Sister Mary Joanita Walsh
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1)
“This reading is from Psalm 27, which is one of Sister Mary Joanita’s favorite Psalms. The Health Care staff said that when she woke up during the night she would recite this line,” said Sister Catherine Livers in her commentary for Sister Mary Joanita Walsh, who died Sept. 1.
The daughter of Irish immigrants David and Anna (Crosbie) Walsh, Ellen Catherine Walsh was born Nov. 24, 1908, in Chicago. She attended St. Agnes Grade School and the Josephinum, both in Chicago. Upon graduating from high school, she and her sister, Mary, worked at the Palmer House in Chicago. After three years of this work and much discernment, she entered the Congregation Aug. 22, 1931, and received the religious name Sister Mary Joanita. She professed first and perpetual vows Feb. 27, 1934, and Aug. 15, 1939, respectively. Sister Mary Joanita earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in business education from Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Ind.
Sister Mary Joanita commenced teaching in 1934 at St. Agnes Academy, Indianapolis. Her other Indiana secondary classrooms included St. Catherine, Fort Wayne; Reitz Memorial, Evansville; St. John Academy, Indianapolis; St. John, Loogootee; and St. Rose, Vincennes. In Illinois, she ministered at Providence High School and St. Columbkille High School, Chicago; Corpus Christi High School, Galesburg; and Marywood Junior High School and High School, Evanston. She spent two years at Corpus Christi High School, Oklahoma City. In 1970, she began a long ministry of service to Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove, Ill. There she ministered in a variety of roles. She returned to the Woods in 1993.
“Every sister that I spoke with commented on Sister Mary Joanita’s faithfulness to prayer, her faith and her practical optimism. She was one of the gentle giants of our Congregation. However, she was ahead of her time as far as social justice, and she didn’t hesitate to take a stand. I am told that as far back as the 1980s she would contact magazines such as America and newspapers to encourage them to write about the injustice that she saw. She would quietly place the addresses of senators and representatives on the table and ask sisters to contact them and make their voices heard,” shared Sister Catherine.
“How was she as a community woman? She was always trying to do something that would make the sisters happy. Sister Eileen Clare Goetzen told me that she would make wonderful pecan rolls. One day, Sister Theresa Eleanor Blessinger (RIP) asked her why she didn’t use the potato mixer to make her bread, saying that it would be faster. She forgot to tell Sister Mary Joanita about the speed, so she put it on high. No pecan rolls that day — the dough was on the ceiling!” laughed Sister Catherine.
“What did she do for entertainment? She loved the color and texture of words so Scrabble became her pastime. Almost every night she, Sisters Catherine Joseph Wilcox (RIP) and Theresa Rose Butts would play Scrabble. All wanted to win. When she returned to the Woods, Sister Mary Joanita continued her love for the game,” continued Sister Catherine.
“During her later years in the Infirmary, Sister Mary Joanita was legally blind and couldn’t hear, but her happiness came from within. As late as last week she was singing Danny Boy and making the gestures,” said Sister Catherine.
“So, dear sister and faithful friend, on the night of Sept. 1 — as was your way — you quietly went home. We thank you for your legacy to us of living your lifetime acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly with your God,” concluded Sister Catherine.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Mary Joanita was celebrated Sept. 5, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She was preceded in death by her sister.
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