In the morning of 8th June God called Joan to the fullness of life. Joan was 90, and had been in the Society for just over seventy years.
Born in Billericay, Essex, in September 1925, Joan grew up in the Hampshire countryside, learning to ride at a very early age. Her first contact with the Society came when her parents sent her to the Sacred Heart Convent school in Hove, near Brighton. It was here, during a school retreat when she was fifteen, that Joan first heard God's compelling call to follow him in religious life.
After leaving school Joan volunteered at a hospital run by the British Red Cross until after the War ended. She then joined the Society in March 1946, and became part of the first group of novices to move to Woldingham, beside the newly-established school. She made her first vows here in September 1948, and was finally professed in Rome in February 1954. Her probation name was Behold your Mother, and their devise (motto) was "Do whatever he tells you". This was how Joan was to live for the next sixty-two years: nurturing, guiding and concerned for peoples' growth, but always, fundamentally, seeking, discerning and doing whatever God asked of her.
Before going to Rome for her probation Joan had taught at her old school and then at Woldingham. After returning to England she worked in administration at Roehampton, before returning to Hove in 1956. She remained here for the next ten years, becoming Mistress General (headteacher) in 1960. She maintained an active interest in the wellbeing of her pupils long after they left the school, keeping in touch with several of them until the time of her death.
In 1966 the Society closed the school at Hove. Joan then spent the next two years in Brussels, attending courses in theology, spirituality and psychology, in line with the Society's widening of its understanding of education. Back in England she spent some time living at Pope John House in Poplar, East London, working in local projects, before being named as Mistress of Novices. She was to hold this position for only a year, but during this time she was responsible for moving the novitiate from Woldingham to a house in Surbiton, an outer London suburb.
In 1970 she was appointed to the team responsible for probation - the programme of preparing young RSCJ for perpetual vows. For the next five years, in a time of rapid change, experimentation and innovation, Joan guided large numbers of young religious from around the world. As with her former pupils she faithfully remained in contact with many of them, becoming a very significant person within the international Society. Virtually every visiting RSCJ would arrive with letters for Joan from her Province, and her former probanists, even if only here for a short time, would make sure they spent some much-valued time with her.
Joan returned to England in 1975, and, after two years as superior at Woldingham, she was appointed to the Provincial Team, and also began training as a psychotherapist. She lived and worked in and around London, and also spent two years as superior at Duchesne House, responsible for a large community of elderly sisters, several of whom she accompanied in their dying days. The insights she gained from this time gave rise to a reflection in the book On The Way Home: reflections for old age (DLT, 1994), which she co-edited with Frances Makower RSCJ,
In 1989 Joan returned to East London, this time to Stratford, living in a flat and assessing and reflecting on local needs. This led to the opening of a small new community in 1992 in Forest Gate, rooted in the multi-cultural yet economically deprived area, open to responding to local needs and living justly and hospitably. Joan lived here until 2000, working as a psychotherapist, counselling AIDS patients and with refugees, and joined in with local networks and initiatives for promoting justice and inter-religious dialogue. In 2001 she responded to an invitation from the Provincial of Uganda-Kenya to lend her experience and expertise - particularly in AIDS counselling and therapy - to their province, and spent just over a year there.
After a time in Portsmouth - where she visited refugee detainees - Joan returned to Forest Gate for another nine years. Here, despite her decreasing health and energy, she continued to offer her services to local projects and initiatives, especially those working with refugees and people with mental ill health. In total, she lived there for eighteen years - the longest she was to spend in any one place since joining the Society. After so many years of moving between communities Joan was finally able to settle into 159 Boleyn Road - except that her restless spirit never allowed her to feel too contentedly settled for long, as she was always encountering unmet needs and seeking to respond however she could. Within the Province, too, she had become a restless, prophetic voice, urging and challenging us at meetings, and serving as a member of the Ongoing Formation Team and the Justice Reflection Group.
In 2012, however, her poor health meant a move to Duchesne House, her final home before heaven. Here, despite her increasing frailty, she continued to send and receive letters and emails and to maintain a lively interest in politics, justice issues, events within the Society and peoples' news.
Joan died very peacefully shortly after the Feast of the Sacred Heart - her seventieth in the Society. Members of the Province who had come to Roehampton for a meeting just after the Feast were able to visit her to say their goodbyes, as did some of her family. Joan seemed to be aware of all the prayer, love and gratitude surrounding her in her final few days, and we are sure too that after so many decades of unstinting service she could hear God saying very tenderly: "Well done, O good and faithful servant, now come and take your rest..."
In life, especially while she lived in Forest Gate, Joan worked tirelessly on behalf of minorities and the marginalised, and for inclusion and dialogue. She would have been anguished by the violent events in the week after her death: the hate-fuelled shooting in Orlando, and the murder of Jo Cox MP, who, with her passion and commitment to refugees, was clearly a woman after Joan's heart. In life she would have brought all the pain and the violence into her prayer; we can be sure that in heaven she is holding us, and all the anguish and ugliness of our world deep within the Heart of God.
Silvana Dallanegra rscj
A glimpse into Joan's life, shared by Carol Condon RSCJ at Joan's funeral on 23rd June 2016
Funeral homily by Canon Jeremiah Cronin
If the Lord be God... (links to another site)