Franciscan Footprints

Visitation Comments – Sister Joyce, O.S.F.
August 21, 2014

Sister Joyce was born in Cook County, Chicago, IL on October 1, 1942 and entered our Religious Community on September 8, 1965 at the age of 22.  She took her final vows on August 6, 1972.  She celebrated her Silver Jubilee in May 1991 and was on track to celebrate her Golden Jubilee next May 2015. 

Sister’s mother died when she was 14 years old and from that time on, with a maturity well beyond her years, she cared for her older brother, Ron and especially her younger brother, Ken, both of whom are with us, Ron from New York and Ken from California.  This is a role she never relinquished, even after her father re-married.  She was far more focused on their spiritual and physical well-being than on her own, and she loved them with nothing less than a mother’s love.  Her joy was to “master plan” every minute of her brothers’ annual visits and would spend literally weeks getting ready so she could spoil them when they came.

During her 48 years in Religious Life Sister served in the EKG and X-ray departments at OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center, Pontiac, IL.  She was a nurse aide at St. Joseph Medical Center, Bloomington, IL and then went to St. John’s Hospital, Springfield, IL where she became a Certified Pastoral Associate in Health Care in May 1976.  From 1979 to 1999, a span of 20 years, Sister Joyce served in the Pastoral Care Department on the third shift at Saint Francis Medical Center, Peoria, IL.  She was “the” night Sister who literally walked the halls of that large facility, spending many hours in the intensive care areas and in the emergency department responding to critical events in the lives of people and being an unbelievable support to patients, their families and to the staff, embodying the love and compassion of Christ.   Her prayers and comforting words accompanied countless individuals into the halls of Eternity.   She was deeply loved and treasured.  She was “their” Sister.  And she made friends so easily, building life-long relationships that blessed her life immensely.  She could not have been more “family” to them than she was. 

Because of increasing health challenges Sister was then transitioned to serving as a Support Person on the surgical floor waiting area at the Medical Center where she continued her “gift of supporting individuals at a time of need” and wasn’t taxed by the long hallways.  In May of 2002 she was called to our Motherhouse Infirmary to serve in our Apostolate of Prayer and Suffering for our Community, the Church and the world.  She came willingly, but always with the hope she could soon return to her “love” of being with people and sharing their lives.  But God had other plans for her that would fulfill her hope, just in another and more unexpected way, as only God can do.

Her contacts with a multitude of people never stopped, but continued uninterrupted.  She had access to a phone.  Even with scleroderma, which she called “the scary disease” she never stopped sending those precious and timely notes and cards.  SHE never forgot, and wasn’t about to.  Calendars I found in her room, address books were literally filled with notes and careful logging of who is having what and when and then logged when she accomplished it.  In fact, her “angel outreach” expanded as she now included all of our Motherhouse employees in her circle of caring for and remembering and NEVER forgetting their special days.  Our Sisters have lived in the glow of that kindness and just came to expect it, just the way Sister Joyce is, and she was there for us, too, a powerful pray-er and always had the right words at the right time.  Her eyes told it all; she cared deeply.  It was just WHO SHE WAS.

You have to remember this expanded apostolate occurred in the midst of increasing health challenges.  As if diabetes, scleroderma, heart condition, among a few of her conditions, that continued to attempt to pull her independence away from her, weren’t enough, her life began to be filled with doctor appointments, painful dressing changes, constant drainage and excruciating pain from infections in her legs that wouldn’t heal.  It about broke her spirit as she had little time for what she loved.  More than once she was at death’s door and we were able to bring her back.  This made life scary for her at times, but she never gave up.  She had her moments and I had to tease her back by telling her I was going to get a Crab and every time she acted up I was going to through it at her, which I did!  And she would laugh so hard, and the moment would pass.  Funny way to share love, but it worked.  I’m almost tempted to put this Crab in her casket, but I fear the repercussions, as now SHE has the higher advantage over me!  It took a lot of courage for Sister Joyce to finally make the decision, with the help of God’s grace to surrender to her biggest fear and have her infected legs amputated.  Just a week before the scheduled date she lapsed into a severe infection and was on the verge of becoming septic, was hospitalized and we all feared for her life, but God brought her back to us once again and her date was kept.  I can’t imagine how such a drastic surgery could affect a person’s self-image negatively, but not Sister Joyce.  I was in her room when she returned from surgery and was aware that her legs were gone, and what was her reaction?  “I guess I finally lost some weight” she said and smiled.

And in her 2010 Christmas letter sent out to dozens of her close friends she reflected on this experience:  “Some years bring more challenges than others, and it is with God’s help that we persevere.  My hope is that my experience is in some way encouraging to everyone.”  She NEVER forgot the God who loved her and walked with her, knowing the only one set of footprints in the sand was because He was carrying her.

Sister Joyce loved life.  She devoted her entire life to comforting, encouraging, laughing and at times crying with countless friends, patients and their families, sharing in their life’s journey.  She also celebrated with them on MORE than countless occasions; their families became hers.  And characteristically she knew how to “take charge” as only Sister Joyce could do.  She lived life to the full with much joy, laughter and unforgettable creativity.  She was well named and would readily re-define her name as “Sister Joy.”  We can’t even mention her name without the flood of memories that immediately brings a smile across our faces, and hearty laughter that warms our hearts.  And she clung to life, yes, even as Brother Death beckoned her into the Arms of Love that patiently waited LONG ENOUGH to bring her HOME.  She wouldn’t go until her brothers were at her side.  When she heard their voices she came alive and her blue eyes just sparkled and she called out their names with the biggest smile.  That comfort was a gift none of us Sisters could have given her.  And so we shared Sister’s final steps of her journey with her brothers who became our brothers, keeping quiet and gentle and prayerful vigil at her bedside all hours of the day.  We heard story after story from our Infirmary staff that cared for her so lovingly and from so many of her life-long friends who came to be with her and thank her for touching their lives and countless others.  Over and over again we heard, “I will never forget when . . .”  “She appeared just when I needed her.”  “She was an angel when my brother died and my mother; she was always there for me.”   “She held my hand and spoke when I had no words to speak.”  “I will never forget.”  “I will NEVER forget.”  Spoken with tears in their eyes and yet smiling.

Wednesday my phone rang at 4:00 A.M. and I instinctively knew.  The voice simply said “Come now.”  And so I woke up Sister Theresa Ann and we rushed to her bedside.  Shortly her brothers arrived.  Bernadette, her dear friend, spent the entire night with her.  Michelle and Kim, our Infirmary staff, were in the room, too.   We encircled her with our love.  She knew we were there and she was on her way HOME.    And yes, she still clung to life, even as Brother Death beckoned her into the Arms of Love that patiently waited LONG ENOUGH to bring her HOME.  It must have been that room filled with angels, dangling her dancing shoes before her eyes that won her over and OUR ANGEL took her ascent. 

Sister Joyce, we will NEVER FORGET YOU, nor the joy that you brought into our lives that will never leave us.  We know you will bring God joy and make Him smile, just as you have us so many, many times!  Just don’t drive Him crazy!  Promise?  We love you and we will miss you.  Pray for us.

Sister Judith Ann, O.S.F.
Major Superior

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