At 9pm on Friday 26th January, and after a long illness, God called Joan to the fullness of life, at the age of 97 and after seventy years in the Society.
One of five children, Joan was born in December 1920, in the Welsh village of Mynyddbach, near Chepstow, where she spent her early years. This rural setting, along with her strong family ties in Devon, nurtured her lifelong love of the countryside, especially wide-open spaces. As she grew up the family had to move a few times - to Gloucester, York and the Cotswolds, before returning to Wales where she finished her education.
World War II began shortly after Joan left school, and so she put aside whatever other plans she'd had and joined the Women's Land Army and Timber Corps, where she remained until 1945. After peace was declared Joan decided to train as a teacher and started applying to Catholic training colleges: however, she had left her application rather late, and thus the only college with any space left was Fenham. This was Joan's first encounter with the Society, and proved to be decisive, as she asked to enter the noviticate upon gaining her certificate in 1947.
In those immediate post-War years Joan was part of a large group of novices who had come of age in the extraordinary and life-defining conditions of wartime, which somehow enabled them to adapt to the privations and strangeness of the new way of life they were embracing. Joan made her first vows on 15th March 1950 - one of ten women to make their vows that year, all of whom remained in the Society. She then spent the next five years teaching at St Julian's in Malta, before going to Rome, in September 1955, to begin preparation for her final profession of vows, which she made on 10th February 1956. Returning to England, she moved to Oxford, where she gained a Masters in English. She was then missioned to Fenham, initially to teach at her old college, before becoming, in 1961, head of English at the grammar school.
From 1964-71 Joan was headteacher at the grammar school. This was a period of restlessness, revolutionary fervour and great change throughout the world - as well as in the Church and in religious life, due to Vatican II. Joan's pupils were not immune to all this, and certainly noticed the changes in how their teachers now dressed: they were unaware, though, of the changes within the convent, in how the sisters lived in community and began to define the essence of their life and mission.
In 1971 Joan became head of Woldingham, and was also part of a new team responsible for formation within the Province. She remained here for three years, during which she began to feel a deep longing for solitude, silence and space. She was granted a sabbatical, and spent the next two years in a hermitage in the French Pyrenees. This was a defining time for Joan: she returned to England, and to the Oxford community, renewed and refreshed, but also convinced of the need to enable others who hungered for silence and solitude to have a similar opportunity within this country. Her vision was to begin a retreat house, based on the hermitage model, where people could come for retreats and times of solitude: she didn't know quite how or where, except that it needed to be somewhere remote and near mountains, and preferably in her beloved Wales.
The vision became reality in 1979, when the Society purchased Llannerchwen, a former small-holding near Brecon, which the Rev and Mrs Shapland had already been running as a small retreat centre. Joan and three other RSCJ who all shared her vision and ideals moved in. With the exception of a sabbatical time in Jerusalem in 1990, Joan remained at Llannerchwen for the next sixteen years, providing accompaniment, developing the property and nurturing its atmosphere and ethos of prayerful silence and solitude. Llannerchwen became an important and significant resting-place for many on their journey with God, and Joan was undoubtedly part of this for all those she welcomed and whose retreats she directed.
A large part of Llannerchwen's wild beauty lies in its remote location, so that living there and running a retreat centre requires agility, strength and good health. Thus in 1995, and approaching her 75th birthday, Joan reluctantly moved on, though she returned a few times to make her retreat there. She spent the next eight years in Hayes, before moving, in 2013, to Duchesne House. Here, especially in the past year, her health and strength gradually diminished, and she became increasingly bed-bound. On 30th December, her 97th birthday, the community surprised her with an impromptu party in her bedroom; some time after that it became clear that she was nearing the end of her long journey back to God. Members of the community spent time with her and she was visited by two of her nieces, one of whom was alone with her, when, quietly and peacefully, Joan slipped into the vastness and fullness of God's eternal life.