Sanchez knows she’s lucky to still be in contact with her first-grade teacher. “I choose to surround myself with good people and positive influences and Sister Joan is definitely one of them,” she said. “God has blessed my life with the gift of Sister Joan.”
Sister Joan was self-taught on the guitar. “I was the first sister to play guitar in the pueblos in New Mexico,” she said. “I taught 20 kids to play the guitar at once. When they learned a few chords, they could play with me at Mass.”
In 1977, Sister Joan moved to another hotbed of Ursuline activity, St. Teresa School in Glennonville, Mo., where she taught first grade. Her first year was difficult getting acclimated to the climate and culture change, but she enjoyed her time there.
“It was very small, everybody knew everybody, and they were a very prayerful people,” Sister Joan said. “They really appreciated the sisters. We were invited to their houses all the time for meals.”
It was a tight-knit community of Catholics since the area is very Protestant, she said. “I went to get my driver’s license and the guy told me I had to take my veil off for the picture,” she said.
While in New Mexico she’d begun working with teenagers, and continued that in Glennonville with Teens Encounter Christ, mostly because she played guitar. “The guitar has gotten me into so many places,” she said.
During her years in New Mexico, she spent four summers directing music at a vacation bible school in Louisville, Colo., because of the guitar. “I love music. I’m in two choirs now, at St. Helen and St. Denis.” She was the music leader at St. Matthias, and she now has to learn the different musical styles at St. Denis and St. Helen. “I just love the two ladies who direct the choirs.”
In 1986, her mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, so Sister Joan asked for a new ministry to be closer to home. There were no teaching openings at St. Denis, but she got one at nearby St. Matthias, the first Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph to teach there. “I lived part of the week at St. James with the sisters, and the rest at home with my parents,” she said.
St. Matthias was a small school that had for many years been run by the Sisters of Charity. Most of the students were Baptists who were sent to the Catholic school because their parents believed they were in need of discipline, Sister Joan said. Very few of the St. Matthias parishioners sent their children to the school, and it closed in 1992.
The years of teaching school and taking care of her mother, who died in 1990, and then her father, who died in 1992, were tough for Sister Joan, but ones she wouldn’t trade. “It was very special to be there with my parents when they died,” she said. Her mother spent her final days at the Summerfield Manor Nursing Home, which is a place Sister Joan still visits and has communion services for residents.
Sister Joan was concerned where she would minister once the school closed, but the new parish priest, Fr. Gene Scheich, asked her to stay on as music minister. “It sounded good to change,” she said.
Her role at the church was to plan all the music for Masses, visit the homebound, handle CCD classes, and do the minister’s scheduling. “I enjoyed changing jobs, it was a lot less pressure,” she said.
“She was just good with people and good with the kids,” Fr. Scheich said. “She’s always very meticulous. You had to be careful, if you gave her a job, it would be done right away and you couldn’t change her mind,” he said. “She went right at it instantaneously.”
As Catholics in the area aged or waned, schools at the churches closed, and the churches have begun to follow. St. Matthias and St. Basil are already closed, and St. Denis is likely open only another year. They are all combining at the St. Helen location, which this month officially becomes Mary, Queen of Peace Parish.