Sister Josephine Paolinelli (formerly Sister Louise Joseph)
Before I begin, I would like to express sympathy to Jo’s cousin, Priscilla, her husband Neil, as well as to their son Ryan, his wife Cristina and their daughter Isabele. Sympathy to Jo’s extended cousins, band members, LGU members, current and former housemates, the Birthday club, her many friends as well as her closest friends, especially Terri Grasso with whom she has been friends for more than 53 years, Diane Mason, Sharon Richards, and if it’s OK to include myself, me. My apologies if I have missed anyone. If this appears to be long, I’m sorry but Jo deserves it, said Sister Regina Gallo in her commentary for Sister Josephine Paolinelli, formerly Sister Louise Joseph, who passed away on Tuesday, November 17, 2020, in Chicago. She was 84 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 64 years.
Sister Regina continued: To those watching via livestream, thank you for being with us in spirit. Now that I/we are experiencing our loss during this time, it gives me an even deeper empathy for all of those who have lost loved ones during this time. Thank you to Jo’s housemates (Betty, Carol, Maureen and Editha) who did so much to care for her on so many levels. To her General Officer, Jeanne Hagelskamp, who provided great care, love, comfort and support to Jo and to both Terri and me, we thank you so much.
Sister Josephine Paolinelli, an only child, was born on Nov. 1, 1936, to Joseph and Louise Paolinelli, in Chicago. She went to elementary school at Our Lady of Sorrows in Chicago, and Providence High School in Chicago. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and master’s degree in administration from the University of Notre Dame.
She entered the Sisters of Providence on February 2, 1956, from St. Ferdinand Parish, Chicago. She professed first vows on August 15, 1958, and final vows on August 15, 1963.
Jo had various ministries, including teaching first grade at St. Joseph in Jasper, Indiana; seventh grade at St. Patrick in Indianapolis; and eighth grade at both Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Genevieve in Chicago. She was the business manager at Providence-St. Mel in Chicago; bookkeeper at Our Lady of Sorrows in Chicago; business administrator at Sacred Heart of Mary in Rolling Meadows, Illinois; Provincial Treasurer of St. Joseph Province in Park Ridge, Illinois; and business manager and director of finance at Notre Dame High School for girls in Chicago. She also volunteered at Guerin College Prep in River Grove, Illinois; and her last volunteer ministries were both at Gottlieb Hospice and Hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois.
I did ask Jo if she wanted to share any of her own thoughts within this commentary. She pondered a bit and then said, “Just tell everyone how wonderful I was.” So, may you all know, she was wonderful. She did, however, read this commentary and gave me her blessing. Jo’s life was a reflection of God’s light and humor and for anyone who knew Jo personally, you knew that she had a great sense of humor. Some of you have known her as Josephine or Jo. For myself, I called her Sparky. She called me Spark, and Terri was just Terri. Jo was a unique individual. She could seem to have a very gruff and tough exterior; but if she allowed you to get to know her, you would have fortunate enough to have seen a very kind, generous, and sensitive person on the inside. She used to always say, “I bruise easily inside and out.” That was a very true statement.
As her friend Diane Mason shared, “She had a gruff voice with a very sincere and soft heart; and you could always share something that was hurting you, or if you needed to just talk, Jo was always there.” Jo was what I would call a “nervous Nellie,” there was not too much that she did not to get nervous about. She taught first grade in Jasper and got so nervous that she broke out into hives and ended up in the hospital. She was the one person I knew who would have a doctor’s appointment and be in the bathroom for an hour or two prior to going. And if that appointment included any form of test (God forbid an MRI!), that meant emergency Imodium and absolutely no plans the day before.
For those Jo found herself closest to, you knew you had a fiercely loyal, generous, and loving friend even when she drove you nuts at times. There was not much she would not do for those whom she cared deeply. Relationships were extremely important to her and that was evident in not only her relationships with her closest friends, but with her family. She adored her parents. I was fortunate enough to get to know and love her mother, Louise, or whom I fondly called Weezie. Even though Jo was an only child, her relationships with her extended family were very important to her, especially with her Uncle Willie, who was the youngest sibling of her mother and with his daughter, her cousin Priscilla, whom she called Pris.
Jo loved to have fun no matter what she was doing and we were never without laughs whether it be leaving Mass each Saturday night and somehow finding out the whole life story of the people who were sitting near her, some crazy thing she did at dinner after church, or on our many road trips. Some included three cross-country trips to the Grand Canyon and other parts of Arizona and to Michigan, which was by far her most favorite place to go. Any length of time in a car with Jo provided major entertainment. When it came to laughter with Jo, one could say that the laughter was called carbonated holiness.
