Meet Janet Walton, SNJM

Professor of Worship, Union Theological Seminary, NYC

For me, making the decision to join the SNJM community—and staying here for over 50 years, is all about making ‘connections.’

My connection with the community started at school. I attended SNJM schools from grades 1-12. I loved the environment and enjoyed the experience. Sr. Annette Covatta, SNJM at Academy of the Holy Names, Albany was a significant influence on my life – she taught me piano and encouraged me to develop my talents. She connected me with competitions in the city that I entered and won. Her ability to be in the community and be a concert pianist influenced my decision to become a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

My connection to the community is driven by deep friendships —and my commitment to social justice. The community helps me live as justly as I can in this world, and makes it possible for me to become involved in important world issues. That’s why, for example, I participate in the Congregational Justice and Peace Committee. The committee makes recommendations about how we can become involved in actions intended to create a more just world. To date, the committee has focused on the Congregation’s corporate stands: anti-trafficking and water as a basic human right. We are currently developing a recommendation around immigration issues.

‘For Sisters of the Holy Names, teaching is about more than running good schools—it’s also about training students to be good citizens of the world.’

I am a grad school teacher, but I also work on the streets and on the margins of society. My students at Union Theological Seminary started a program in the 1980s called Bridges, which connected the wealthy population of Summit, NJ, with the homeless population of New York City. I went out with them on this work. Our goal was not just to bring food and clothes, but to get to know them as human beings. The people who live in boxes are my teachers, too.

My work as a professor is to train future pastors and teachers through PhD and Master’s programs. I want them to know from the inside out what worship is, what it can be, and how it relates to day-to-day life.

My research explores the margins of communities: artists involved in worship, feminist approaches to worship that promote the full dignity of all people, with a particular emphasis on women’s experiences that are rarely mentioned in churches such as sexual abuse, cancer, mental illness, food addictions as well as images of God that connect with women’s lives. In the 1980s I started the Women’s Liturgy Group (NY) for women to have a place in the church and design rituals around their participation. My current research is around worship without domination, to allow all voices of a congregation to be honored.

I am very grateful that the SNJM community has been willing to explore liturgies so that they more honestly elicit and honor our experiences as Catholic women.