Sister Donna Van Laeken, SNJM

(Sister Mary Sebastian)

December 10, 1938 – July 21, 2023

Sister Donna Van Laeken, SNJM departed this life on July 21, 2023 at Mary’s Wood at Marylhurst in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Sister Donna celebrated 84 years of life and 65 years of her religious profession.

A Mass of Resurrection was held Thursday, August 17, 2023, at 11:00 a.m. at Chapel of the Holy Names in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Sister Donna Van Laeken, SNJM

Sister Donna Van Laeken

December 10, 1938 – July 21, 2023

Sister Donna Van Laeken, SNJM, 84, died on July 21 at Mary’s Woods at Marylhurst in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Mass of Resurrection will be celebrated Thursday, August 17, 11am, Chapel of the Holy Names at Marylhurst, Lake Oswego. Burial follows at Holy Names Cemetery, Marylhurst.

Daughter of William and Martha (Neilsen) Van Laeken, Donna was born in Portland, Oregon. She grew up in the North Portland neighborhood where she was taught by the Holy Names Sisters at Holy Redeemer Grade School. She attended high school at St. Mary’s Academy in downtown Portland, also a Holy Names school.

Like many of her peers, Donna picked berries in the summertime to pay for her books and tuition at St. Mary’s and enjoyed her friends and sports and even the classes  along the way.

Donna demonstrated athletic talents and had an aptitude for teaching early on. She started her “teaching career” as a 15-year-old. The Assumption School needed a coach for their volleyball team and couldn’t afford one, so as a high school student Donna stepped in as coach. In the spring, when they needed a softball coach, Donna was there again to coach.

After her high school graduation in 1956, Donna joined the Sisters of the Holy Names, eventually choosing the religious name, Sister Mary Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes. She attended Marylhurst College which prepared her for a career in education and later the University of Oregon for her master’s degree.

Sister Donna was a creative and gifted teacher, specializing in English as well as coaching athletic teams at every grade level from 1 to 16 inclusively. Her teaching assignments in elementary schools in Oregon, included Bend, Medford, Portland, Salem, Eugene and Springfield. In addition, she taught in Seattle, Washington, and on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. At the secondary level, she taught at her alma mater St. Mary Academy and Marist High School in Eugene.

With the changes in the Catholic Church in the 1960s as a result of the Second Vatican Council, Sister Donna took on new career challenges. As a staff member in houses of prayer in Texas and Arizona, she assisted people in their spiritual journeys.

Later, having noted the trends in demographic studies of the aging population of the United States, Sister Donna was led to pursue a master’s degree in gerontology. For many years following, she offered compassionate care and comfort to elders in various settings from private homes to retirement and assisted living facilities.

Even in her last months, Sister Donna continued to minister and care for others. She came to mean a lot to her caretakers at Mary’s Woods, many of them young people in their first job. They found Sister Donna kind, supportive, a good teacher, someone who listened to them, gave good advice, and made them laugh.

Sister Donna left notes for her eulogy. Of herself she wrote: “… she was not one to be bound by confinements and limitations. Like all cats, with whom she seemed to have a strong bond, it was in her nature to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming. She had the courage to explore new territories and enjoyed taking new roads to encountering fresh ideas, meeting new people, and experiencing life. She knew back roads and notable points of interest because she took time to explore.”

A Holy Names Sister for 64 years, Sister Donna will be remembered for her spirit of adventure, her sense of humor, her concern for seniors, her love of sports, her loyalty to friends, and her deep faith. She is survived by Mary Parsons, Larry Van Laeken, nieces and nephews, and the members of her religious community. Remembrances may be made to the Sisters of the Holy Names, PO Box 398, Marylhurst, OR 97036 or online at