Sister Joann Riesterer

Sister Joann RiestererHow does one capture the essence of a woman like Joann –  a sister whose ministry and growth span 70 years as a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis – and then write it down? Wow, what a task!

Reflecting on Joann’s strengths helps us to see why she has been called on to do so many things with, and for, the community. She would be the first to interrupt and say, “Wait a minute. ‘I’ didn’t do these things, WE did them together.” She has a wonderful gift for helping others identify and develop their strengths to work together to accomplish a mission. After all, that is what community is all about: “accomplishing a great mission together.”

Joann is a mission-driven person herself. When she sees a need, or when someone in the community makes her aware of a need, she goes into action and helps to build a response. This is why she is still responding to needs all over our newly converted St. Joseph Center home. And yes, she has a whole crew of others joining her in this effort.

I did not have the privilege of knowing Joann as she was growing up in her family, but I strongly believe that these strengths were part of her life from the time she was little. I would have loved to have been an observer of their family life and growth. One of her mottos has been, “Youth is the gift of nature. Old age is a work of art.” Joann has been working on this work of art all her life.

I was introduced to Joann a year and a half after she joined the community, when I joined. After that I followed Joann’s story from a distance because we became part of two different provinces. At that time, leaders in the community were recognizing Joann’s talent and calling her to respond to the needs developing in the area of retirement. The community needed an overall plan for retirement and Joann was called to be right in the middle of mobilizing committees and rolling up her own sleeves to plan and begin the work of implementing the plan.

Sisters were beginning to move into part-time work and smaller retired living communities; larger retirement locations began to close and be sold. It was in this process that Joann’s faith was truly tested. She found that our great St. Joseph helped her close and open many doors that would lead to the next steps and actions. Two questions kept arising: What are the needs of today? How do we know where to go and what to do next?

By answering these questions, the community made some important decisions. St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport was closed and deconstructed. Our Lady of the Angels in Greenfield, and Marie Linden and Sacred Heart in Milwaukee were planned and grew up. Affordable housing in Chapel Garden Apartments further transformed the motherhouse. All of these decisions were made with the strong influence and under the watchful eye of Sister Joann. That is why she is still walking our hallways today at age 87, and celebrating her 70th jubilee as a School Sister of St. Francis.

I have been most fortunate to work with Joann over many of these years, to learn from her, to accomplish projects together, and to follow in her footsteps as she continues making her own work of art with her life. The needs of the times are most assuredly Sister Joann’s guideposts. Nature is her model, community is her call, her sisters are her companions, and her co-workers are her motivation.

Thank you, Sister Joann, for your beautiful art work of life!