In Memoriam: Sister Sharana (1934–2017)


Sister Sharana, a much loved and respected nun of Self-Realization Fellowship, peacefully passed away on November 11, 2017. She was a source of divine spiritual counsel and wisdom for the many disciples and friends who sought her guidance, and she rendered important service to SRF for decades in the field of public relations.  

Born Karen Lanza in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, Illinois, on February 19, 1934, Sister Sharana received her B.A. degree in English from Mills College in Oakland, California, in 1955. Several years later she discovered the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and entered the SRF monastic order in July of 1961.

She often reminisced that her first assignment as a nun was filing papers at the International Headquarters, and how the nature of this work gave her the opportunity to establish the habit of practicing the presence of God—a practice that she encouraged in all spiritual seekers who sought her counsel.

In the early 1960s, she served for several years as a clerical assistant at both the International Headquarters and the Encinitas Ashram Center. Later she briefly assisted SRF President Sri Daya Mata before being transferred to SRF’s public affairs department. Here she received training from the department’s supervisor, a nun who had been a public relations professional before entering the ashram. In the late 1960s, Sister Sharana herself was assigned the role of supervisor of public affairs for SRF, and was later asked to take on a similar role for SRF’s audio-video department. During her tenure she worked closely with Sri Daya Mata, Sri Mrinalini Mata, and other direct disciples that Paramahansa Yogananda had chosen to guide his work after his passing. Under their tutelage, and utilizing her own gifts as a communicator, over the course of five decades Sister Sharana played an essential part in bringing about an increased recognition and appreciation of Paramahansa Yogananda and his teachings among the media, academic community, and general public.

Notable for the way she expressed in her life the qualities of loving concern for the welfare of others, inner strength, and radiance of character, Sister Sharana profoundly touched the lives of many SRF monastics and members alike. She was the embodiment of her monastic name, Sharana, which means “refuge in God” as well as “surrender to God,” serving as a source of solace and comfort to many.

According to a senior nun with whom she closely worked for many years: “Sister Sharana’s deep understanding of spiritual principles enabled her to counsel others in an utterly non-judgmental way—she related to them on a human level yet helped to uplift them to a more spiritual state of consciousness. In her role as an SRF spokesperson, she communicated with all types of people — be they celebrities, scholars, religious figures, or journalists — in such a natural and approachable way that she made valuable and ­lasting connections with a large and varied audience.”

A true embodiment of Paramahansa Yogananda’s term “smile millionaire,” Sister Sharana’s  bright, cheerful countenance heartened all those who came in contact with her. While she will be greatly missed, we find consolation in recalling her inspiring life and in the thought that her soul is now experiencing a state of blissful freedom from the physical body. May we all join together in sending her our gratitude and divine friendship as her soul makes the transition into the heavenly realms of light and joy.


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