Sister Joan Marie Peters

Sister Joan Marie PetersSister Joan Marie Peters, the oldest of six children of Alphonse and Erna Peters, was born in West Bend, Wisconsin.  The family grew up on a small dairy farm just south of West Bend.  They learned how to work hard and love, care for, and respect the animals and nature that surrounded them.

Sister Joan Marie attended Holy Angels School for grades one through seven, and St. Frances Cabrini School for grade eight in West Bend. Both schools were taught by School Sisters of Notre Dame.  Sister talked about becoming a nun from the time she started school. She had relatives in the School Sisters of Notre Dame, School Sisters of St. Francis, and Sisters of the Divine Savior. She read books from the school library about different religious communities. When she was 10 or 11, she told her parents she wished to join the School Sisters of St. Francis. (Note: One of her favorite saints is St. Francis.)

Sister Joan Marie became an aspirant in August 1959 at age 14.  She was received August 2, 1964; professed August 11, 1966; and took final vows July 10, 1971.  Many changes took place in the community and Church over the years.  The faith, trust, and patience that she had begun to learn as a young child continued to grow and help her through the ups and downs of changing times.

In college, Sister started out as a math major and chemistry minor.  After hearing Sister Miriam Terese Sheehan’s presentation about the health care professionals needed in the community, Sister Joan Marie changed to a foods and nutrition major.  This meant transferring from Alverno to Mount Mary College and then on to a dietetic internship at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.  Midway through her internship, Sister learned she was not going to be the dietitian at Waupun Memorial Hospital as originally planned.  She was asked to look for a position outside of School Sister facilities.

Sister ended up spending seven years as a clinical dietitian at Milwaukee Children’s Hospital caring for and teaching children and their families about special dietary needs. She recalls one time when a parent of a dying child asked her to be just quietly with them for a few moments. This was something precious never to be forgotten.

After starting graduate school in 1977, Sister accepted the position of food service director at St. Mary’s Nursing Home in Milwaukee. The food service needed updating and remodeling with limited resources, so she had to put her listening and organizing skills to use. Gaining the confidence and support of the staff proved to be an important part of making many needed changes.

In 1986, Sister Joan Marie was called to move to Campbellsport to be the food service director at St. Joseph Convent. At that time, there were more than 200 of our sisters living there. The position required lots of listening, organizing, and creativity skills, as well as patience. During her 15 years there, Sister learned more about the history of the School Sisters. There were happy times, sad times, fun times, and frustrating times.

Life does not stand still, though, and Sister found herself facing another change. Instead of working until retirement at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport and spending 31 years as a dietician, she found herself making another career change. This took her to work with and care for adults with profound intellectual and developmental disabilities at The Threshold, Inc., in West Bend. During her 17 years there, Sister learned more about the importance of really listening, smiling, being quiet, patience, and enjoying the simple things of life. Sister recalled a moment when she was at an art museum with a nonverbal client. They were standing in front of a large colorful painting when the client leaned over to give her a big, smiling hug – his way of saying “Thank you for bringing me here.”

At age 73, Sister Joan Marie was no longer able to meet the physical demands of working at The Threshold, so another career change was in store. A block from where she lives, Sister Joan Marie now works in K-3 and daycare at St. Matthew School in Campbellsport, and she loves it. She considers it a privilege to work at the school where our sisters first started teaching 150 years ago. When she arrives in the morning, she often hears the children saying, “Sister’s here!”  They come running to meet her as she starts another day of listening, teaching, caring, and patience with a room full of energetic little children.

Throughout her life with the School Sisters of St. Francis, Sister Joan Marie has appreciated the support and friendship within the community. Singing in choir, growing lots of beautiful flowers, and attracting monarch butterflies have helped her appreciate life and allowed her to share some of God’s creation with others.