"I have escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper, the snare is broken and I am free."
Sister Jean Schafer, SDS witnessed many poignant examples of Salvatorian Sisters’ courage and compassion while serving as international leader for the Sisters of the Divine Savior in Rome from 1989-2002. She recalls our Italian sisters, already in their 70s, starting a mission in Albania. The sisters went there to restore Catholic faith and provide a livelihood for local women after the fall of Communism.
She also tells of local sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo gathering with village women in the dark of night to mourn the death of an infant during childbirth. Such courage and compassion inspired Sr. Jean to guide our congregation’s global commitment to the plight of woman and children ensnared in human trafficking.
“Our sisters could not stand by idly as they saw what was happening to women struggling to find work in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. It was obvious they were being duped and exploited, broken and scarred.”
The year after returning from Rome, Sr. Jean would become a standard bearer for anti-human trafficking efforts in the U.S. She moved to California, where several major ports were known international entry points for human trafficking. She launched the Stop Trafficking! monthly newsletter that shares jolting insights into a complex crime network of exploitation for labor and sex. Sr. Jean continued to publish the online newsletter for 15 years. In 2018, The U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking coalition, or USCSAHT, stepped up to continue publishing the newsletter.
Over the years, Sr. Jean’s efforts to raise awareness of this crime against humanity gained momentum and effected systemic change. For example, in 2005, Sr.Jean testified before the California legislature to pass a statewide Victim’s Protection Act. It made human trafficking a felony and granted trafficking survivors eligibility for victim services.
In 2008, Sr. Jean and Sister Sheila Novak, SDS established SDS Hope House, Inc. in California. Hope House provides safe transitional housing for women to begin their healing journey after trafficking situations. In recent years, they transferred operation of Hope House to another faith-based group, but continued to advocate for some of the women they had served there.
Sr. Jean set the stage for Salvatorian Sisters to join religious networks against human trafficking in Philippines and Europe. Our sisters also minister to trafficking victims in shelters in Austria, Germany and Jordan. The Sisters of the Divine Savior also work with other women religious congregations as members of the non-governmental organization UNANIMA International. UNANIMA works for systemic change, providing opportunities for women to earn a living wage to avoid the lures into a life of exploitation.
Sr. Jean describes her call to religious life as a “powerful gift” that has offered opportunities to discover and share her talents, help connect diverse people in meaningful ways, and achieve a balance of community, prayer and service. The former international leader for Salvatorian Sisters in Rome now has the responsibility of leading her U.S. Province. She says, “My role is to keep the spiritual dimension before us – the ‘why’ of our life.”
Sr. Jean celebrates 60 years of religious life in 2023.