People you should know: Sister Janet Welsh

By Melissa Rohman

If you enter the Magnus Arts Center, you will find works of student-made artwork and you will probably also see Sister Janet Welsh working tirelessly to preserve Dominican’s history. One of the few Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wis. still here on campus, Sr. Janet runs the McGreal Center for Dominican Historical Studies. The center holds 17 original collections about the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisterhood that Sr. Janet is always proud and happy to share with anyone who enters.

Sr. Janet grew up and went to school on the south side of Chicago. She made her vows to become a sister of the Dominican order in 1968. “Being a sister is a calling. It’s a mystery and a leap of faith,” she said.

But with that leap, she couldn’t feel more blessed. Sr. Janet thanks God for the gift of her Dominican life and the many opportunities she has experienced that deepened her understanding of what it means to be a sister.

Sr. Janet also gives great thanks to Sister Mary Nona McGreal, who initiated the research and writing of the history of the U.S. Order of Preachers. Sr. Mary said, “For the sake of present and future service to the church, there is a need to know the history of the Dominican family on mission together.” As you walk into the McGreal Center, you will see these words come to life through the numerous collections and archives.

Originally a primary teacher, Sr. Janet taught as a campus minister in California and then went on to study religious studies. In 1985, she came to work at Dominican until 1988, when she left to earn her Ph.D. in history at the University of Notre Dame. Always happy to come back, she returned to Dominican in 1995 as a history and education professor as well as a promoter of the university’s mission.

Her passion for history and teaching elevated further in 2008 when the McGreal Center was opened on campus. Currently supervising tens of volunteers, interns, and graduate assistants, Sister Janet is always happy to share her love of history with others while uncovering the stories and documents left to her and her staff by the Dominican Order.

As an advocate for the history of the Dominican sisterhood, Sr. Janet invites anyone from the campus and the community to view the articles, records, and the hundreds of books housed in the center.

“It’s a great place for students to get to know the history of nuns, the sisters, and the friars. You learn through the documents that no one is perfect, but the people do indeed try and that is what’s important,” said Sr. Janet.

Sr. Janet supervises a diverse staff. “We have anyone from 19 to 84 years old working in here representing various personalities, learning styles, and ethnic, racial and religious traditions.”

While she is not working, you can find Sr. Janet reading a good historical fiction novel, gardening, or keeping up with her big family. She is also a huge fan of theater and loves the play Our Town. But overall, she wouldn’t be able to do what she loves every day without the relationship she has with God.

“God is always with me,” she said. “God is always a blessing. Even in hard times, God gives us wonderful gifts and is always surprising us.”

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