She taught first and second grade at St. Teresa School in Grants for eight years, then was asked to teach at St. Joseph School in San Fidel, which she did for a year. Grants is a town where most of her students were Hispanic, while San Fidel is “in the middle of nowhere” and most of her students were Native Americans. While the Hispanic students could be seen in stores in town, the Native American children were quiet and rarely seen until school the next day, she said.
“(The sisters) would talk about what we were doing there, how amazing it was we could be there. It was like a foreign mission,” Sister Joan said. “The children and the parents would say they learned a lot in the school, and we tried to teach them religion by being a good example. They saw us as personable and friendly.
“When I go back, they always welcome me,” she said. She returned in 2007 when one of her earliest students, Bernadette Montoya, asked her to harmonize on her CD, “Good Ole Gospel.”
“I’m so proud of every one of them, it’s so neat to get back with them,” she said. “It’s nice to see how happy they are to see me and how happy I am to see them.”
Montoya, who now lives in Las Cruces, said as a child, her mother took her to Mass every morning at St. Teresa of Avila in Grants.“I used to love listening to the music, and would tell my mom that I wanted to go to school there with ‘the little sister that played the guitar.’ So, my parents enrolled me at the school where the ‘little sister’ played and sang when I was ready to enter first grade,” Montoya said. “My mother says that I was actually placed into a lay teacher’s classroom, and that they called Sister Joan and said that my heart would be broken if I couldn’t be in her classroom.”
Sister Joan started Montoya’s music education with a guitar chord chart that she made herself and mimeographed. (Montoya still has it as a cherished memory.) “Everyone thought I was too small to learn, but in her very special way, she showed me. I learned and was playing in Mass by the time I reached the second grade.
“I was playing on a $10 guitar my father bought for me, and when I reached third grade (even though I had begged my dad for a ‘real guitar’), she told my dad I needed a better guitar,” Montoya said. “All it took was her recommendation, and he bought one for me. He had faith in her too.
“Those of us who had the pleasure of learning to play guitar from Sister Joan were blessed twice over. Music brings an enormous amount of joy to my life, and I use my talent to minister to others just as I was taught.I always wanted to be like her, and taught first grade for several years,” Montoya said.“I used music to teach my students, and taught them to play instruments as well. She touched my life in many ways.”
Another student from New Mexico who stays in contact is Brenda Sanchez, who Sister Joan taught as a first-grader in 1970.
“Sister Joan came to our school as a very young teacher,” Sanchez said. “Even as a young child, I could see all the many gifts and talents that Sister Joan had to share with us. She has taught me and continues to teach me many life lessons.”
One of her favorite memories is Sister Joan leading the music at Mass, and teaching her to play the guitar, Sanchez said.
“She taught me one of the greatest lessons, which was that when wesing, we actually prayed twice,” Sanchez said. “One of my most favorite times of the year was singing Christmas carols with Sister Joan.”