When a Coach Falls in Love with Religion

“Religion was never on my radar,” says Sr. Gianna Marie Webber, OSF. It’s a surprising statement coming from a Franciscan sister in full habit, not to mention the principal of a Catholic grade school, but then Sr. Gianna Marie’s story is full of such surprises.

The third of six children, Sr. Gianna Marie was baptized Catholic, but her family ceased practicing the Faith when she was 6. Athletics became her passion, and she excelled at basketball, which earned her a scholarship to Ohio’s Mount Vernon Nazarene University. “If you can get an orange ball into a basket,” she explains, “it makes education very cheap.”

About the time she finished her education degree and started teaching (and coaching) high-schoolers in Alaska, her mother returned to the Church and started praying for her children to do the same. “Don’t underestimate the power of a mother’s prayers,” Sr. Gianna Marie says. Her mom’s resurgent faith challenged her to take religion seriously for the first time.

Another challenge came by way of Mother Teresa, whose tireless service to the poor regularly showed up in the news. “All that she was doing for the Man on the Cross,” Sister recalls wondering, “was it worth it?” Concluding it was, she decided she wanted to be a member of Mother Teresa’s “team” as a Catholic Christian.

Once back in the Church, Sr. Gianna Marie considered how she could best serve the Lord. One morning she woke with a mental image of herself in habit rather than as a mom with a brood of kids. “You know how it is when you fall in love,” she says of her call to religious life. “You just…fall in love.”

Eventually, she made her way to Mishawaka, Indiana, and presented herself as a candidate to the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. “I didn’t think they’d take me, but they took me,” she says. “I didn’t think they’d keep me, but they’ve kept me.”

In the course of her formation, Sr. Gianna Marie completed a master’s in educational administration at Franciscan University in 2011. Now fully professed, she serves as principal of St. Matthew Cathedral School in South Bend, Indiana. It’s an assignment that brings together her coach’s enthusiasm, her teacher’s purposefulness, and her Franciscan joy. As Sr. Gianna Marie says, being a principal “takes it to another court altogether.”
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A version of this profile originally appeared in Franciscan Magazine, Franciscan University of Steubenville.

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