Sister Linda Soler, OSB, delivered the eulogy at Sister Mary Joanne's service. The following is the eulogy as written and spoken.
I am honored to give this testimony of Sister Mary Joanne’s life. On behalf of Sister Catherine Nehotte, Prioress, and the monastic community we extend our sympathy to the relatives and friends of Sister Mary Joanne, and we thank our healthcare staff who cared for Sister Mary Joanne with an unconditional love.
We all had the privilege of journeying with Sister Mary Joanne because she touched the lives of so many people. With dignity and grace, she lived her monastic life fulfilling her Baptismal call serving God endlessly. She did not seek any recognition, nor did she want any position; however, she served God with a robust response along with an open heart and mind.
Born in New Prague, MN, to Joseph and Ann Lusk, she was given the name Mary Joanne. Mary for being born on the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, and in honor of her father, Joseph (Joe) and her mother, Ann. Her religious name was Gertrude; however, later in life, she did return to her baptismal name, Mary Joanne.
Without a hesitation, Sister Mary Joanne had a fervent love for the Blessed Mother throughout her life along with a devotion to the rosary, EWTN, and of course to the Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist. She loved the rural community, and she described her childhood to be a community of love. She spoke lovingly of her parents, and she shared how her family roots were special to her. She gave much credit to her parents for her monastic vocation, and she had an affection in her voice when sharing memories of her parents and the family homestead. Many thought she was an only child, but she had a baby brother who died shortly after birth. His name was John.
Sister Mary Joanne taught at Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Anne’s, St. Bonifacius, St. Bernard’s, and Holy Redeemer along with vacation bible school during the summer months. The circle of life brought her back to Holy Redeemer in Montgomery where she lived and cared for her father. As a daughter, Sister Mary Joanne said it was an honor to have that quality time with her father, and the bond between them was absolute. She spoke fondly of the cherished memories while caring for the man she admired.
I knew Sister Mary Joanne from St. Bernard’s long before I joined the community. She taught members of my family including nine nieces and nephews. Some of her past students referred to her as the teacher who knew how to say no with a smile on her face, and she was lots of fun in the classroom with an enthusiastic love for all her students. Her voice was gentle, and her laughter was infectious. Her affection was a staple in the classroom along with her compassion making sure those students were well cared for. Her childlike spirit and humor were refreshing for her students, and she hugged like a mother. She taught the little ones about Jesus through song and play. By the end of the school year, her students were well formed in their faith. She described her years in education to be happy, fulfilling, and successful.
Today’s Gospel message from Matthew is intentional because Sister Mary Joanne humbled herself. In the Gospel, Jesus said “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” This Gospel message means come as you are, come with all your problems and worries. Come messy, come with stumbling words. Do not hesitate to ask for guidance and help. Trust less in yourself and more in God. On many occasions, Jesus told his disciples how they need to become like little children with the simple trust of a child. Come to Jesus like a child is an invitation to freedom, so you can bring your pain, your suffering, and open your heart and Jesus will transform you. Jesus gazes at us with great love as a parent would to a child. Jesus will lead you to a path of simplicity and the way of spiritual childhood.
At St. Bernard’s there is a huge arch shaped stained-glass window in the Church, and it is called “Jesus blesses the Children”. This was a favorite of Sister Mary Joanne along with the mural of the Benedictine Saints above the altar. In fact, hours before her death I mentioned that stained-glass window and Benedictine mural, and she responded with a nod saying “yes” with a smile. It was embedded in her heart.
Sister Mary Joanne’s religious vocation was the foundation of all that she did and represented. She loved God and she loved being a Benedictine. She had a deeply rooted prayer life, and she had the same zeal and commitment at the end of her life as she did at the beginning. Indeed, she was a wonderful example for religious life because she was a joy-filled woman which is why it is suitable to have her funeral on the celebration of our founder, St. Benedict because her dedication and loyalty to the vows she professed in 1953.
Sister Mary Joanne had various images of St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, the Blessed Mother and Jesus wherever she lived. In honor of my first and final monastic profession, she gave me statues of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. They look brand new, so she obviously protected them from any damage. She did manage to say the statues were a reminder of my education at St. Bernard’s School which had the most Benedictine symbols of any parish in her teaching career. Those statues will be cherished, and they will remain outside my room on second floor in her memory.
With Sister Mary Joanne’s declining sight, she quickly became friends with Alexa, a smart speaker for information. When she lived on second floor, she would ask Alexa what time it was, what was the weather and what is the latest news for the day. She talked to Alexa like she would talk to one of her students. It was precious to watch. Sister Mary Joanne loved conversation, and she was able to put the first word in the Rule of Benedict into action – “Listen.” She may have had poor sight, but faith is not blind, and she lived out the second reading, “We walk by faith not by sight.”
Sr. Mary Joanne loved her independence. Looking back, she knew the move to healthcare would have to be a gentle transition. Once moved, she was elated to be in her new room and with the healthcare staff who did not falter in her care.
Sister Mary Joanne has finished her race and is in the presence of the Lord whom she served faithfully for so many decades. She has received that welcome from Christ that we all long to hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant.” She is now reunited with her baby brother and her parents. Her pain is gone, her soul is free, and her absence is a reminder of her personal triumph.
Sister Mary Joanne was a holy and compassionate monastic, a passionate teacher, as she touched, healed, and enriched many lives. This community was God’s gift to Sister Mary Joanne, and she was God’s gift to our community. Thank you, Sister Mary Joanne for the gracious loveliness of your vocation, but mostly for the beauty and joy you have brought to those in need, so that in all things God may be glorified.
All quoted scripture from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.