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From teacher to preacher

Joanna Hollis '97 (center) with her family after her ordination last December. (Photo by Juli Hayes-Nadler)
Joanna Hollis '97 (center) with her family after her ordination last December. (Photo by Juli Hayes-Nadler)

In 2001 Joanna Hollis ’97 made a giant leap of faith.

A dedicated Japanese teacher who for more than half a decade had taught students in the U.S. and abroad, she decided to dedicate the next eight years of her life to becoming a priest.

Hollis’s journey to ordination in the Anglican Church began long before 2001. The seeds of her faith, and ultimately her life’s course, were planted by her father’s 45-year career as a priest in Bermuda.

As a child, Hollis spent many Sundays at the altar with her him. “Being in that space really gave me a grounding in liturgy and Sunday services,” she says. It also impressed upon Hollis that the celebration of faith is “not about doing magic and providing wafers and wine. It’s about the people and how to be prayerful.”

But her close proximity to the church as a child wasn’t the only thing facilitating her transition to the priesthood.

“The foundation of my work began at Connecticut College,” says Hollis, who majored in Japanese and sociology-based human relations. Indeed, she credits her alma mater with teaching her to make connections between seemingly disparate subjects and to broaden her thinking, a skill that has served her well in transitioning from teaching to the priesthood.

“It’s not about just what’s in front of you, but also the whole picture, especially when you’re talking about God,” Hollis says. Her professors, too, were integral to her current success. “They believed in me, and that support has gave me the courage to try things,” she says.

Timothy Vance, a former professor of Japanese, recalls that his student “was persistent — willing to do whatever it took for as long as necessary — to learn Japanese. That kind of dedication to a goal pays dividends in one way or another, even if you decide in the end to do something else.”

And Hollis’s persistence did pay off.

Ordained in December 2009, she is now the associate rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, Calif. Though her schedule is demanding — she only has one day off per week — Hollis doesn’t seem to mind. She finds her work rewarding, a way to live daily her commitment to God and social justice. “People want to make the world a better place,” she says. “It sounds corny, but they really do.”

Rachel Harrington and Joanna Gillia ’07





July 8, 2010