Throughout 2022 as we celebrate Pax Christi USA’s 50 years of weaving threads of peace, we’ll be posting historical pieces from the archives to highlight key moments, events, people, projects and more from throughout our history. Today, our staff held our first staff meeting of the new year and we learned a little about Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen, SND, who served as the first national coordinator of Pax Christi USA from 1979-82. (Prior to Sr. Mary Evelyn, Pax Christi USA had employed someone in the role of General Secretary; she was the first to take the title and role of national coordinator which is now the position of executive director.)
Below is the obituary that we posted in July 2014 following Sr. Mary Evelyn’s passing. Below the obituary are links to several articles written in remembrance of her that share more about her extraordinary leadership of Pax Christi USA. Later this Lent, some of Sr. Mary Evelyn’s writings will be shared in our Lenten reflection booklet, alongside pieces by others who have served in the role of general secretary/national coordinator/executive director throughout our 50 year history.
From July 2014…
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Pax Christi USA is mourning the loss of Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen, SND, one of the early leaders of Pax Christi USA who helped to shape and mold the organization into what it has become today. Sr. Jegen served as Pax Christi USA’s first National Coordinator on January 1, 1979 and would continue in that role through December 1982. She passed away on Friday, July 4, 2014 after a long illness.
“We have lost a true peacemaker and advocate within Pax Christi USA and the religious community of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur,” stated Sr. Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Pax Christi USA. “I am proud to stand on her shoulders as Pax Christi USA continues its witness as the National Catholic Justice and Peace Movement.”
Sr. Jegen served in a variety of positions during the founding and early years of Pax Christi USA. In May 1975, she was one of the original members of the “Executive Committee,” the forerunner of the present National Council. Sr. Jegen had come to know of the work of Pax Christi International while she was in Rome in 1971 where she had been teaching women religious from developing nations and doing research for the Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission. Sr. Jegen would attend committee meetings of the U.S. Bishops and numerous other gatherings as a representative of Pax Christi USA. In 1978, Sr. Jegen would be elected to the new position of Chair of the National Council; a few months later, she would be hired as Pax Christi USA’s first national staff member, becoming also the first National Coordinator. (Prior to 1979, PCUSA had employed a “General Secretary” which shared some of the same responsibilities as the new position of “National Coordinator.”)
“Mary Evelyn Jegen was teacher and mentor for an entire generation of Catholic peace activists like me,” stated Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace, author and lay minister, Tom Cordaro. “She had that rare combination of gifts that set her apart from many others in the movement. She was an excellent theologian, a gifted writer and, most importantly, she was a strategic thinker and visionary. Everything Mary Evelyn did as a leader in the Catholic peace movement was strategically focused on her vision of making nonviolence and peacemaking a integral part of Catholic social teaching and practice at all levels of the Church.”
Under Sr. Jegen’s leadership, Pax Christi USA experienced unprecedented growth. The number of members in the term of her leadership grew from less than 1,000 to over 5,500 members, including 46 U.S. bishops. During her last year as national coordinator, Sr. Jegen would be chosen by the Pax Christi USA membership as the third recipient of the Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award. She also served as Vice-President of Pax Christi International and led the Pax Christi International delegation at the United Nations.
“We are so grateful for Sr. Mary Evelyn’s leadership and love for Pax Christi USA,” stated Sr. Josie Chrosniak, HM, Chair of the Pax Christi USA National Council. “It is greatly due to that leadership that Pax Christi USA has accomplished so much over its more than 40 years of existence now. We give thanks for her life and her witness and we will continue to strive to live up the ideals she believed were central to being the ‘peace of Christ’ in our world.”
Read more about Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen, SND:
- There would be no Pax Christi USA without Mary Evelyn Jegen, SND, by Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB
- From Jim Forest, Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen in her own words, on benevolent glancing
- Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen – wisdom, humility and an indomitable spirit, by Nancy Small
- Sr. Mary Evelyn Jegen and Bread for the World, by Rev. Greg Skiba