Sister Joan Marie McAvoy, Sister Maria Columba, was a Sister of St. Joseph for nearly 68 years. Many of us have seen a common garden sign or plaque that reads “Life Began in A Garden.” Hold that image of garden in your mind. Remember the hard work entailed in preparing the soil, the dedication to tend to the planting and nurturing, the patience to wait for the fruits and blooms, the tolerance to accept what threatens growth, and the courage to transform what interferes with life.
Joan’s life began in Queens with her parents, Joan and Michael and where there were many gardens. Her life and faith were nurtured at home with her brother Walter and her younger brother Joseph. She attended Holy Child Jesus elementary school and St. Joseph’s Juniorate. In these early educational experiences, Joan’s love of learning was nurtured. She eventually earned degrees in Mathematics and Secondary Education from St. John’s University and a Masters in religion from Fordham University. She completed her certification in Pastoral Counseling at the Postgraduate Center for Mental health
Entering the congregation, Joan learned early on that Sisters of St. Joseph did whatever needed to be done. For Joan that meant teaching elementary school and eventually mathematics in high school at Fontbonne Hall, St. Angela Hall and St. Brendan’s Diocesan High School. In her persistent and hard work for her students, Joan tilled the soil of her students’ minds and nurtured them with care and love.
Her keen intellect, practical, realistic nature and love of our congregation’s mission was recognized and Joan was called to congregational leadership for two terms as a Regional Superior and two terms as a Councillor, giving dedicated service for fifteen years between 1971 and 1986. These years were filled with many changes and challenges as the congregation reached out to meet the needs of the neighbor in new ministries. The patience, tolerance and courage of a gardener were gifts needed at this time.
Joan’s service in leadership was enriched as she passionately pursued a life of non-violence and lived in a community that brought issues of injustice to the attention of our congregation. Life-long friendships were formed with Bridget and Fibronia and all who supported Joan over the years.
In community there was always a space for a garden and after leadership, Joan became principal of St. Joseph’s High School and for fifteen years she was the principal of Bishop Kearney High School where she found space for the students to garden. During these years she served on a number of Boards of schools and Diocesan programs.
Joan found time to carefully tend the gardens at Maria Regina and also assume responsibilities for the finances of the residents and beautify the halls of the residence. Doing whatever needed to be done, Joan assumed the role of Vicar of Maria Regina in 2004 tending to the needs of our sisters there.
Throughout her life, Joan brought care and compassion to those in need. As the gardener she worked diligently as she nurtured, challenged and lived the gospel message of love of God and neighbor without distinction. Joan’s presence in this congregation yielded many fruits and as life in a garden has taught us, those fruits and blooms hold seeds that will continue to bear new life. As we have been gifted with Joan’s life may she now enjoy eternal peace with the source of all life, our loving God.
Sister Joan Marie McAvoy, CSJ died on April 26, 2016 in the 68th year of her religious life.