Sister Jo Denice Heck

Sister Jo Denice HeckSister Jo Denice started life with her brother Larry right by her side from birth. They were welcomed into life by their loving parents and by a one-year-old sister. The young family lived with the maternal grandparents, but when a fourth child was on the way, her parents ventured out on their own and the family continued to grow until Jo Denice had five brothers and one sister.

One day, the parish priest asked Jo Denice if she had ever thought of religious life. This brought the question to the foreground. She wrote to the School Sisters of St. Francis, inquiring about religious life. The community responded, but she never opened the letter. She just wasn’t ready.

After high school graduation, Jo Denice worked for two years as a secretary for a soft water company. But the question of religious life was always there. Once again she wrote to the School Sister of St. Francis. By the end of summer, she was boarding a bus with young women from Ryan High School for St. Joseph Convent.

At reception, like all new novices, she received her name. It was a name her mother and father put together for her: Jo Denise. The name was dear to her, and late in life she made it her legal name.

College was not her forte and she found herself in the kitchen and in the laundry. After vows, she went Elgin, Nebraska. She thought “This is nice, I’ll be near to home.” But that didn’t last. Two weeks later, she was on her way to Ashland, Montana. The train arrived at the station at night and she wondered “Where in the world am I?”

Her years in Montana turned out to be growth-filled years. She remembers the beauty of the stars in that great open space, and the nights they would sit up on the hill top to watch the dancing celebration of the powwows.

It was in Montana that Sister Jo Denice learned to drive. She recalled taking a sister to the hospital in Billings. They started after school, and it soon began to snow. A two-hour trip turned into a four-and-a-half-hour trip. Realizing they weren’t going to get back home that night, Jo Denice called a motel. Because of the snow there was only one room left: the bridal suite!

Jo Denice’s next mission turned out to be a challenge. She was sent to New Prague Minnesota, where the mission consisted of a few retired sisters and a sister teaching in the school. She was the youngest sister on the mission. Besides cooking, she was the driver and coordinator for the retired sisters. The care of the house was completely her responsibility. She was able to find comfort by riding her bike around town.

The next years were once again filled with growth and joy in her loving service to the sisters at Maria Linden in Rockford, Illinois. There, her list of duties grew, as did her skills. She found herself helping out in accounting, making appointments, and assisting human resources personnel.

Changes with the status of Maria Linden meant changes for Sister Jo Denice also. So after 20 years of service at Maria Linden, she went on a sabbatical, which turned out to be the best thing she ever did. The program included body work and message. During her internship she gave a massage to a pregnant woman and was thrilled to be able to feel the baby move.

It is this service of healing hands that many of us have experienced as we received a massage from her. Now we join her celebrating her 60 years as a School Sister of St. Francis.

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