Sister Joan (Kathleen Ward) was born on 13 December 1929, the third youngest of nine children, four sons and five daughters born to Patrick and Ellen Ward (nee Gilleece). Joan joined the Sisters of St Joseph of Peace at Rearsby on 26 July 1949 and made First Profession on 2 February 1952 and Final Profession on 2 February 1955.
Joan trained for teaching at Southampton College and graduated in 1956. Her first appointment was to Sacred Heart School, Mere Road, Leicester where she taught until 1959 when she moved to Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland to teach at St Andrew’s School. The following year she was asked to assume the responsibilities of Novice Director and she went to St Michael’s Novitiate, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA to get experience and pursue relevant courses of study, returning to Rearsby in 1961 where she served as Novice Director in Rearsby for six years. In 1967 Sister Joan moved to our Generalate at Glendola, New Jersey as a member of the Congregation Council. She was appointed Provincial Leader of Sacred Heart Province in 1970 and returned to England. Sr Joan served a three year term of office and then returned to teaching, first St Augustine’s School in Nottingham and then as Senior Mistress at St Wilfrid’s High School, Featherstone, West Yorkshire where she served from 1974 until 1986. That year she returned to the Congregation Generalate, now in Washington DC, where she put a lot of her energies into working on our Congregation Archives.
Joan returned to the UK in 1991 and then took a sabbatical programme in Jerusalem, Sojourn in the Land of the Bible. This was a very enriching time for Joan and she thoroughly enjoyed the various lectures, the field trips to archaeological sites and visiting the many Holy Places in Israel.
Following the sabbatical, and for the next 20+ years Joan’s time was divided between our communities in Cricklewood and Hanwell, both in London. She continued her work on the archives, served for some time on the Provincial Council and became involved in parish prayer ministry and visiting the sick and elderly and bringing them Holy Communion. From about 2014 she experienced pain and other health problems, primarily it seemed, as a result of a fall sustained in Central London. In August 2015 Joan moved to Rearsby; this was to be a temporary move while the convent at Hanwell was being renovated.
Joan was totally dedicated to serving the Congregation in whatever way she could. One of her particular gifts and interests lay in working with our archives. She collected all available manuscripts of Mother Clare, deciphered Clare’s handwriting – no easy task – and transcribed our Founder’s letters. Correspondence of Mother Evangelista and other early Sisters, especially Sister Columba Moran and Sister Teresa Moran, were also collected and transcribed. This project took many years and included having the material compiled into readable format. Much of her work is now archived at our Generalate in New Jersey. Joan was our expert on the ‘Founding Story’, a programme presented to help the Sisters and Associates learn more about the early years of the Congregation. Several participants came from the USA for the programme and gained much from Joan’s unique insight into the history of the Congregation.
Joan was close to her family of origin and visited her siblings, nieces and nephews whenever the opportunity arose. Since coming to Rearsby some of her nieces and nephews have visited her here and she had many phone calls from her extended family and delighted in telling us their place in the family tree.
Joan was a prayerful, faith-filled, compassionate woman. She had tremendous feeling and understanding for people in distress. While at St Wilfrid’s High School she supported parents experiencing difficulties with their teenage children, often visited the families and gave every support within her power. She was especially sympathetic towards children in any kind of need, helped them practically and obtained professional counselling to help them cope with their particular situations.
On her arrival in Rearsby in August 2015 it was apparent that Joan had become quite frail, walking was difficult and she soon depended on a tri-wheel walker and, for a time, a wheel chair. Later, however, she seemed to improve physically and used the walker to move about with apparent ease. In the early Spring of 2016 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but continued to participate in the life of the community, coming to the refectory for meals, to the chapel and community room. She was particularly interested in all visitors, though sometimes her restlessness prevented her engaging with them for any length of time. The regional assembly day on May 7th was her last “good” day and Joan was in excellent form, delighted to meet all who attended and standing to offer a comment on the topic under discussion. She slept most of the day on Monday 9th; we thought she was probably exhausted from the excitement of the weekend. On Tuesday she still seemed exhausted and the doctor visited and prescribed medication for a chest infection. However, concerns increased and on Wednesday the doctor advised we call an ambulance. The staff at Leicester Royal Infirmary lost no time in putting her on oxygen, giving her intravenous fluids and connecting her to an array of monitors. After some hours Sisters Margaret Byrne and Margaret Healy who were at her bedside were told the end was approaching. Joan died peacefully in the early hours of Thursday, 12 May, 2016. May she now enjoy the love and care of the God whom she served so generously and faithfully.
"We must be signs of hope and healing in the midst of the cultural reality in which we find ourselves."
Ann Rutan, CSJP