The Vermont Community Foundation is proud to honor Sister Janice Ryan with a Lifetime Achievement Award for Community Service. The award will be presented at the Community Foundation's Annual Meeting on September 13, 2017 and is given to a person who has demonstrated a long-term and significant commitment toward creating healthy and vital Vermont communities.
Sister Janice Ryan is a lifelong advocate for special education, social justice, and criminal justice reform. She was born on a dairy farm in Fairfield, Vermont in 1936. In 1950, she moved to Burlington to attend high school at Mount St. Mary's Academy and during her last year there, she joined the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy. She went on to receive a BA in English from Trinity College of Vermont and a Masters of Education in Special Education from Boston University.
Ryan began teaching at Cathedral Elementary and Junior High School in Burlington and then became the Diagnostic and Pre-School Program Director for Handicapped Children at Trinity College of Vermont, a Catholic women’s college. From there, Ryan became a Professor of Education and then the President of Trinity College (1979-1996).
After leaving Trinity, Ryan went to Washington, DC where she worked to promote fairness and justice. She served as Director of Justice Education and Interfaith Relations under The Justice Project; the Education Director for US Senator James Jeffords; and Project Director of the Catholic Campaign to Ban Landmines. She was influential in the passage of the Vermont Special Education Law and pushed to have it used as the prototype for Congress in developing the nation's special education law. Ryan was also involved with a group that focused on the death penalty and "The Innocent Protection Act," which motivated states to collect DNA from all incarcerated individuals.
Ryan has traveled extensively for her work, with visits to Austria, Russia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, and the Republic of Latvia. She was also invited on the Vietnam Veterans of America's trip to Vietnam and Cambodia and took part in a three-week experimental living program in Cochabamba, Brazil.
In 2003, Ryan became the Deputy Commissioner of Corrections for the State of Vermont and is now retired, but still works with prisoners on a regular basis. As Deputy, she oversaw nine facilities in Vermont, twelve field offices for probation and parole, the furlough program, and Vermonters incarcerated in three other states.
In 2006, she was one of four Vermont natives who have celebrated 50 years as a Sister of Mercy. In their honor, the State of Vermont House of Representatives passed HCR 367. Ryan is currently a part of the Fellows Program and the International Women's Forum Leadership Foundation.
- Biography courtesy of the Vermont Historical Society