Sister Joan Matthews (formerly Sister Ignatius)
“O God, I will sing a new song to you.” These words appear on Sister Joan’s memorial card and so fit who she was in this life and who she is now as she sings God’s praises forever, said Sister Mary Beth Klingel in her commentary for Sister Joan Matthews, formerly Sister Ignatius, who passed away on Monday, April 25, 2022, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 93 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 75 years.
Sister Mary Beth continued: Sister Joan Matthews was born on July 4, 1928, to James and Anna Marie Yeager Matthews in Columbus, Ohio. She was baptized Joan Marie. Being the youngest of four surviving children (two of her siblings had died in infancy and early childhood), Joan was convinced by her three older brothers that the fireworks on the Fourth of July were a celebration of her birthday. Growing up in a family that appreciated music, she used that gift throughout her many ministries. Joan had said that she also inherited her father’s optimism and her mother’s spontaneity and deep love.
The family moved to the Washington, D.C., area early in Joan’s life. She wrote on Sept. 19, 2007: “I met the Providence nuns at Immaculata High School and it was love at first sight. They were such credible human beings and after a year of college the call to community was irresistible.”
Becoming a sister
And so, Joan did not resist! She entered the Congregation on July 22, 1947. At that time, she received the name Sister Ignatius, which suited her strong personality and reflected her appreciation of the Jesuit influence in her life. She professed perpetual vows on Jan. 23, 1955. Having been blessed with a variety of musical skills including a wonderful singing voice, Joan earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in voice from The Catholic University of America.
Sister Joan said of herself: “I taught every aspect of music from pre-K through junior college as well religion … these are the two loves that can touch hearts.” Her teaching career took her to numerous missions in Indiana and Illinois, as well as in Maryland, Massachusetts, Washington D.C., and Taiwan.
She was also one of the six members of the Corporate Renewal Team which the sisters came to know as Cor Unum. That ministry, as well as serving in a high school for girls, most of whom were African American, from 1984-89 significantly impacted Sister Joan’s life. Of the teaching experience she said: “It showed me how much I needed to grow to begin to understand the African American picture. This became more real as I shared in the efforts to keep the hierarchy from demolishing our school and merging us with a distant high school. Sadly, we lost the struggle but doggedly stuck together for the move.”
Bringer of beauty
Sister Joan’s talents extended beyond music. She created greeting cards using perfected calligraphy and enjoyed floral arranging. Sister Joan had a penchant for bringing the beauties from outdoors to indoor areas, especially to the church and various areas of Providence Hall and beyond. She was often seen in the flower gardens at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and flower beds around campus collecting for bouquets she would put together to adorn the church on Sundays and for special occasions.
If there was a downside to Sister Joan’s love of flowers and plants, it was over watering them and more than once creating a “crisis” in the church as water streamed down pedestals and across the sanctuary floor. To her credit, however, she often rescued flowers from fading bouquets and reset them in fresh arrangements for further enjoyment. Sister Joan was mindful of sisters in healthcare who needed a lift in spirit and would frequently gift them with a lovely vase of flowers.
Sister Joan never shied away from asking questions. She was a believer that there is no such thing as a “dumb question.” Inquiring minds want to know, and Sister Joan surely did. She was truly a life-long learner.
She was fun-loving and eager to be involved in cleverly scripted Congregation plays over the years, which provided enjoyment and evoked much laughter. Sister Joan counted among life’s joys vigorous walks in nature, good talks with friends, caring for bluebird boxes when we had them on campus and of course, singing around the piano.
Up until the last year of her life, Sister Joan provided spirited sing-alongs in healthcare. She had an energy and the passion to connect with those declining physically and/or cognitively.
Sister Joan was blessed in not lingering long in this world when her own cognitive decline contributed to the onset of a failing body. Following a few challenging days, she died peacefully in the early afternoon of April 25, 2022.
In her celebration of life materials, Sister Joan expressed her deep thanks for the joy and privilege of being a Sister of Providence and being allowed to be in music. She was grateful as well for the blessing of a good and loving family, and for her parents who were full of love and music.
The reading heard earlier from the Acts of the Apostles which Joan chose for today’s liturgy accentuates community and reflects what she referred to as a “picture” of community. We believe that she is now enveloped in the communion, shall we say “community,” of saints including her beloved parents and siblings. And that she shares with our Mother Theodore the fullness of life, having had satisfied any of her lingering questions.
We thank you, Joan, for using the gifts with which you were blessed to enrich others. May you now sing forever in praise of the God who created you.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Joan to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Joan in the comment section below.
Complete Ministry for Sister Joan Matthews
In Indiana: Teacher, Holy Trinity, New Albany (1950); Teacher, Saints Margaret Mary, Saint Joseph, Sacred Heart, Terre Haute (1952-53); Teacher, St. Joseph, Hammond (1953-54); Teacher, St. Rose, Vincennes (1965-68); Corporate Renewal Team, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1972-75); Teacher, Precious Blood School/Parish, Jasper (1997-98); Activity Room, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1998); Sacristan/Environment/Musician, Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2003-07); Sacristan, Church flower and plant care, music, Providence Health Care and Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods; Church flowers, music, Providence Health Care and Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2016-20); Music ministry, Providence Health Care and Sisters of Providence, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2020-21); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2021-22).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Mel, Chicago (1950-52); Teacher, St. Francis Xavier, Wilmette (1955); Teacher, Immaculate Conception, Norwood Park, (1955-59).
In Maryland: Teacher, Ascension, Halethorpe (1959-62); Teacher, Holy Redeemer School, College Park (1989-93); Music Educator, Our Lady Star of the Sea School, Holy Angels, Sacred Heart, Solomons (1998-2002).
In Massachusetts: Teacher, St. Rose School, Chelsea (1993-97).
In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, St. Ann (1962-65); Teacher, Immaculata (1968-72); Teacher, Immaculate Conception Academy (1980-84); Teacher, All Saints High School (1984-89).
In California: Teacher, Marywood, Orange (1975-79).
In Taiwan: Teacher, St. Theresa Opportunity, Yuching (2002-03).
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