Sister Joan Mary McDermott celebrates 60th anniversary
By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Northborough – St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church will celebrate the 60th anniversary of Sister Joan Mary McDermott, pastoral assistant, Sunday, Sept. 23 with a Mass at 11:30 a.m., followed by a reception in the church hall.
There’s quite a lot to celebrate. Sister Joan has led a life of service in many cities and towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
She was raised in a large Catholic family, the sixth of eight children. Two of her aunts were sisters in the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary order in Gilroy, Cal. They came east to visit the family and the Fitchburg Catholic schools. One of the aunts, Sr. Mary Magdalene, put her hand on 9-year-old Joan’s shoulder, looked into her eyes, and said, “Don’t you think that someday you would like to be a Sister of the Presentation?”
“Something happened to me,” explained Sister Joan. “Call it the Holy Spirit or the grace of the moment. From that day on I wanted to be a sister…. I was a regular kid, part of the family. I played games and went to school. But when I went to church, I kneeled in front of the Blessed Sacrament and asked for guidance on how to become a sister.”
That guidance and inspiration came from the teachers she was in touch with every day. They were her mentors and support. A young priest, Father John Cahill, took the seniors to visit different religious orders and encouraged the students to follow their call from God.
She graduated from high school in June of 1952 and entered the convent Sept. 24 of that year. A year later, Joan Elizabeth McDermott was received into the religious community and was given the name Sr. Mary Prague Joseph. In two years, she made her first profession of vows, and completed her final profession of vows Aug. 20, 1958. The novitiate training of five years led to a bachelor’s degree in education from Regina Coeli College in Fitchburg. She later earned a master’s degree from Fairfield University in Connecticut. Over the years, she has taught in a half dozen different Massachusetts communities as well as a stint in Riverside, Conn.
In the mid-’70’s, Sister Joan became more involved in administration as a religious education director, and continued in leadership positions in three states. Over her long career, she constantly sought new challenges and earned certifications in geriatric nursing and gerontology, which led to jobs as an infirmary administrator and then as a retirement director.
In her current job as the pastoral assistant at St. Rose of Lima in Northborough, Sister Joan, as she is now known, visits members of the parish who are sick, homebound, and in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and hospitals. She also acts as a facilitator for several groups. Her favorite part of her work is supporting people on their faith journeys.
“The thing I’ve learned most over 60 years is gratitude for whatever happens in a given day. Even the hard things teach us to appreciate God’s loving presence in our lives.”
Over her lifetime of religious work, Sister Joan has had to live with many significant changes, like proper clothing for a member of a religious order. Through the early ’70s, she wore a traditional long habit along with a long veil, and sturdy oxfords. Next came a simple black skirt with a white blouse, a bolero jacket and a short veil. Now it’s street clothes, like the hot pink plaid dress she’s wearing in her picture.
“Because habits came from the dress of the day for all women in the Middle Ages when the order started, it’s appropriate that we now dress in the current dress of the day,” stated Sister Joan with a twinkle in her eyes.
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