots of kids.”
However, Southwick said God had other plans for her.
“There was something that was nagging at the back of my head that said ‘No, that’s not what you’re supposed to do,’” said Southwick. “And of course, God wins in the end.”
Southwick said she joined the IHM in 1965 and began teaching elementary school. Eventually, Southwick received a master’s degree in music and taught elementary through high school music for 10 years. Southwick said she enjoyed teaching music, but that over time she decided she needed to do something different.
“I felt as if the students’ lives were happening around me, and I was busy teaching music,” said Southwick.
As a result, when a position opened at Marywood, Southwick said she took it. When she was first hired as the Assistant Dean of Students, Southwick said she was responsible for the international students, off-campus housing, and campus ministry. However, as time passed, campus ministry grew and the responsibilities for international students and off-campus housing were delegated to others.
For a time, Southwick said she served as the Director of Campus Ministry, but she grew to dislike the administrative portions of the job.
“I just don’t like doing that paperwork and all of that stuff,” said Southwick. “So when one of our staff members was leaving, I said let me do the grunt work and hire somebody else to be the director.”
Now Southwick serves as the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, where her duties range from working with the Food Recovery Network to starting racial healing conversation circles. Southwick also does some pastoral counseling and spiritual direction and works with Pugwash to advocate for issues such as climate change.
“I try to work with any group that has stuff to do with social justice,” said Southwick.
Senior Religious Studies major Brien McChesney said he has learned a lot from Southwick.
“She is compassionate and caring, and she’s able to advocate in a stern and assertive way when she needs to,” said McChesney. “She’s able to get things done. She’s able to see what matters and figure out what we’re able to do about it.”
Southwick said the most rewarding part of her job is working with the students.
“You never know what difference you’re going to make in somebody’s life, and I think that for me that’s the greatest thing we can do for one another is to impact somebody’s life positively,” said Southwick.
Amid COVID-19, Southwick urges students to be kind and to be safe.
“If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it,” said Southwick. “There’s nothing wrong with asking for help or asking for what you need. And if there is anyone that doesn’t know who to ask, tell them to come to me.”
Despite 34 years of service in campus ministry at Marywood, Southwick said she has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“Most people would have retired by now—long retired by now—but the good old IHMs, they don’t retire,” said Southwick.
McChesney said he admires Southwick’s passion for serving and loving others as well as her sense of humor.
“Sr. John is always there for a good laugh,” said McChesney. “She’s always there for a good cry. She has a compassionate heart and is an admirable person. Thank God for Sr. John.”
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