By RENEE WEBB
A religious sister from the Diocese of Sioux City, who has become a prolific author, said her first desire to write came as a sophomore at Immaculate Conception High School in Cherokee.
“Sister Paula Callahan (OSM) asked those of us in English class to write short stories. I quickly became enthralled with how words could come together to create something that invited people’s interest,” recalled Sister Joyce Rupp, a member of the Servants of Mary. “My first publications were poems, in my mid-20s. It wasn’t until I was 35 years old that my first book was published.”
Her first book, she noted, was developed from columns she created for The Religion Teachers Journal when she was a parish minister. She has been absorbed in writing ever since.
“I jokingly tell people that I like to write so much that on my death bed I will probably ask in a raspy voice, ‘Does anyone have a pen?’” quipped Sister Joyce.
The native of Cherokee and former parishioner of Visitation Parish at Maryhill has authored 24 books, three of which were co-authored. All but one are still in print. Her books have been translated in a variety of languages including Polish, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Indonesian and German. After her first book, “Fresh Bread,” was published, she received many invitations to speak and lead retreats throughout the country and many parts of the world. A list of her books is at www.joycerupp.com.
“Almost all my books focus on a certain topic in relation to spiritual growth,” said Sister Joyce, who noted the topics include goodbyes and loss of all kinds, mid-life, depression, elderhood and aging. “I also wrote a book, ‘Walk in a Relaxed Manner,’ about my walking the 450-mile pilgrimage route across northern Spain.”
One of her favorite works was “Fragments of Your Ancient Name,” because she continues to be astounded by what came forth and inspiration she received by the Holy Spirit. The book is centered on 365 different names for God. She wrote a 10-line prayer for each name, one for each day of the year.
Seeds of prayer
Her latest book, “Prayer Seeds,” is a compilation of prayers and blessings. She noted in 2000 she released “Out of the Ordinary,” which included prayers, meditations and blessings that readers could copy and use as a resource for group prayer or personal use.
“That book was so well-received that a year ago I gathered most of what I created since 2000 and put it into my new book,” said Sister Joyce. She chose the title of “Prayer Seeds” because having living on a farm seeds always fascinated her with the potential to bring forth an abundant harvest.
“The prayers and blessings in ‘Prayer Seeds’ hold a similar potential. Each resource is a type of spiritual seed,” she said.
Each selection in the book, Sister Joyce stressed, holds the possibility of yielding a harvest of personal reflection and communal prayer.
“Some are in the germination stage and will require watering from additional ideas and resources in order to fully activate them,” the author explained. “Others are partially grown and will only need minor tending. A handful of selections are fully grown and ready for use, supplying all that is needed for harvesting a prayerful experience.”
While the Servants of Mary have ministered in the Diocese of Sioux City in a variety of parishes, Sister Joyce noted she has never had the opportunity to serve here. She taught school in Omaha and in Caseyville, Ill., before moving into parish and retreat ministry in the Des Moines Diocese. Presently, she serves as the co-director with Sister Margaret Stratman of the Institute of Compassionate Presence.
“You’d think we would know how, but that is not always the case,” she said. “There is so much to compassion, more than being with someone who is sick or impoverished. Compassion involves our awareness of suffering, our attitude toward others, what we choose to do with our negative thoughts and feelings, how we listening or do not listen to people’s pain when they speak about their suffering, and whether or not we can accept people as they are, not as we would like them to be.”
Consequently, for the past 10 years she has been teaching a four-day program in either a workshop or retreat style throughout the country and the United Kingdom. More than 1,100 people have participated, many telling her how it changed their lives – making them think and act more in accord with teachings of the Gospel.
Presently, Sister Joyce is writing a book that will contain the basic teachings of the four-day program on compassion. Also, she recently led an evening retreat on six Tuesdays in West Des Moines that was filmed and will be available on DVD and CD this fall.
“Writing is definitely a ministry for me because my intention is that it will be a catalyst for people’s spiritual growth,” said Sister Joyce.
She pointed out that Orbis Publishing has a book coming out this month in the Spiritual Master series with excerpts from her publications. The editor focuses on Sister Joyce being a “farmer’s daughter” and how growing up on an Iowa farm influenced her writing.
“When I read his manuscript, I was pleased because this is exactly how I feel about my writing,” Sister Joyce said. “I value immensely my childhood in a rural area and the faith life that developed when I was living in the Sioux City Diocese. I’ll always consider this one of the best gifts God has given to me.”