As I mentioned, Michigan was one of Jo’s favorite places to go. Terri and I did all we could to make one last trip to South Haven possible for her and there was a time when we just did not think it would happen. Someone was on our side; we made that trip happen the weekend of September 11, and, honestly, it was the best weekend we ever had there together and we had many.
We all did our best to focus on and cherish the amazing memories of that weekend as we all knew it was our last one together. But again, there was as usual, constant carbonated holiness. She even got her Sherman’s Ice Cream one last time and had no problem getting that down. She was able to see some of Terri’s family one last time as well. How close she was with Terri’s family for so many years and how close she got with my own family. She was a part of both; and within mine, my brothers, my nephew Josh, and my Dad adored her.
Before we left the house, which was settled on a cliff overlooking the beauty of Lake Michigan, Terri was already in the car waiting and I was helping Jo. She said to me, “Well, Spark, thank you so very much for making this weekend happen, for all you bought me to keep me comfortable, and if I can get back here again that would be great. But if I can’t, I am at peace with that. We had this time and that is all I could ask for.”
Now, if anything could top a Casino or the Horse Races (she always bet on the gray ones), that was saying a lot, but Michigan by far topped all. Trips there will never be the same for Terri and I. Jo had been telling us for quite some time that she wanted her steak. So, for Foundation Day on October 22, Terri and I brought her a small filet. I made mushroom sauce; Terri cooked the steak in the kitchen at the Hospice House. Jo loved her steak and ate it all. Shortly after that, she began to become much weaker and her appetite drastically diminished.
However, she made it to her birthday on November 1. Although she was weak and not super with it, we (Terri, I and her cousin Priscilla) enjoyed every second of it. Terri and I played all her voicemails with all the birthday messages that her friends and family left for her and we read all her birthday cards to her. She was and continues to be loved.
One of the cards I was reading to her was from a former student of hers. He said, “Sister, thank you for being such an integral part of my life.” Ed Carr, seventh grade 1964 student at St. Patrick’s in Indianapolis. I said to her, “Sparky, all those hives, all that anxiety was worth it. Look at the difference you made in your students’ lives; you made an impact.”
Jo was not without physical pain in her life. Terri said, “In all the years I have known her, there has never been a time that she did not have pain or some form of surgery.” I can say that for as long as I have known her, it was the same for me. She has survived a lot in her life, 50 years ago in her 30s, she had uterine cancer (Choriocarcinoma) and was given a 15 percent or less chance of survival. Chemo, at that time, was experimental and all her doctors wanted her to take it because, why not, she was going to die anyway. They were all writing her off. Well, 50 years later, she was still alive and they had all passed so, go figure.
What that story told me about Jo was not so much that she was saved by these clinical doctors, by this experimental chemo (not that I am knocking the medical profession or the chemo’s effectiveness). I do believe that what kept Jo alive was her faith, her trust in the Providence of God, her spirit, her will to live, and most importantly, her hope. I also believe that the love, care, comfort, and support of others had a huge role in that as well. All of those factors, I do believe, were far more potent than any form of clinical practice or medicine. Fast forward 50 years later, Jo develops Lymphoma, which spread to no other location in her body but her pelvic area. Yes, the clinical field and its physicians offered her a wicked cocktail of chemo but she said to them, “I know what it did to me when I was in my 30s, but I was in my 30s. I am 83 now. I have lived a good life. I am at peace. I want quality of life, so no thank you.”
She did not lose her will and spirit to live. She did not lose her faith, trust or hope. In fact, I believe that only deepened. We had more time to travel to Michigan, to laugh together, to love, care, comfort, and support her. Despite all her physical issues, you never heard her complain. That always amazed me, because you knew she was in agony on so many occasions. But her zest for life, being with the people she loved, and having fun was too much to keep her down.
I recall one time shortly after Terri moved in with me. I was just getting to know Jo. She had just had major back surgery and wanted to see her mother badly. Terri had to work; I was off one day and was asked if I could bring Louise to see her. Jo was still getting use to me and was not anywhere near full-trusting mode. I was driving her mother (the most prized and loved person in her life) from Schaumburg to Libertyville, which was not around the block mind you. And then, I was to take her to Chili’s for lunch after the visit.
Dear Lord, talking about needing emergency Imodium … I was a nervous wreck. I felt like a new mother driving with the new baby in the car. After we safely made it to the hospital and made it to lunch, Louise said “I think I’d like to go to the store after lunch.” I said, “We are going straight home … if anything happens to you, your daughter will kill me.” I got her mom to and from without any issues and that was something that gave Jo the trust in me she needed. After that, we were good to go.
