Two days before she entered the convent, Jo Ann Recker’s boyfriend took her out for one last date. He cried when he had to say goodbye. Still hopeful, he visited her once while she was in the convent and four years later, after she took her first vows, he was still waiting for her.
But the pull to serve God was stronger than her love for the boy. Jo Ann Recker was 17 when she graduated from Mount Notre Dame High School and entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Though she admits she was torn between the boy and the convent, she doesn’t regret her decision. Not only was it right for her, it freed him to get on with his life.
Recker knew from elementary school that she would become a nun. “From early on, I was always aware that God was a special individual, and I knew I wanted to live in a way that privileged that relationship,” she says.
Her mother made her transfer to a public high school to get her “out of the influence of the nuns,” but eventually let her return. “I was almost homecoming queen,” Recker says proudly of her days at Indian Hill High School.
Recker is known for her spunky spirit and outspoken views at Xavier, where she has taught French for more than 25 years and served 15 years as department chair. She first taught at Summit Country Day School while she was earning her degree in French at Edgecliff College. She completed a master’s in romance languages and literature at Ohio State University and stayed for a PhD as well.
She worked in the language department at Ohio State as a coordinator while earning her degrees, but after 11 years, she felt that pull again, this time from Xavier, where an opening in the language department in 1987 caught her attention.
“It was small and it was Catholic, and when they offered me the job, I cried. I knew it was the right move to make, but I was not ready to leave OSU,” she says. “As I was moving into Becker house at the corner of Victory Parkway and Dana, old Duke the attendant came over. It was about 9 at night, and he says, ‘Well, welcome to Xavier!’ And that’s when I knew it was the right decision.”
Recker earned tenure after two years. There were times she had to stand firm with administrators, but that came naturally for her. “I grew up in all-girls schools and was in the order, all places where women always were leaders.”
At Xavier, Recker found comfort in being part of a Jesuit community. The Jesuits have had a historic relationship with the Notre Dame sisters since the order’s founding in 1804 in France. “We are like a sister order to the Jesuits. Many of the fathers of the faith were Jesuits and were spiritual directors for our founders,” she says.
Recker knows. She’s written two books about the order’s co-foundress, Françoise Blin de Bourdon, and believes the relationship between the Jesuits and her order was a factor in her hiring. Now as a full professor of modern languages and a published author, she not only has no regrets about her decision to become a nun, she relishes in the opportunities it has given her. A Francophile, she travels regularly to the order’s motherhouse in Namur, Belgium, where she gives talks and presentations about the order’s founders, conducts research and leads pilgrimages.
But her passion is teaching. “My first love has always been in the classroom,” she says. At Xavier, she can teach a wide variety of literature, including her specialty, 17th and 18th century French literature, and she’s developing a new course about the French cinema. Her favorite course is a focus on Moliére and the moral messages he presents in his plays. Its title reflects her no-tears philosophy of life: Laughter is the Best (Moral) Medicine: the Comedies of Moliére.