It's just before 9:30 on a Sunday. The musicians are warmed up, so the doors open to admit the people waiting outside. It's a small crowd, but enough to fill the intimate space. Everyone is all dressed up. There is no cover charge.
Tony is at the piano, as usual, and Red is on drums. Bruce is sitting in on sax and Yvette is looking over the music, preparing to shake the rafters with her powerful voice.
But this isn't some smoky jazz lounge; it's Sunday Mass at Our Savior in Covington, Kentucky--a tiny little refuge snug up against the west bank of the Licking River.
The church, and Sister Janet, are models of resilience.
Sister Janet, who celebrated her 60th jubilee this year, has been the parish administrator at Our Savior for 27 years. She organizes the services, makes sure the bills are paid, keeps a weather eye on the roof, and arranges donuts for the parish hall.
Sister Janet decorates the church with an African flair, in honor of its roots.
If running a parish were not work enough, it's just one aspect of Sister Janet's ministry. She also visits the Campbell County and Kenton County jails once a month. At times there are a dozen or more inmates to visit, at others just one or two. "Sometimes I think I won't bother to go. I don't feel up to it and I think maybe no one will be there. But then I go and even if it's only one person, I can't tell you how often I hear that my visit or maybe some word of advice or encouragement was 'just what they needed.' So I keep going."
Sister Janet makes all kinds of friends in her prison ministry.
Sister Janet also believes in interacting with the neighborhood. She's known for taking long walks—long walks. She'll often cross the Ohio River more than once on a trek, and finds herself out on the streets at all hours.
"I like to be visible in the community."
In her 60 years of ministry, Sister Janet has worked in many roles and many places. She recalls a time teaching at St. Michael's in Ripley, Ohio. It was report card time, so she and the other teachers were very busy. At about 6 p.m. she got a call with instructions to catch the 9 a.m. bus to Cincinnati. Once there, she learned her new assignment would be in Rhode Island.
That's how quickly things could move. I had to complete all my work, finish the report cards, hand off my class, pack, and be ready to go in the morning. we didn't think much about it back then. you just went wherever you were sent.
Her footsteps later took her to Ecuador (where she tried, with limited success, to conquer Spanish) for three years. She spent a year at Welcome House in Covington, doing the cooking and housekeeping. Then she was off to Arizona for three years at a Navajo reservation, where her feet never stopped.