Perhaps the greatest tribute anyone can pay to another is to say, “I am a better person because I have known and loved you.” If this is true, and I believe that it is, then I am here to pay tribute for all of us to Sister Joan McDonnell whose presence in our lives has made each of us a better and definitely a happier person.
I think that Shakespeare had Joan in mind when he wrote: “To thine own self be true, thou canst not then be false to anyone. (I changed that slightly at the end!) Joan was a person my father would describe as “All wool, and a yard wide.” Translation: Joan was true to herself. Joan was REAL. What you saw was what you got!
Joan enjoyed life. She enjoyed celebrations of all kinds—birthday parties, jubilees, anniversaries—a good TV movie on a Sunday afternoon with a dish of sausage, peppers, onions and a loaf of Italian bread. She knew the name of every actor—the old ones, not these new actors. She never missed any of them. However, what she enjoyed most was the celebration of Christmas—decorating the tree, Midnight Mass, sharing time with the sisters, her family and friends. Joan was a happy person who enjoyed her life.
Joan knew and accepted herself, both her gifts (and they were many) and her limitations.
She was wonderful with the small children she prepared for First Holy Communion, she had a great voice and was a wonderful cook. She was a loving sister, aunt and friend. When she began to realize that her memory was failing, this same self-acceptance gave her the courage to face what was happening, to accept it, and to deal with it by moving to where she knew she would be taken care of without burdening anyone. This choice was typical of Joan’s loving and caring heart because she knew it would save us from having to discuss the matter with her. Her choice of Stella Maris also gave her the chance to spend some years with her dear Dolly.
It was always a joy to hear her respond to the question, “How are you feeling?” with her trademark: “I feel fine, I just can’t remember anything.”
I believe that all of this self-acceptance was rooted in Joan’s deep and living faith. Hers was a trusting faith, a faith that she learned as she saw it lived by her wonderful parents. It was a faith that she lived at home with her brothers and sisters, a faith that she lived out in her life as a member of the McDonnell clan and as a faithful Sister of Saint Joseph.
All of us here today pay loving tribute to you, Joan, for your presence in our lives—a presence that has made each of a better person for having had you for sister, aunt, friend.
Sister Edyth Fitzaimmons
Joan McDonnell entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on September 4, 1952. At Reception she received the name Sister St. Leo.
Joan earned a BA in History from St. Francis College and an MA in Education from Brooklyn College.
Her early ministry was teaching in the primary grades in elementary schools in Brooklyn. In 1967, she went to Puerto Rico and taught in Colegio San Conrado in Ponce. On returning to the United States, Joan ministered in Holy Spirt School and St. Anselm School until she retired in 2009.
In 2012, Joan joined the community at Stella Maris Convent in Rockaway Park.
Sister Joan Patricia McDonnell, CSJ died on March 23, 2017 in the 65th year of her religious life.