Sister Joanna Valentino (formerly Sister Marie Dominic)
“Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs. Whatever you do, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus. Give thanks to God the Father through him.”
—– Colossians 3:12-17
Blessed is she who comes in the name of Jesus, the Christ.
Sister Joanna was a woman whose circumstances allowed her to gain the fullness of her vision. She lived to make a difference, just as each of us does. She was a woman with deep affection for those closest to her. She was a proud person, not of herself, but of those she liked and loved. She was wonderfully proud of her heritage and rightly adored and revered her more than wonderful mother, father, and brother, Tony. You, Bonnie, Dave and Marianne, John and Bonnie, Barbara, Laurie and Matt – her cousins, nieces, and in-laws know that better than anyone. She cherished every second of every visit with you whether in person or by way of Ma Bell, said Sister Barbara Ann Zeller in her commentary for Sister Joanna Valentino – formerly Sister Marie Dominic – who died Wednesday, March 4. She was 70 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 52 years.
Joanna’s world was one of rich and treasured relationships – she was a beloved friend, teacher, principal, mentor and confidant. One never wondered where she stood on an issue as she was transparent and authentic with all of her loyalty, colorfulness, stubbornness, unique expressions and playful storytelling. How many of us can boast of enjoying a Saturday afternoon phone call from someone we were in the first-grade with, or with whom we worked or taught 49 years ago?
Wherever she was in ministry, she would prepare holiday meals in her own home inviting the Sisters of Providence in the area who did not have holiday plans. Those who worked with her often spoke of her in saying, “She was always there; was collaborative; always good warming hearts and inspiring spirits.”
Joanna reveled and described her experiences in life as good. She remembered at age 13 and thereafter that she lived a full life, a beautiful life – due in large part to the love and wisdom shown to her by her beloved parents. At age 14, she became a soda jerk in a Chicago west side candy shop owned by a Greek family of whom she was very fond. She loved making candy and ice cream with her friends. She worked hard, had an active social life and when she was a junior in high school, she picked out her wedding dress as she was planning to marry John, the nephew of the owner of the candy store.
However, instead of marrying John, she heeded the summons from her provident God to become part of something huge and so much larger than herself – to go as a Sister of Providence to bear fruit, to bear fruit that will last. She lived quietly with layers and layers of hard work and sacrifice poured out in answer to her call.
As a young sister, Joanna’s favorite indoor sport was the weekly rearranging of the furniture in her home. She was a shoe hog and lived the mantra, “When you’re blue, buy shoes.” Her formation days were quite unorthodox. One Sunday while visiting, her mother was told by the novitiate director that Joanna needed to leave and go home because she didn’t smile enough. She took her final vows two years earlier than prescribed by canon protocol in the 1960s and did not participate in a former tertian program because she convinced the General Superior she was ready and wanted to permanently profess vows as a Sister of Providence, and, for this she was hurtfully criticized. She would often skip study hall with her sister friends to enjoy a sunlit day on the banks of the Mine Lake while enjoying leftover pie and ice tea from lunch; and, she was the hostess of many happy Twinkie parties in the novitiate dorm.
In her own words, Joanna described herself as sometimes being misjudged, misunderstood and opposed; experiencing tiredness, pain and fear; yet, always desiring to display compassion and tenderness. As the ground sometimes shifted beneath her feet causing her hopes to sway and her dreams to totter, because she lived in the Spirit, she faithfully held firm to the embrace of her provident God. She knew that even though she was being challenged, nudged, encouraged to do something new for the Church and the world God understood; and, she was filled again with a sense of wonder and amazement at Providence’s endless blessings. She didn’t grumble about the demands of discipleship – but she always discerned slowly, mindfully and gratefully. She had the courage to live in the power of the conviction that no matter where her journey took her, she wanted to live that call in a worthy manner, doing everything in word and deed in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to her God. She believed God continues to remake and re-gift us each day, allowing us to respond more fully to the purpose for which we were created: To use our gifts to love and serve our God and those around us.
Her early days in ministry were in teaching at Lockport, Illinois, and Saint Andrew’s and Francis Borgia’s in Chicago. At Saint John’s Bellewood, she was principal; and, then had the pain-filled experience of closing the school where she was unjustifiably accused of being the “cause” of its closing. In Chicago, she was principal at Our Lady of Sorrows, a teacher and administrative assistant at Resurrection grade school where she grieved and witnessed what she described as much injustice within the hierarchy of the church. Also in Chicago, at Notre Dame High School through the school’s scholarship program, she became devoted to the students, their families and the principal as she loved inner city ministry. Having a penchant to work with older adults, she took classes in the study of aging and helped many older Sisters of Providence living in Chicago when they needed transportation to various appointments and visited them while they were hospitalized. Joanna’s next ministry was in Georgetown, Indiana, where she was the apartment manager of housing for low-income older persons living on the Guerin Woods campus. She loved the tenants and they loved her, but the laborious government paperwork was suffocating and she chose to come to Saint Mary’s to minister in health care. It was her health care ministry that was for her the crown jewel of all the ministering she had done in her 52 years as a Sister of Providence. She deeply appreciated and tenderly loved the ministry as she described it in saying, “This ministry is my heart.”
In 2010, having been told she had stage 4 cancer, she lived and wrestled with all the emotion of staring death in the face. She became determined to continue to be “in control” because she was loving her life of ministry and wanted to enjoy yet many more good relationships and experiences with those to whom and with whom she was ministering. She once said that she believed her ministry of care legacy would be the successful persuading that caused the altering of the bathroom doors on the first floor hallway of Lourdes to swing in rather than out. However, I suspect that her true legacy will be the deep kindness in her eyes as she would ask each of us how we are and we really knew she cared about our answer.
In mid-November 2014, I visited with my dear friend of 52 years. As Joanna sat surrounded with revered icons of memories of her life, she shared with great intimacy good moments that wanted to hold onto. She thanked God for her obvious blessings – those she loved, her life as a Sister of Providence, the challenges she faced and worked through, the times of laughter and happiness she enjoyed, the love she received in the tiny window of precious time she was given to live. She wanted to hold onto the goodness of those moments long after they had ended. The visit was a most treasured and humbling grace for me as she for hours reviewed and re-told the mysteries and miracles of her life. Those mysteries and miracles overcame her heart and gave her great joy and peace as she confidently said, “This is the year to put peace in my heart and whatever is to follow. I have been blessed and peacefully, comfortably am putting all where it belongs. I believed I would be doing this at 89, not 69. I need nothing and I want for nothing.”
Joanna, bless us with the courage to live in the power of conviction that, no matter where our journey takes us, we are called to live our call in a worthy manner and always to walk in gratitude with our provident God. We will meet you often in memory with great love and gratitude. Thank you for being you and for your example of love and fidelity. Please pray for us.
Blessed is she who comes in the name of Jesus, the Christ.
Funeral services for Sister Joanna were Monday, March 9, and Tuesday, March 10, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Monday, March 9, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Tuesday, March 10.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Joanna in the comments section below.
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