Sister Jo

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

May 23, 2002


            Sister “Jo” left our parish last month.  She is 95 years old.  She went home to her motherhouse in Indiana.  Her next move will be to go home to the Lord.

            Sister Josephine McDonald came to live in our parish five years ago, along with Sister Judy McKenna. Both are sisters of the Holy Cross. They had been stationed in mission together for more than 30 years.  They are part of a disappearing breed of sisters who have made a huge gift to the church.

Sister Judy, in her late 60s, came to be a teacher and assistant principal at a local Catholic school.  Sister Jo just came along to “be”.

After 68 years of teaching in Catholic schools and orphanages, Josephine was theoretically retired.  This tiny little lady was still driving when she came to Maryland.  Everyday she would come to mass, with her two little toy poodle dogs in the front seat of her tiny car.  Everything about Sister Jo is little except for her determination and courage.

People loved both of the sisters, but they especially loved tiny little Sister Jo.

At mass in the mornings Mary Clair Goodman (herself over 80) would jump out in the aisle at communion and hold back the others saying, “Sister first!”  Everybody would wait while Sister Jo, embarrassed by all the attention, came up to communion.  She went ahead of us all in holiness.

Josephine was remarkably healthy.  Except for her deafness, she got around fine.  Until recently she walked her dogs on warm afternoons.  She liked to sit on the bench by the bus stop and watch the children come home from school.  Sometimes she would volunteer at the inter-parish school.

Having taught for more than 65 years she loved children and schools.  She had a notebook in which she had written the names of everyone on of her children.  Many years her classes had more than 50 children.  She thought that the small classes today were easy to teach. 

Josephine was firm but gentle. Her discipline was legendary.  She could direct a school play with her finger. She didn’t shout.

When she entered the room in the morning, her children stood by their desks and raised their right hands by their shoulders, ready to make the sign of the cross.  They looked like witnesses about to take an oath in court.

Sister Judy recalls once coming into the classroom and finding the children standing silently in that pose.  She whispered to Josephine, “Why are they standing like that?”  Jo answered, “They are waiting to start prayers.”  The children stood at silent attention until Jo raised her hand too and led them in the sign of the cross.

Children loved Jo, maybe because she was little like them.  She loved children.  She had a photo of herself playing dodge ball with children in an orphanage in Baltimore in the 1950s.  Jo was in full, floor length habit.  The children were squealing with delight. 

Josephine was always a progressive.  As soon as she could, she went to lay clothing and back to her baptismal name.  But she was always faithful to the life of a sister, especially prayer and the sacraments. 

Everyone was delighted to see her at mass in the morning.  Her simple goodness lifted our spirits.  Her gentleness, fidelity, and holiness reaffirmed our faith.

Her presence was her contribution to us.  We looked forward to seeing her in the mornings.  She was evidence to us that growing old does not have to be sorrowful or boring.  She was not preoccupied with self or sickness.  She showed us how age and even infirmity could be joyful and grace filled.

We miss tiny Sister Jo.  She proved to us that just to “be” is holy.  Just to live is a gift.