There was a story from last summer when we were at our community meetings. I finally convinced Jo to stay at our hermitages versus the hotel in town. Jo was not a stay-in-the-dark woods type of person. But she knew I was in the hermitage next door, so she was good as I was myself knowing she was next door. I just prayed the whole time, “God, please don’t let anything happen that will freak her out or she will never stay out here with me again.” All was well except for the very last night when a huge thunderstorm came ripping through. I thought, “Oh, that’s all, we’re done.” I got up in the middle of the night, looked out my window to a totally lit hermitage next door but no blinking red lights. She had found a flashlight that had emergency blinking red lights and she said, “If anything seems bad out there, look for the blinking red lights and get over immediately.” No red lights, no phone calls.
The next morning, I asked her if she heard the storm. She said, “Hear it; I thought the damn house was going to blow away. I went to the bathroom three times and then laid on the bed fully dressed in case security had to come rescue us. I didn’t want them to see me in my shorty pajamas.” Amazingly, she agreed to the hermitage again this past summer, but COVID-19 canceled that and she said, “Make sure you have them booked for Chapter.” I said that I already had them for us. But when that time comes, sadly, she will not be my neighbor.”
Another good summer community meeting story was when we had a day of reflection. Jo did not want to reflect so she said, “You take the car. I’m going to the hotel to nap and Danielle (Sullivan) will pick me up and bring me to the Woods for Mass.” So, I was deep in mediation and my cell phone went off. I answered to a very panicked and annoyed Jo who said, “Danielle never came to get me. Now I’ll miss Mass. Forget it; I’m just staying here. Pick me up for dinner.” I said, “Relax! I’ll do a little low level flying and come to get you.” On our way back to the Woods, I said, “Gee, I hope Danielle is OK.” Jo, on the other hand, replied by saying “I’m going to kill her when I see her.” We walked into Mass late and apparently Danielle saw me and thought, “I wonder why Regina is late for Mass?” She then saw Jo and thought, “Oh no, I forgot to get Jo.” So, at the sign of peace who waltz’s up to me but Danielle. I said, “Not sure wishing Jo the sign of peace right now is the best idea but I’m glad you’re OK.” They both had a very humorous and civil sign of peace.
There were times when, if I annoyed Jo just enough or went on about something, she would say to me “would you do me a favor? Shut up.” So, when she would say to me, “Would you do me a favor,” I would reply for her and say “shut up?” She would say, “So, Sparky, I will shut up shortly.”
If I went on with all the stories I or those closest to Jo could share, we’d be here for a week. I’ll just end by saying that for those of who really knew her, we were beyond blessed. To those of whom she seemed gruff, she really did care. She just did not know how to show that. And, some of her insecurities and fears perhaps got in the way of her true person coming out, but she meant no harm. She was a gentle soul deep down.
Well, Sparky … Jo … Josephine, your struggle is over. You fought the good fight. Your race is now finished and you are free from every ailment, especially that wretched Lymphoma. Thank you for the gift of you, for all you were to us. We know you will remain with us while in your new realm. You are now with your parents, Uncle Willie, Margaret Ann, Mar, Rosie, Joanna, Joanie and all those you loved so much. Say “hi” to Peggy and keep an eye out for Terri, myself and all you loved. We’ll need it.
May you have ultimate peace, love, wholeness and happiness. May the red sevens always show up on your slot machine, and may your gray horse always come in first place. Rest easy, our dear friend. We love you!
Funeral services for Sister Josephine took place on Monday, November 23, 2020, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
A Virtual Wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by Funeral Outside Mass at 11 a.m.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Josephine in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions may be made in Sister Josephine’s honor to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Josephine Paolinelli (formerly Sister Louise Joseph)
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Joseph, Jasper (1960-61); Teacher, St. Patrick, Indianapolis (1961-65).
In Illinois: Teacher, Our Lady of Sorrows, Chicago (1965-69); Teacher, St. Genevieve, Chicago (1969-70); Business Manager, Providence-St. Mel, Chicago (1970-71); Bookkeeper, Our Lady of Sorrows, Chicago (1971-75); Business Office Administrator, Sacred Heart of Mary, Rolling Meadows (1975-80); Provincial Treasurer, St. Joseph Province, Park Ridge (1980-89); Business Manager, Notre Dame High School for Girls, Chicago (1990-93); Director of Finances, Notre Dame High School for Girls, Chicago (1993-2007); Volunteer, Guerin College Prep High School, River Grove (2007-08); Volunteer, Gottlieb Hospital, Melrose Park (2010-2020).
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