“Joy and love! My life has been filled with both!” Those were the sentiments overriding Sister Joan’s reflections on 75 years of life in community. To place these in this context, Joan wanted to comment on four extraordinary gifts: the circumstances of her entry into the congregation, opportunities which provided her the greatest pleasure, events which most enhanced her full life, and what she envisions as her future.
“My parents had seven children and I thought I might also want a large family until my eighth grade Joliet Franciscan teacher frequently suggested I become a nun,” Joan recalled. Her plan was to attend Notre Dame High School but instead, she won a scholarship to Alvernia High School. “I had three immediate blessings,” she said. “Sister Francis Borgia Rothluebber taught me debate, enrolled me in Literature Club, and arranged for a trip to the Cardign Center. Sister Rebecca Hickox, my sociology teacher, took us to the city jail and what an awakening! I became aware of social justice even back then. Then there was Sister Helena Steffensmeier. She taught me carving, painting, calligraphy – so much! Talk about a well-rounded education! I loved every minute of my life there. Finally, I told Sister Helena that I wanted to be a nun, so she helped me get ready. My mom was so pleased.”
Rather than wait until graduation, Joan entered after her junior year. Once Sister Viola asked her, “Are you happy?” Joan replied, “Can’t you tell!?” Sister Helena suggested three Franciscan-themed names for Joan’s reception and was given Sister de Alverno. “I was overwhelmed and amazed. Wow! It all was so special and so right!”
Sister Joan believes the foundation provided at Alvernia was prescient for her studies at Alverno College, Marquette University, and the University of Missouri where she delved into literature, photography, art, and journalism. Loving to learn, Joan incorporated all her skills into her many multi-leveled teaching positions. In 2017, on the occasion of the St. Joseph Chapel centennial, Joan wrote a commentary on the stained-glass window depicting the Sermon on the Mount. “I was surprised by the creative energy of the best teachers in the world – so involved in what was happening [at the time]. Their exuberance caught fire in our hearts.” Joan’s joy was to pass this on and saw it depicted in the window. “I identify with the teacher and students. They look into the eyes of Jesus and listen intently, not missing a word. We are each a unique listener in a community of listeners. We are all teachers of the Beatitudes.”
Numerous ministries and occasions enriched Joan’s life, but two especially deepened and broadened her spiritual insights and life journey. Joan served at Misericordia home for children with disabilities in Chicago beginning in 1982 and for the following 31 years ministered in many positions. “Looking back, it’s all gift! I loved those people!” Using her “common sense from the heart,” Joan could share all her skills in art, lettering, layout, drama, fund raising, public relations, teaching and more. “They were so welcoming and taught me so much. Every bone and cell in our body is in relationship. It’s wonderful! This home supported by wonderful staff who helped the children, formed such a precious body, one people, that exists even now.”
In 2007, Joan was privileged to companion Francis Rothluebber on a trip to Auroville, a small experimental community in southern India, established in 1968 for the purpose of risking and living a life of human unity and attuned to the evolutionary movement of Divine consciousness. “That was such an extraordinary, growth-filled experience. It’s a place of truth, justice, kindness, and integration. It’s a life-giving place in service to the Source of life. I wish we could all go and experience it.”
These days, challenges with declining vision have permitted Joan to consider more how her life has contributed to the future. “I’m seeing in different ways. I ‘see’ the connections with my God, and nature and all the wonderful people as being part of the present moment.” She has become more conscious of the Divine through the help of others. “They all portray the ALL!” Joan relates that she would tell younger companions, “Live in the present moment. I am so blessed to be alive here and now. I love it! To paraphrase Julian of Norwich, ‘All IS well!’”
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