Music, playing the flute in particular, has been a lifelong spiritual practice that Jane Blabolil felt as a deep calling long before she recognized the presence of God in her life.
Sister Jane Blabolil, SSJ-TOSF, was not raised Catholic. In fact, she was not raised with any traditional religious upbringing. In 1914, as the story goes, when it came time for her mother to be baptized, her grandmother did not have the required five dollars to pay to the church. As a result, the sacrament did not take place, setting the tone for a distance between her family and the church that would last throughout her childhood and into her adult life. She recalls occasionally visiting churches with neighborhood friends as a young girl. “You were either a Czech Catholic or you were a free thinker. My family were free thinkers,” Sr. Jane remembers.
Growing up in Old Brooklyn, Ohio, she found a guiding force in her deep passion for music. From a young age, she dreamt of becoming a flautist. Her uncle played in the Cleveland Orchestra, and Jane earned a music scholarship to Baldwin Wallace University. But when she shared her dreams of playing the flute in the Cleveland Orchestra with her flute teacher (also a member of the Cleveland Orchestra) he soundly discouraged her, saying: “There are few flute positions in any orchestra of any size in the U.S., and women are seldom chosen.” At the time, there were only two women in the Cleveland orchestra: a harpist and a second violinist. Jane was encouraged to be a music teacher instead, a career she had no interest in pursuing. And it was all or nothing for young Jane, so she stored her flute in a closet and did her best to close the door on her musical dreams.
Jane quickly changed course and went on to complete her undergraduate degree, becoming an English teacher at Euclid High School. Always a planner, she set and accomplished many goals over the next 10 years, including financial independence and home ownership. But despite her professional and personal fulfillment, she felt a deep longing and curiosity about faith and social justice, reading voraciously to fill the void, including the works of Thomas Merton and Sheila Cassidy’s Audacity to Believe.
Always curious about the Catholic Church, she was surprised and attracted by the social justice committee and the exceptional music group at St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Willowick, Ohio. Little by little she entered more fully into the life of the church and attended a Women’s Renewal that awakened her heart to consider a deeper commitment. She was invited by the church organist to take her flute out of retirement and join the choir. It impressed Jane that even though she was not yet a member she was welcomed to be one of the community. Jane felt herself come alive again. Her relationship with the sisters and the Church developed and deepened over time. She remembers looking at herself in the mirror one day and saying “You’re going to become a sister,” followed immediately by the thought, “You’re nuts!”
At the age of 35, the woman who would become Sr. Jane Blabolil, SSJ-TOSF, made arrangements to sell her home, walking away from the career and life she knew and devoting herself to God and God’s people.
“I wanted to make a lifetime commitment,” Sr. Jane said. “Many young people today will make a choice, but not a commitment. One of the most significant things about a lifetime commitment to me was saying: ‘I will be there. You can count on me, whether I feel like it or not. You can trust that I will be present.’”
Prior to entering the novitiate, Jane traveled to El Salvador to visit a friend on the Cleveland Diocesan Mission team and fell in love with the people. As part of her religious training, she would later spend three months in Peru, before coming back to the United States to profess her vows. She soon felt pulled to resume her work in Peru — work that would last twenty years, immersing her in a life of service, culture and community. The sisters shared in the struggles of the people and along with them lived through many years of terrorism.
She remained in Peru until her aging mother’s health care needs called her home in 2006. Two years later, as someone who was not raised Catholic and who came to her vocation later in life, Sr. Jane was surprised to be elected as President of her community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis. She held the position for five years before transitioning to her current ministry. “I thank God for my vocation, a vocation which has deepened with the years. I’m still amazed at the places I’ve been and the people with whom I have been blessed to work.”
These days, you might find Sr. Jane in any number of Cleveland Clinic locations across Northeast Ohio as a Spanish interpreter, a culmination of her life’s work that she never could have imagined during her long-ago “goal-setting” days. And music continues to be her first love, a spiritual offering that she shares with a local congregation each week.
Encouraging the next generation of social justice allies and spiritual seekers, Sr. Jane says, “Each generation is called to its own contribution. I believe strongly that the youth of today will respond and do what is theirs to do.”