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Jolie Monasterio’s ministries are a progression rooted in faith

By Sr. Sue Orlowski

Jolie Monasterio

As Jolie Monasterio’s life twists and turns, she asks for God’s help.  Her Catholic roots motivate her to use her gifts in ministry.

After serving parishes in youth ministry and sacred dance, her ministry is now as a case manager at The Women’s Hearth, a day center in downtown Spokane where homeless and low-income women find safety, community and services, including referrals, recovery support, activities, art, music, hygiene supplies, showers, computer access and more. 

The Hearth is one of five Transitions Programs, started by the Sisters of Providence, the Sisters of the Holy Names, the Sinsinawa Dominicans and the Franciscan Sisters of Philadelphia. The other programs are Transitional Living Center, Miryam’s House, the New Leaf Bakery CafĂ© and EduCare.

The Hearth gives a respectful, positive atmosphere for women who come during the day. It creates community and gives women skills to succeed in life, Jolie said. It engages them where they are in their lives with few demands and accepts them where they are, be it homeless, addicted or mentally ill. 

It celebrates their successes.

“Every day I start with prayer time so I can be centered and open to whomever or whatever crosses my path,” said Jolie.  “I pray for strength to encounter everyone I meet with compassion and I ask the Spirit to bless me with wisdom to know what to say or how to deal with a situation. The prayer feeds me all day.

“I try to be in God’s presence throughout the day,” said Jolie. “I often take a few minutes in my office to meditate and try to make prayer a part of everything I do.”

At the end of the day, she closes with an Ignatian examen, or prayerful reflection.

“I thank God for the women who have been put in my path and for the situations I encountered. I ask Jesus for forgiveness for my failings during the day, and thank God for the spirit of wisdom and guidance that has helped me be with and for others,” she said.

Jolie finds her ministries and skills interconnected.

“I did retreats, worked in a parish, the diocese and campus ministry while working on a master’s degree in spirituality and spiritual direction,” said Jolie, who took classes at Gonzaga University in the school year and worked on the arts and liturgical dance in Berkeley in the summer.

At Gonzaga, she started Revelations, a sacred dance group for students to express God’s Word artistically. People from Spokane, including some from her parish, St. Ann’s, joined the group.

At Gonzaga, she also did an internship in campus ministry with Fr. Sev Westbrook, pastor of St. Rose Church in Cheney and campus minister at Eastern Washington University.

After graduating from Gonzaga in 1998 with a master’s in spirituality with an emphasis on dance, Jolie worked with the Ministry Institute’s sabbatical program.  In 2003, she worked at Kaufer’s to have time to care for her three children, Sean, Liam and Ciara.

Having a special needs child, Liam, led to her work in 2008 as coordinator for L’arche Spokane. She also worked with The Arc.

Over the years, she has done a variety of ministries.

“When I leave a ministry, I trust the Spirit is calling me to use my gifts somewhere else,” she said.

In 2012, a St. Ann’s parishioner told her Transitions needed a case worker at the Women’s Hearth, where she uses her many skills.

Because of her facility with languages and knowledge of countries where they are spoken, she teaches classes at the Hearth on world cultures. 

Because of her skill in liturgical dance, she teaches classes there on movement and meditation.

She has also facilitated classes on emotions to help Hearth clients accept their emotions “as a beautiful part of themselves.”

Along with working at The Women’s Hearth full-time, Jolie works 10 hours a week as the director of religious education at St. Ann’s, planning programs for children and teens, and intergenerational programs for families.

Being open to God’s lead, she said her life is filled with life-giving experiences and challenges.

Her family moved from Wisconsin to Los Angeles, then to Idaho for her high school years. When her father, with whom she was close, died, she was put in foster care. Two older siblings were on their own. A younger brother was with her mother.

She was the only child in her family baptized Catholic. When her father’s family immigrated to the United States, they raised him and his siblings Catholic outside the home but retained Jewish traditions in the home.

After high school, Jolie attended Carroll College in Helena, Mont., majoring in international relations.  She studied Latin, Greek and French.

Because Carroll was Catholic, she had to take theology classes. Halfway through her studies, she said “the ministry bug bit me, so I changed my major to theology and ministry.”

Jolie still loves languages.  She is “fairly fluent” in French and has a working understanding of Spanish, German, Hebrew, Latin and Greek. She has also studied Chinese and Arabic, and is studying Swahili.

At Carroll, her love of liturgical dance was born when she worked at Legendary Lodge, a diocesan summer camp, in Seeley Lake, Mont., with youth who wanted to express themselves with movement and dance.

Two priests there introduced her to social services in nursing homes, shelters, soup kitchens, youth ministry and with transients living under a bridge. Because Helena was a small town, her mother learned about it, gave her blessing and supported her giving away clothing to people in need. 

While at Carroll, she spent a week with the Benedictines of Cottonwood, Idaho, and felt a call to religious life. She started the process for admission, but one day at a retreat went up the hill behind the monastery and heard God say, “Not yet.” Although she did not enter the Benedictines, she continues to visit the sisters.

From being a campus ministry intern at Carroll, she became director of religious education at St. Francis Xavier parish in Helena. A year later, she worked in Missoula at Christ the King parish, which housed the University of Montana campus ministry.  There, she studied dance and connected to a sacred dance guild in Berkeley.

Conversing with professors and staff at Missoula, she was able to deal with her life, faith and issues in her past.

Jolie said the Maryknoll Community charism, “to go where you are needed but not necessarily wanted, and stay there until you are wanted but no longer needed” is her motto.

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