Sister Frances Joan Baker
Sister Francis Joan would like to share the story of her coming to the community, began Sister Patty Wallace in her commentary for Sister Frances Joan Baker who died Oct. 26, 2013 at the age of 97.
“I was educated by the Sisters of Providence at St. Simon’s in Washington, Indiana. I never gave one thought to being a sister. NEVER! I didn’t think I was good enough until one day when I was staying after school helping Sister Anna water the flowers. She turned to me and said, ‘Rosemary, have you ever thought about being a Sister?’ I said, ‘Never!’ Sister Anna said, ‘Well, start thinking about it.’ I thought, ‘Gee, she thinks I am good enough!’ I was the youngest of 10 children and I was concerned about how my mother would feel, but she told me about the good parts of being a Sister and that I would always be with holy and intelligent women. She didn’t know all the blessings I would have. I feel it was much harder for my mother to give me up than it was for me to leave, because I wanted to come here. I came to the Sisters of Providence in January of my sophomore year of high school — a month before my 16th birthday — and I have never looked back. I have loved everything about being a Sister of Providence. I have had a wonderful life!”
Sister Frances Joan entered the congregation on Jan. 27, 1932, professed first vows Aug. 15, 1934 and perpetual vows Aug. 15, 1939. She earned her bachelor degree in education in 1957 from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s degree in education in 1966 from Indiana State University.
Sister Frances Joan often spoke of her family:
“I come from a large family. I was the youngest of ten children and my father, Frederick Baker, died when I was 6 months old. We were poor, but my mother, Frances Rankel Baker, was a faith-filled and holy woman who raised my bothers Carl, George, Fred, Peter, Lou, Frank, Leo and my sisters Etta, Fannie and myself. She lived the words of Mother Theodore: ‘Lean with all your weight upon Providence.’ When I was baptized on March 4, 1916, my brother George and my sister Etta were my godparents. One of my greatest joys was welcoming my family to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and being with them at family celebrations. In July, 2012 my family was here to celebrate my 80th Anniversary!”
Sister Frances Joan was born Rosemary Baker on Feb. 23, 1916, in Washington, Ind. She was preceded in death by all of her siblings.
Sister Frances Joan taught in elementary education for 52 years. She loved teaching, especially religion and reading. She taught in Massachusetts at St. Rose in Chelsea; in Indiana at St. Mary in Richmond, St. John in Vincennes, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. James, Immaculate Heart, St. Simon and Holy Spirit all in Indianapolis, St. Simon in Washington, and St. John the Baptist in Fort Wayne; in Illinois at St. Athanasius in Evanston and St. Agnes in Chicago; and in North Carolina at Blessed Sacrament in Burlington and St. Therese in Wilson. She shared her love of teaching with first graders for 25 years, junior high school for one year, and intermediate grades for 25 years. I had Sister Frances Joan as my fourth grade teacher at St. Simon’s in Indianapolis…what a gift! Sister Patty continued.
In the words of Sister Frances Joan, who was a wonderful teacher:
“I taught all of the grades, but I always wanted to go back to first grade. They were so fresh and so anxious to learn. What I said meant so much to them. They were able to read a story by the end of the year. That one year in junior high made me wonder what happened to these children who so loved school in first grade and cared less about it in junior high. I decided to teach intermediate grades. I came to an understanding that you can’t succeed with every child, but teachers can encourage and motivate children.”
When Sister Frances Joan turned 70 years old, she returned home to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and “retired.” For nine years she served as a pre-school assistant at the Woods Day Care, welcoming the children at 6 a.m. each morning. In her retirement she spent time visiting our Sisters in Health Care and served as Director of Clothing. She visited prisoners as a Pastoral Care Volunteer at the Terre Haute Federal Prison. She was the face and voice of hospitality in Owens Phone Room and Providence Center. She continued her gift of teaching at the SPs Educational/Family Services, tutoring children who otherwise not have been able to afford such help. She volunteered to monitor the bluebird nesting houses. She nurtured African Violets and made crosses to give to visitors. Her most cherished ministry in retirement was preparing children for first communion at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village Church. She kept a special list of each one’s name.
Sr. Frances Joan walked in the footsteps of Mother Theodore for 81 years …. literally.
“I’ve been blessed with good health. I’ve always been a walker. I love to walk.” She was often walking— enjoying nature and the sacred places of the Woods especially stopping at the Baker Tree on the Stations path which was planted in memory of her family.
Frances Joan experienced the changes in the Church, religious life, and the Congregation after Vatican II. Although these changes were sometimes painful for her, she willingly embraced them. She entered fully into her life as a Sister of Providence, participating in meetings, preparing and underlining the materials, intentionally keeping up on the issues in the world and sharing her wisdom with others, especially younger sisters. At each new stage in her life, she graciously and independently moved forward and embraced each new experience and the people with whom she lived. Frances Joan met each visitor with gentleness, acceptance, and laughter and each left believing they were the most special person.
As Frances Joan deepened into her ministry of prayer, she treasured taking the 8 o’clock hour at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. She prayed to Saint Mother Theodore for vocations, for the intentions recommended to Mother Theodore, and for anyone who needed her prayers. Prayer was the center of her life. Loving Jesus was at the heart of her prayer.
Sister Frances Joan expressed over and over that she was ready to go Home and desired to see Jesus as He was when He walked on Earth. In the early morning of Oct. 26, she took the next step into the loving arms of Jesus and was reunited with her loved ones.
We rejoice with you, Sister Frances Joan, as you walk with the One you loved. And know that each time we pass the Baker Tree we will be reminded to rejoice in the Lord always as you did so well. Thank you for walking with us.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Frances Joan was Oct. 31, 2013, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She had lived 81 years as a Sister of Providence.
We invite you to share your memories of Sister Frances Joan in the comments section below.
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