When word of the merger of churches began, Sister Joan was concerned she would have to move into a ministry that didn’t allow her to play music. But the pastor at St. Helen, Fr. Tom Gentile, asked her, “When are you going to start working with us?” His first mission as a young priest had been at St. Denis when Sister Joan was in New Mexico, but he remembered her from those days, she said.
Part of her role toward the end at St. Matthias was to talk with the parishioners who were upset by the decision to close. “It was so hard for them,” she said. “They are mostly older people and they loved Fr. Gene, he’s a very generous person. There were a lot of hard feelings.”
Sister Joan was one of only three employees left at St. Matthias, and with a month until it was to close, she was the only person there. “I was mighty lonely in that big old building by myself,” she said. She’d moved out of her home with Sisters Maureen O’Neill and Michele Ann Intravia, and their cat Simba, to stay at St. Matthias until it closed, then moved to St. Basil in June because it closed.
Sister Maureen described Sister Joan as a wonderful person to live with.
“She’s busy, busy, always knitting, or crocheting, or doing something crafty,” Sister Maureen said.
Sister Joan’s office will be at St. Denis for another year, before everything is combined at the St. Helen location. Ursuline Sister Darlene Denton also ministers at St. Helen.
One of the blessings of the merger is Sister Joan’s chance to gather every Wednesday with the 30 members of the St. Denis Ladies Club to work on crafts, which they then sell. One-third of the proceeds go to the church, the rest goes to the club to pay for outings. Sister Joan is working on her second quilt, which is pieced on a spare bed in her home.
Gerri Noe has been the leader of the group for 20 years. The two remember each other from grade school, when Sister Joan was a friend of Noe’s sister.
“I was a year ahead of her in school. She was pretty much like she is now, but that’s good,” Noe said.
Sister Joan is supportive of all the women and helps transport those who no longer drive, Noe said. “She’s been just great. She helps in any area where we need help,” Noe said. “She’s so enthusiastic. With the merger, so many people are disheartened. We need someone like her to be a beacon of light for these people.”
By Dan Heckel