Born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Chancellor Sister Jane Ann Slater, CDP has earned the rare distinction of being the first woman to serve as Chancellor of the Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas. Her road there has spanned two states, multiple degrees, decades in academia and over sixty years as a Sister of Divine Providence.
When she just one and a half years old, her parents were in a tragic car accident that led to the untimely death of her father. The tragedy led her mother, who never remarried, to move back to her hometown of Texarkana, Arkansas where she could be near family and her young daughter could grow up with cousins. She attended and graduated Catholic school in there before moving to San Antonio, Texas to study Chemistry at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU). After “a fairly normal time of dating, parties,” she joined the Convent after one year at the university at just age 19 because just she “just loved my first-grade teacher (also a nun) and I wanted to be like her. To me, she was just amazing.” Adjusting to life in the Convent was “regimented…kind of like people talk about the army and basic training. If you want to be in the army, this is what you have to do…We were enclosed. We were being taught what it is to be a nun, a sister… We had roll call. We had to be in by 7pm. You could go out Friday night and Saturday night,” she remembers.
After graduation, she taught in elementary, junior high and high school, then began graduate school to complete her doctorate in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She then spent eleven years as part of the Chemistry faculty at Our Lady of the Lake University. During this time, she was elected to Administrative Council, the leadership team where she served for six years until being elected Superior of Congregation where she served another 6 years. After, she tells me, she “thought to myself, you know, I’ve been out of teaching Chemistry for 12 years. Technology was coming in and I wasn’t about to immerse myself in that developing field, but I could teach high school Chemistry blindfolded, so I did that for another 12 years. And then I got elected a second time as Superior of our Congregation.”
She was also asked to go to the Assumption Seminary for two years, to help individuals taking courses at the Mexican American Catholic College (MACC), where people would study Spanish and Mexican American culture in order to be able to go into parishes to serve the community in a culturally competent way. She took care of transcripts and helped those from outside the United States pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOFL) test about functioning in English. Some would also learn English to administer in US. “Can you imagine being from Mexico, Honduras or El Salvador, Vietnam or somewhere in Africa and writing a scholarly paper in English? So, Oblate would let me edit their papers, not for content, because I didn’t know the content, but spelling, grammar, punctuation.”
After two years, she was asked to be President of Our Lady of the Lake University during a “stress situation at the time.” She served for 2 and a half years, helping to stabilize the situation. After, in 2015, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia “found and chased me down and told me, “I want you to be the Chancellor,” a role defined as the chief record-keeper of a diocese who keeps the official archives of the diocese, as a notary certifies documents, and generally manages the administrative offices (and sometimes finances and personnel) of a diocese. Sister Slater and staff graciously gave me a tour of temperature-controlled rooms that house historical documents, including a “Declaration of the founding of San Antonio de Valero on May 1, 1718” among other religious treasures.
The role is uncommon for women. This is a challenge today for any woman, especially in the Church where “women just aren’t called on or our views isn’t always sought nor listened to, so, for example, there’s going to be a (religious) gathering in Rome and there’s not a single woman that’s going to be there.” “If there’s an opportunity or a teachable moment, I will seize it,” she says. “We all have a place. Not just women, but minority groups, not just ethnic minority but gender minority, economic…I think everyone has experiences and stories and I think the stories we have really are powerful and hearing those stories and providing opportunities for people to come together to articulate those stories in a way that helps deep understanding and openness…I would like to do that.” In addition to her role as Chancellor, Sister Slater is active in doing outreach at prisons and jails, local community initiatives that help increase social services for the needy and speaks readily about the ills of consumerism. Of her life, she says, “I have had so many opportunities. I have lived a charmed life. I mean, I’ve lived a very happy life.”
Chancellor of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Sr. Jane Ann Slater, CDP, 2718 W. Woodlawn, San Antonio, Texas 78228. Phone: (210) 734-1976