Servant of Mary pursues compassion over decades of hate

By NoraCorrigan

The Servants of Mary have been established since 1871, with early beginnings tracing back to France. According to the Servants of Mary website, the Servites’ mission around the world is to “manifest God’s compassionate presence in the spirit of Mary.” They are called to act justly and treat others with compassion, just as Jesus did. 

Unfortunately, there are times throughout history in which most of the world refrained from showing compassion to one other. However, the Servites have kept compassion at the forefront of their identity during these tumultuous periods in history, never failing to exemplify Jesus.  

Thorn celebrates May Crowing ceremony, 1964. Photo courtesy of Sr.Jackie Thorn.

Sr. Jackie Thorn has been a Servant of Mary Sister since 1963. Back then, Sr. Jackie was a bright eyed graduate of Servite High School in Detroit, Michigan. She felt compelled to join the convent because of her role models at Servite High School.

“I had no concept of where I was going or what I was doing,” Thorn said, “except that I had good relationships with the Sisters at my high school.”

It was common then that Sisters served as teachers, administrators, or even coaches at Catholic schools. Thorn was able to make memorable relationships with the Sisters in her school because of their involvement. 

“They always seemed to be having fun. They were constantly laughing and joking, and they were with the students as much as they could be in those days,” Thorn said. The Sisters embodied what Thorn had hoped to become, and soon enough their impact had led her to the convent in Omaha. 

Although she was unsure of what to expect as a Servant of Mary, Thorn went through her years of discernment and found the Servites to be her true calling. As she grew in faith and education, she taught around Omaha at local elementary schools. After 10 years in Omaha, Thorn returned to Detroit as the principal of her alma mater, Servite High School. 

“When I was a student there [in the late 1950s and early 1960s], most students were middle class white. When I returned there as a principal, 99% of the students were Black or non-white.”

Thorn hadn’t been exposed to much diversity before then however, becoming principal of Servite High School allowed her to see how students of color were unfairly treated. 

“I was with the class officers for a retreat one day. I had them stop at the store while I filled up on gas. It was taking them a while so I went in there to check up on them. They said to me, ‘Sr. Jackie, the worker won’t serve us. He won’t even make eye contact with us.’”

“I went over to the manager and said, ‘These kids are the cream of the crop at Servite High School, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that you’re not willing to serve them and they’re human beings.’”

Thorn proceeded to threaten to call the cops and even contact the NAACP, but the manager quickly reprimanded himself and served the students. 

“I had to be nasty for those kids. The manager would have served me with no questions, but he didn’t even flinch when those children came in.”

Sr.Jackie Thorn posed in front of the convent, 1964. Photo courtesy of Thorn.

While Thorn continued as the principal of Servite High School, she would often receive comments about her “being too nice to the Black kids.” Thorn said she believes that it isn’t a question of skin color, but a question of character.

“In every school I’ve taught, I’ve learned that kids are going to do good things, and they’re going to do bad things. They’re kids; the color of their skin doesn’t determine whether they were going to make a mistake or not.”

Thorn eventually took her knowledge and experiences with her as she moved back to Omaha after her time in Detroit. She returned to where she had started her journey as a Servite: Marian. As times and culture changed around her, she continued to exert compassion towards others just as Jesus did. 

Thorn not only witnessed the civil rights movement and residual racism, but she has also witnessed the emergence of the LGBTQIA+ community. In line with the Pope and other church officials, Thorn responded with immediate compassion.

“God created all people as equals, and we are responsible for treating people with respect and dignity.”

It never occurred to Thorn to treat others with anything but respect and compassion. Throughout her time as a teacher, she was exposed to various walks of life. Thorn never thought anything different of others whose religion, skin color, political views, or even sexual orientation varied from her own. When she saw another human being, she simply saw God’s creation. The only way she knew how to respond to God’s creation was with compassion. 

Thorn resides in the Servite motherhouse and can be found in the Campus Ministry office most days. Beyond compassion or respect, she wants all Marian students to remember “God loves you.”

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