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Sister Michaeleen retires from basilica

John M. Steiner / The Sun Sister Michaeleen Jantzer stands in front of St. James Basilica, where she served for 28 years.
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Sister Michaeleen retires from basilica
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

After decades of service in Jamestown, Sister Michaeleen Jantzer is preparing to retire and return to the Mother of God Monastery in Watertown, S.D., in August or September.

“We try to share the goodness of God with people,” Jantzer said. “After my dedication to God, the first thing is to share my love of God with people, and to share what Jesus said — that he would be with us always.”

Jantzer, a Benedictine nun, grew up in western North Dakota. She was just 6 years old when her 34-year-old father died, leaving her mother to raise Jantzer, then Beverly Ann Katherine, and her brother. The family moved to Glen Ullin and Jantzer’s mother sent the little girl to a Catholic school for the first time.

“Before my first day of school, I had never seen a sister before,” Jantzer recalled, remembering “… this woman in black, and all the kids I didn’t know.”

But by the end of the school year, she had decided she wanted to be a sister too, and eventually, in 1947, she joined the Benedictine sisters at the Sacred Heart Monastery of Yankton, S.D.

The Sacred Heart Monastery had grown out of a group of five Swiss sisters that had followed Bishop Martin Marty, the first bishop of the Dakota Territory, to his post.

When Jantzer leaves Jamestown, it will be the first time in 130 years that none of the sisters from that group will be serving in North Dakota.

Before she arrived in Jamestown and began working in the parish, though, Jantzer served in a variety of other posts, at first usually as an elementary school teacher and then as a principal as well.

She was in South Dakota cities for 32 years: Epiphany for two years, Yankton for nine, Hoven for three, Webster for five, Ipswich for two, then Cransberg for seven years and Aberdeen for four. Then she headed to Spokane, Washington, for a year to continue her education, and then served in Fargo for six years.

But Jamestown is still her longest call — she has been working with St. James Basilica and the surrounding parishes for 28 years, long enough to have experienced a variety of significant events there — celebrations of North Dakota’s centennial in 1988-89 and the restoration of the basilica in 1993.

“I’m the only staff member that was here when it became a basilica,” Jantzer said, noting this will be the 25th anniversary of that event.

Through it all she has taught and ministered to people in a wide variety of ways.

“I really enjoy teaching,” Jantzer said. “I taught elementary 33 years, but I really, really appreciated … my college men and women.”

She spent part of her time in Jamestown doing campus ministry at the University of Jamestown.

Her most recent position was that of pastoral minister, and she counseled couples working through annulments and coordinated liturgical ministries, and helped those feeling estranged from the church.

“She was very compassionate and did her best to bring them back into the church, and even people who were estranged from the church, or had an issue with the Catholic Church, she liked to talk to them in a kind, compassionate way,” said the Rev. Joe Barrett, pastor at the basilica.

The Rev. Al Bitz, who has just retired from his position as pastor at the basilica, agreed.

“Sister Michaeleen has been such a great pastoral presence in Jamestown for the past 28 years,” Bitz said. “… She was really, really great, and a great minister of reaching out to people of all walks of life in the Jamestown community, for all kinds of things.”

She has done quite a bit of ministry for people coming to the church for help with food, medicine, or housing, and helped them find help when it was needed, Bitz said.

After the Second Vatican Council, the nuns were encouraged to look at their roots as religious women, Jantzer said, and when the organization checked, they found that St. Benedict had really written that Benedictine garments should be easily available where the wearers lived, and that they should fit well.

That wasn’t consistent with the clothing the women were wearing at the time, which included starched coifs with pleats and veils.

“Our community was one of the last in the area to go to street clothes,” Jantzer recalled, noting that some people loved to see the habits because they were symbols of someone dedicated to God and helped others feel closer to God too.

Even though the clothes changed, the dedication to God and the emphasis on prayer and a dedicated life did not, Jantzer said.

“I didn’t wear a habit anymore, but I had a lot of hats — ministry ones,” Jantzer said. “I tried to balance all those ministries that I had.”

Barrett said he couldn’t list everything Jantzer did for the church.

“We probably don’t even know everything she does,” Barrett said. “… we’ll miss her greatly.”

She’s also been involved in ecumenical endeavors, connecting the basilica with other churches and other ministries in Jamestown and the surrounding area.

Jantzer played an important role in the small churches around Jamestown, indicated Lisa Blaskowski, who was a Faith Formation teacher and coordinator.

“She worked out at St. Margaret’s and St. Michael’s with our religious education program, our Faith Formation,” Blaskowski said. “She was always very helpful and kind, and such a happy person.”

Blaskowski praised Jantzer for being helpful, for always having words of encouragement for people who were struggling and for how good Jantzer is with kids.

“Such a good listener, too,” Blaskowski said. “… she was always so upbeat and happy, and (has) such a wonderful laugh. When you saw her, you always just wanted to give her a hug.”

Jantzer gave tours of the basilica, too, with a special emphasis on its unique stained-glass windows.

Most recently, she concentrated on the liturgy, ordering hosts, keeping the vestments clean and in order and finding people to assist with proclaiming the liturgy.

She has also scrupulously attended and recorded all the basilica’s funerals, saving each memory card, obituary and liturgy in a scrapbook.

She’s seen dozens of priests, vicars, deacons and seminarians at the basilica during her tenure, and only one other person on the St. James Basilica staff has been there as long as Jantzer — custodian Paul Wiest.

And now Jantzer is leaving, returning to the Watertown facility. She said anyone is welcome there.

“A big thank you to all the basilica people, but to the whole Jamestown and surrounding area,” Jantzer said. “So many people have entered my life here, and been so good to me.”

She thanked everyone for their prayers and for all their kindness.

“She’s just a wonderful person. We all love Sister Michaeleen out here,” Blaskowski said.

“I appreciate Sister Michaeleen so much. She has such a great vision and a love for the liturgy, and for the Eucharistic celebration and the Benedictine way of life,” Bitz said.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by email at klucin@jamestownsun.com

Kari Lucin

Kari Lucin joined the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia producer in August 2014. Previously, she worked for a few years at the Jamestown Sun in Jamestown, N.D., as a staff writer, and prior to that, for about six years as staff writer and later online content coordinator, at the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. A graduate of Jackson County Central High School and Augsburg College, she has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English. Find more of her writing at her blog, Oh Look, a Shiny Thing! or on Twitter at @karilucin.

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