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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sister Jaguar's Journey--The Extraordinary Life of a Dominican Sister

It’s the title and the remarkable cover that first drew me to Sister Jaguar’s Journey. The image of the cross suspended over the black jaguar is very striking.  Then I was hooked by the description.  I have heard of activist nuns, but this is the first time I have read a memoir written by one.  Sister Judy Bisignano has been an activist for immigrants, alternative education and the environment.  This is why I was eager to purchase it on Amazon and review it for Bookplex.


As an education reformer Sister Judy reminded me of Jhumki Basu.  I reviewed her biography, A Mission To Teach  for Bookplex in 2013 here . Both Sister Judy and Jhumki wanted students to have more say in their education.  They both also proved through their teaching practices that students really do learn better when they believe that the curriculum is relevant to their lives.

The order of Dominican sisters to which Sister Judy belongs may seem quite astonishing.  Many readers might think that they had wandered quite far from their roots.    This is because it is generally believed that St. Dominic de Guzman, who founded the order in 1206, established the Inquisition.  I also thought this fabrication was credible until I researched St. Dominic in preparation for writing this review. The truth is that St. Dominic was no longer alive when the Inquisition began.  I consider Sister Judy and her order to be in continuity with St. Dominic’s priority of caring for the poor.  She is also in accord with the current Pope’s concern about climate change.

Sister Judy’s path led her to Ecuador where she encountered the Achuar people who are fighting environmental degradation and water pollution due to oil pipelines that run through territory that they consider theirs even though they no longer have access to it.  Sister Judy’s emphasis is on their spiritual beliefs and practices.  She doesn’t really deal with the impact of oil spills on the Achuar.

In addition to the memoir, there is a photo section and a prayer section.  While reading the prayer section, I was impressed by Sister Judy’s idea that we should think of ourselves as “embedded” in nature rather than apart from it.   Yet I disagree with Sister Judy’s belief that the Latin American concept of susto is solely about loss of contact with nature.   My knowledge of susto comes from study of curanderismo which is a Latino spiritual approach to healing.  My impression is that susto is a feeling of malaise that is due to a general absence of connection.   It can be a sense of isolation from family, ancestors, friends or community which may make people perceive themselves as rootless.  Disconnection from nature can be part of someone’s experience of susto, but it seems to me that it’s a broader phenomenon.   There are many connections that people need to maintain in order to feel whole.

I only found one typographical error in the entire book which didn’t really interfere with readability.  I don’t expect perfection from editors.  This memoir is editorially and stylistically superior to the vast majority of what is being published today.

I considered Sister Judy’s life and achievements fascinating, and I took away a few insights from this book.  I definitely think that Sister Jaguar’s Journey is a very worthwhile read.


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