Susan Mitchell, SNJM
Susan is the oldest of five children. She was raised in a loving, Catholic family that lived on farms in St. Paul, Beaverton and Newberg, Oregon. Hers was a family that worked, played and prayed together. Sharing in the farm work and household chores, she learned responsibility and a strong work ethic. She was surrounded by a large extended family who have continued to stay connected throughout the years. Susan attended Catholic schools in Beaverton through grade seven, then went to Newberg public schools. She knew she wanted to be a Sister when she was a sophomore in high school. When she told her mother about this desire during her senior year, her mother, who had graduated from Marylhurst Normal School, introduced her to a Holy Names Sister. Susan applied and entered the Holy Names Community at Marylhurst immediately following graduation from Newberg High School in 1966.
Susan experienced historic changes during her five years of initial formation and study at Marylhurst. Vatican II, which initiated groundbreaking changes in the Church and in religious life, had ended the year before. Her first year as a postulant was very much religious life as it had been lived: wearing the traditional long postulant dress, following the common schedule of prayer, work, study, silence and recreation. The years that followed were ones of stimulating and energizing transition to updated dress, theology and community life.
After graduating from Marylhurst College, Susan taught for eighteen years in elementary schools in Portland, Lake Oswego and Salem. These years were an often-tumultuous time of transition in religious life as many Sisters responding to the unmet needs of those on the margins of society began new ministries.
Susan was introduced by a friend to L’Arche, an international federation of communities of faith founded by Jean Vanier, where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life and create home together. In 1990 Susan joined the L’Arche community in Portland at its newly opened first home. For the next 23 years she lived and worked at L’Arche Portland, where she helped to open a second home and assumed the roles of Assistant, Community Coordinator and finally Community Leader/Executive Director. Susan retired from L’Arche Portland in 2013 and has remained an active member of its extended community as a volunteer and participant in community activities.
After a renewing sabbatical year, Susan began her current role as Community Life Coordinator for the retired Sisters living at Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst. She is learning from the wisdom and example of her elder Sisters how to grow old gracefully, accepting the diminishments of aging while living life fully to the end.