Sister Profile: S. Marian Cowan

Sister Marian Cowan 

What was your motivation/inspiration in entering the CSJ community?

As a child I came to realize that I was in love with God.  I was not a pious child by any means, but I simply loved God and wanted to please God and to give my life to God.  I went to the public school until the middle of my junior year of high school.  During grade school I attended the release-time religious education classes at the nearby Catholic school, where I was taught by the Dominican Sisters. It never entered my mind that I might become one of them.   When I entered a Catholic high school, however, in the middle of my junior year, it was a different story. So, after I graduated from St. Joseph Academy I applied to the CSJs and entered the next September. Although I felt as though I had walked onto the set of a movie that first morning, I soon began to feel at home and to envision myself as a Sister of St. Joseph.  This was the way I could live out my desire to give myself entirely to God. 

When did you know you had made the right decision in joining the CSJ community?

Vatican II took place while I was engaged in formation work.  This was the time of “the great exodus” from religious life.  Many sisters whom I loved and admired left the community.  This gave me pause.  Although I did not experience any desire to leave, I needed to ask myself why I was staying.  The answer was quite simple: this is where I belong.  It is as a Sister of St. Joseph that I can be truly who I am.  I would not change it for the world.

Did you have any “Aha!” moments where you discovered something about yourself/the world?

The year was 1967.  I was living with the postulants and studying at SLU.  I was pondering over and over again the mystery of the Incarnation in preparation for the celebration of Christmas, other than the “baby Jesus” approach.  One day, in a flash it became clear to me that a reason why God took on our human form was two-fold: to teach us who God is and to teach us who we are.  In becoming human God could show us physically the qualities of Divinity.  Jesus is that Word made flesh.  He demonstrated clearly who we are, too – also filled with Divinity in every cell of our being.  In our essence, we are exactly like Jesus – an expression of the Living God, as is everything in the universe.  My “mantra” became Elizabeth Barrett’ Browning’s little poem:

            Earth’s crammed with heaven

            And every common bush afire with God,

            But only those who see take off their shoes;

            The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Reading materials about theology in the light of the new universe story deepens and expands my understanding of the insight I received in 1967.  Having Michael Morwood speak at our Assembly offered me leaps and bounds of greater development in this area.

Who do you look up to and why?  What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Sister Joan Marie Gleason was someone I looked up to, and I guess I still do.  She was a forward-looking leader at the time of Vatican II, assisting us in the process of renewal.  In her position of Provincial Superior, Joan Marie was not only unthreatened by change, she drew the entire province into the renewal process.  She drew the best out of me, challenging me to be that kind of leader by appointing me as a local superior, as a school principal and as novice director and formation director.  She supported me in my decisions and offered me the best piece of advice:  any time I approached her with a problem that would arise during my time as novice/formation director, her question to me was, “Marian, where does the greater good lie?” 

If you could address all the people in the world, what would you say?

I would ask, “Do you know who you are?”  And then I would say something like, “Listen carefully!  You have the very life of God in every cell of your being.  You are a wonderful, unique, unrepeatable expression of the Living God.  Learn what this means for your life.  Everyone and everything shares this same reality with you.  We are all connected, not only with each other, but with all created things: the life of God flows through all of us, connecting us.  Let this reality sink into you and become aware of what unites us, as well as what divides us.  Help each other deepen in the unifying factors and let go of what divides.  This will make you very happy, because you will be who you really are and doing what makes you true to yourself.

 What was your favorite subject in school?

Art has always been my favorite subject.  In eighth grade, my teacher would put a cut flower in a vase on a desk where we could all see it.  We were given paper and four water colors: red, blue, yellow, and black, a brush, a little container of water and a rag.  We painted as best we could that flower in a vase.  I have no idea how mine turned out, but it was this lesson that got me hooked on watercolor as my favorite medium. 

Where have you traveled?  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

It has been my privilege to visit many parts of the world, mostly to work for a brief time.  I have been to Canada and Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Chile in this hemisphere.  In Europe, I have been to France, England and Ireland.  In Asia, I have been to Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.  In Africa, I have been to South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, Swaziland, Malawi and Kenya.  All of these different cultures have taught me much, a lot of which I have assimilated.  I have appreciated the people and still correspond with some of them.  All of this has led me to know the land of my choice: my own United States of America.   I have appreciated the simplicity of life in many of the countries I have been in, the values lived out in some of them.  I’ve enjoyed the foods of different lands, and the natural beauty I thought I would never see.  However, with all its shortcomings, the USA is the one for me.

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