(Sister Joan went to heaven on July 5, 2017.)
Sister Joan Walz’ address as a child was Hawesville, Ky., but Cloverport was closer, so she went to school there at St. Rose. Her mother, Ida May, was a housekeeper and helped run the family store. Her father, Otto, was a farmer, and “I was his boy,” Sister Joan said. She had three older sisters and then her brother came along six years later, but he wasn’t much of an outdoorsman, she said.
She had Ursuline teachers in Cloverport and two of her mother’s sisters were Ursulines. “Sister Ethel Sims was my fourth-grade teacher. She was really an inspiration,” Sister Joan said. “She played with us at recess. She was very joyful.”
She knew before high school that she wanted to become a sister.
“I had a very close friend in the eighth grade. She told me she was going into nursing,” Sister Joan said. “I knew I was going to be a sister, but I lied to her about it.”
She went to high school at Mount Saint Joseph Academy, as her three sisters had. Her sophomore year, she started recognizing boys and her interest in becoming an Ursuline started to wane. “My senior year, I had a very moving experience during retreat,” she said. “I was reading a book about the Trinity, I just felt so one with the Trinity.”
She had to work at the Academy to help pay her tuition. “In the evening after serving tables I would go to chapel and kneel before the Blessed Mother statue,” she said. “I thought how beautiful it was to live and die in such an atmosphere.”
She entered the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph in 1949, the summer after she graduated.
“Sister Francesca Hazel (a music teacher at the Academy) told me to go have a good time over the summer, but when I did, I didn’t want to come back,” Sister Joan said. “I had a boyfriend, he wanted me to go to (the University of Kentucky) with him. The idea of community life is what I wanted.”
Sister Joan’s career in ministry has included elementary and high school teacher and principal, and activity director for the retired Ursuline Sisters, in which she encouraged volunteerism and involvement in social issues. She was elected to community leadership from 1980-88, and when she was 57, she earned an associate’s degree in nursing and worked in health care for several years. She began working in parish ministry in 1999, and these days serves two parishes in Breckinridge County, Ky., by visiting the sick who are homebound, or in nursing homes and hospitals.
“Looking back at the time I chose to become an Ursuline I foolishly thought I was doing something special for Jesus,” she said. “I never dreamed of all the blessings He has given me — opportunities for advanced education, meaningful relationships, travel, spiritual growth and an awareness that Jesus is always at my side.”