Sr. Jean Steffes, seen here at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, served the Diocese of Phoenix for two decades. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Sr. Jean Steffes, seen here at the Diocesan Pastoral Center, served the Diocese of Phoenix for two decades. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

For the past 20 years, Sr. Jean Steffes, CSA, wrote about — and was part of — the history of the Diocese of Phoenix through her many roles and responsibilities.

Those positions included director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and most recently as chancellor and director of the Office of Religious.

Now, she is history as she embarks on a new chapter in her life in Fond du Lac, Wis., as the general superior of the congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes.

It’s a position she held twice before she arrived in the desert to begin a ministry that encompassed civic and parish leadership, and focused on community and spiritual renewal.

Most notably, Sr. Jean supported the religious sisters and brothers who serve the diocese, encouraged support for the missionary work of the Church and has, over the past 10 years, provided oversight and guidance to the departments that report to her.

The breadth of her work will be felt long after her arrival to the Badger State.

“Sr. Jean Steffes is one of those special people who combine a high degree of professional competence with a very approachable and patient personality,” said Fr. Michael Diskin, assistant chancellor.

“Our diocese has been enriched by Sr. Jean’s presence and she will be greatly missed.”

During her tenure, she was also involved in the Association of Pastoral Ministers of Care, the Ecumenical Commission, spiritual direction training programs, and is a past chair of the Western Region of the National Conference of Vicars for Religious.

Longtime friend, Sr. Colleen Braun, CSA, director of faith formation at St. Benedict Parish, characterized Sr. Jean as both extremely humble and capable.

“It’s never about her, it’s about God and God’s will,” Sr. Colleen said. “Sr. Jean uses her gifts for the honor and glory of God, and she said that any good works that have come from her is God working through her.”

The two sisters have known each other for more than 40 years and Sr. Colleen has witnessed, firsthand, the gift of her leadership.

“Nothing is ever too much or too little for her. She leaves a big hole,” she said.

It’s true Sr. Jean has worn many hats, but her focus never wavered from the people whom the diocese served or supporting services for those in need.

In addition to her keen ability for detail and spirit of hospitality, Fr. Fred Adamson said Sr. Jean has “ecclesiastical wisdom.”

“She has a great sense of the diocese,” said Fr. Adamson, vicar general for the diocese and moderator of the Curia. “She has confidence and trust, and her day-to-day approach was very prayerful.”

He said the two shared the work of the Church on a deeper level, and a previous pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, gave insight into her deep spirituality.

“We’re grateful to God for her,” Fr. Adamson said. “This is bittersweet, but we trust her gifts and talents to her community will be of great value.”

Her workload resembled that of a “honey-do” list with annual reports, archives, economic development and the list goes on and on.

“I’ve never wondered what should I do today,” Sr. Jean said. “The diocese is very dynamic and alive. It’s been a great privilege and insight into how the diocese and bishop serves the people.”

One of her career highlights was welcoming new religious sisters and brothers, in particular, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration of Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah.

The Phoenix Diocese has 163 sisters and 13 brothers representing 50 different communities.

“We have active religious scattered all over the diocese, particularly in Maricopa County, in parishes and schools doing fine work,” she said. “We have brought in wonderful new communities.”

Sr. Jean, a native of Fond du Lac, received her bachelor’s degree in English from Marian College in Fond de Lac, a master’s degree in English and counseling from De Paul University in Chicago, as well as a master’s degree in theology from the University of San Francisco.

Although she lost her roommate of 20 years, Sr. Jean Perry, CSA, pastoral associate at St. Louis the King Parish in Glendale, said Sr. Jean is cherished by her community.

“There’s probably not a more faithful person dedicated to what is being asked of them. Sr. Jean is well respected in the congregation and among her many friends,” Sr. Jean Perry said. “I know she will be greatly missed by the diocese for the wonderful work she has done.”

Sr. Jean Steffes trusts the Holy Spirit guiding her out of the Grand Canyon State to lead her community of 240 religious around the globe, but she most assuredly left an imprint behind in the dirt.

“I appreciate the trust bishop placed in me. I learned so much about the Church and myself,” she said. “I’m grateful for the time here and I’ll miss everyone very much, yet I know I’m going somewhere where it’s God’s will.” ✴