Joan Riedley’s favorite teachers the first 12 years of her life were Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Of course, all of her teachers were Ursuline Sisters.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that when it came time for her to choose a religious community, the Ursuline Sisters were the obvious choice.
Sister Joan, who all her friends refer to as “Joanie,” ministers at Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Louisville, Ky., not far from where she grew up. Her young life was intertwined with St. Denis Church in southwestern Louisville.
Sister Joan’s parents grew up on neighboring farms, and it was her grandfather who donated part of that land to build St. Denis. The Riedley family lived next door to St. Denis, and Sister Joan’s introduction to the Ursulines came as an infant.
She was born with a hole in her heart, and couldn’t get enough oxygen, causing her to turn blue. “My mother passed out the Infant of Prague prayers to everyone,” Sister Joan said. The sisters prayed around the clock for her survival.
“Some of the sisters called me the ‘blue baby.’ Every time I’d see them, they’d welcome me,” Sister Joan said.
The Ursuline Sisters taught all the grades at St. Denis School, and when in need of a baby to play the infant Jesus for a Christmas play one year, selected their future Sister Joan.
It was during her eight years of grade school at St. Denis that she fell in love with the Ursuline Sisters, who were the sole teachers at the school. That area was populated with many middle class or farming families, and Catholics were so numerous that there were four Catholic churches within shouting distance of each other – St. Denis, St. Helen, St. Matthias and St. Basil.
As a student at St. Denis, Sister Margaret Joseph Aull was her favorite teacher.
“Her name always comes up when we have reunions,” Sister Joan said. “She was just a loving, kind, wonderful teacher.” Sister Margaret Joseph died in 2009. Sister Joan’s other favorite teacher was the late Sister Mary Raymond Smith, her first grade teacher.
Her father, Bill Riedley, had a heating and air conditioning business, but he also built homes, and did a little bit of everything. Her mother, Lorene, was a homemaker for her five children, and prayed daily that her children would choose a religious vocation like her brother, Father Leo Dienes.
“At the end of the eighth grade, I decided I wanted to go to the boarding school (Mount Saint Joseph Academy),” Sister Joan said. “My older cousin (Sister Kathleen Kaelin) went to school there and one of my aunts.”
“My mom cried every time she left me at the Mount,” Sister Joan said. She enjoyed her time at the Academy, but concedes she got a lot of demerits. “I giggled and laughed a lot.”
When Sister Joan’s two older sisters and brothers got married, she knew she was her mother’s last chance to have a child join a vocation. Still, she wasn’t thinking of that when she went to the Academy.
“My senior year (1963), 12 girls joined, so I did too,” she said. “I’m sure mom prayed me in. I’ve never regretted it.”
When Sister Joan decided in 1963 to announce she was joining the Ursuline Sisters, the sisters who lived in the convent at St. Denis Parish gathered in the parlor for the announcement. More than four decades later, Sister Joan had a chance to minister at St. Denis for a year, and her office was that very parlor.
Sister Joan entered the novitiate in 1964, making this her 51st year as a sister. Her class had 25 women in it, with seven remaining: Sisters Laurita Spalding, Melissa Tipmore, Lisa Marie Cecil, Diane Marie Payne, Mary Timothy Bland, Karla Kaelin and Joan.
After a year of teaching in Kentucky, Sister Joan spent 1968-77 teaching and playing guitar in New Mexico, where she enjoyed the culture and teaching Native Americans and Hispanics. She then taught first grade in Glennonville, Mo., for nine years before returning to Louisville in 1986 to be closer to her parents, when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
She was the first Ursuline to teach at St. Matthias School, which she did for six years, when the school closed and she switched to music ministry at the parish there for the next 16 years. As Catholics in the area aged or waned, schools at the churches closed, and the churches began to follow. Eventually St. Matthias, St. Basil and St. Denis all closed and merged with St. Helen to become Mary Queen of Peace Parish in January 2009, where Sister Joan continues to serve as a music minister.
In her free time she is typically working on a craft project, and there is always music nearby. She learned to play the guitar shortly after becoming a sister.
“Music has been ingrained in me since grade school,” she said. One more thing the Ursulines taught her.