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What Unites Is More Powerful Than What Divides

Sister Doris Jo Rak
Sister DJ Rak is On Fire For Good.

“Never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” -John Lewis

Once a month this year, we’re celebrating individuals who are grateful for all they have, joyful in all they do, and positively changing the world one life at a time in our On Fire For Good campaign. Many of those nominated this month were dutiful, soft-spoken, and rule-following. The one we chose, however, was not.

Now, if you didn’t peg a 77-year-old Catholic nun and Army Lieutenant Colonel as a rule-breaking, noisemaking, trouble-finding type of person, you haven’t met Sister Doris Jo Rak.

From a distance, the Junction City, KS resident appears to be a sweet, extremely traditional, Sister of St. Joseph nun serving in a local parish. But the path she took to get there – and her boldness in serving others – is anything but traditional.

At an age when most have retired to their rocking chairs, Rak (known as DJ) was taking her vows to become a nun. 70-years-old at the time, she had already spent a lifetime modeling the values of mercy, justice and peace that are the hallmarks for her community.

Get DJ talking about her life, and you’ll hear casual references to far flung places, harrowing situations, and beautiful acts of kindness. I was amazed; she was unfazed.

She is an Army veteran, career health care worker, and passionate friend to many who simply won’t take no for an answer when it comes to serving others. Yes, even if she needs to break a few rules in the process.

One story in particular stands out, especially during this time when reports of conflicts around the globe tend to put the spotlight on the insurmountable differences rather than any shared decency we may have.

DJ’s military service took her to army bases from coast to coast and around the world, including stints in Korea, Germany, and Iraq. Part of her duty in Iraq was caring for what the Army calls EPWs (Enemy Prisoners of War). Many in her position might have upheld their medical duty and Army protocol but would still have treated the men as enemies. Not DJ. She saw not war-time enemies, but instead individuals. One, a pediatrician forced into armed service while returning to his home country to visit family. Another, a baker by trade, met a similar fate.

It wasn’t a shared faith, political ideology or national citizenship that moved DJ to show her patients kindness, but rather a shared humanity.

While in her care she laundered and returned the prisoners’ garments.

And she pooled money from her co-workers to purchase prayer rugs for her patients. The men in question were shocked they were shown any grace at all, let alone gestures that embraced their personal faith.

Then and now, Sister DJ cared more about compassion than convention.

My friends, there is no doubt continuous stories of tragedy at home and abroad. We are inundated with examples of people and institutions and governments behaving badly. Media outlets remind us that we should live in fear of one another and keep our minds and hearts resolutely planted in our respective beliefs.

And yet, there are examples of individuals in our midst who see the same accidents, tragedies, and challenges, who consume the same headlines and instead decide to step up, step in, and go out of their way to serve others.

Sometimes, this looks like a heroic nurse on the battlefield. Other times, it’s a conversation with a neighbor across the fence.

Simply understanding how Sister DJ invested a lifetime using her unmatched energy and loving obstinance to positively impact others illuminates why she is February’s On Fire For Good recipient.

Following her example of joyful steadfastness and loving rebellion should liberate us all not only take full inventory of the blessings in our lives, but to boldly strive to positively change the lives of others.

This is your day.

Be like Sister DJ.

And Live Inspired.

2 replies on “What Unites Is More Powerful Than What Divides”

What an incredible inspiring woman! Just when you think it is time to retire, DJ shows us age does not matter. I imagine she has at least a couple books worth of stories. Sisters of St. Joseph are near and dear to my heart. I had a great Aunt, Sister Florian, who taught for many, many years. And two Uncles and an aunt that went to St. Joseph’s Institute for the deaf.
Giving sisters, for sure! Thank you DJ for your service, both in the Armed Forces and in the sisterhood!

Such an awe inspiring testament. To move forward on a new adventure at age 70 and to have marked her life with supernatural giving over and above and in defiance to the orders of the day. To show kindness and respect to your prisoner. Aren’t we all prisoners of a sort in some way or another. Thank you John O’Leary for your gifts of Freedom for the broken hearted.

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