Sister Joan Wageman

Sister Joan Marie WagemanI was the last child born in a large family on a farm near Westphalia, Iowa. When I was born, my sister Mary was already a novice in the School Sisters of St. Francis and had been given the name Sister M. Redemptoris.  I grew up hearing stories about her teaching school in Chicago.  

Besides my sister, I had two aunts – my Papa’s two sisters – who were School Sisters of St. Francis and there were nine sisters ministering in our parish. My favorites were Sister Rhodana, my first and second grade teacher; and Sister Rosetta, my seventh and eighth grade teacher. Observing these happy women, I was inspired to enter the School Sisters of St. Francis. For me there was never a question of which order to join when I decided to enter religious life. 

In August 1951, Sister Redemptoris came home to accompany me on the train to St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee, where I became one of 60 freshmen aspirants. Though I was only 14 years old, fresh out of eighth grade, I felt called to this adventure. It truly was an adventure, as I was now 500 miles from my home in rural Iowa, starting high school in the city, taught by School Sisters.

I was an aspirant for three years and a postulant for one year. On June 13, 1954, I became a novice and was given the name Sister Paulina, the name of my aunt who had died. Mother Corona told me that she had saved the name for me.

After Profession, in August 1956, I was sent on my first teaching mission. I taught primary grades for 13 years in Chicago; Davenport, Iowa; Colorado Springs; and Creighton, Nebraska. In the late 1960s, when we were given the option of “open placement,” I entered a religious studies summer program in Spokane, Washington, in preparation to do religious education in a parish setting.

When I got ready to leave classroom teaching in Creighton, Nebraska and move to Boulder, Colorado, for religious education ministry, it was apparent that I needed to learn to drive a car. Sister Mary Diez started teaching me to navigate on the Nebraska country roads. Sister Pat West took up the challenge of teaching me to drive in Denver and Louise Sanchez continued my driver’s training education in the thriving college town of Boulder and the surrounding mountains of the Rockies. Finally, I checked out my skills with a driving teacher and I passed! I was ready to drive to the four parishes where Sister Patralia and I taught women volunteers and coordinated their religion classes.

Another challenge had me ministering for 18 years in low-income housing in Omaha and Denver. After that, I served for eight years as case manager in a Denver shelter. While working in housing and the shelter, I was involved with families of many different cultures, including Hispanic, Chinese, Vietnamese, Black, Korean, and Hmong cultures.

This is where I found my most challenging and enriching ministry. As liaison between management and residents, I often walked the streets where the families lived. This gave me the opportunity to be invited into their homes and to see their ancestral altars or chop vegetables for Vietnamese dishes. They were proud and happy to share their cultures with me. During these years, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the housing program, which included a parade in which the residents proudly wore their native costumes.

I thank God for the gift of being a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis. I feel most like a School Sister when my sister classmates of 1954 gather to enjoy and talk about our younger selves. This is only topped by the joy of gathering with my sisters in St. Joseph Chapel, especially when we sing Sister Theophane’s Canticle of the Creatures (“Most High, omnipotent, Good Lord”)