Sister Joan Marie Martin, RSM, was a very spiritual woman with many talents. According to those who knew her, she had a twinkle in her eye and a cheery disposition that showed her beautiful spirit and her deep, deep connection to Jesus. That close relationship with God shaped her 56 years as a Sister of Mercy.
Sister Joan Marie often talked about her life in three phases: teaching, housing and chaplaincy work. “She loved each one of them and was good at each of them,” said her good friend Sister Lois Morrissey. The two sisters met as novices in the 1950s. While their ministries took them to different places, they never lost touch.
“She was an artist and she had what artists have, that interior beauty and the ability to express it through drawing,” Sister Lois said. “When she became sick, I started writing her a note every day.”
Sister Joan Marie died May 10 at Mercy Villa in Omaha, Neb. She was 75.
Born in Marshal, Mo., to Urban and Martha Martin, Sister Joan Marie attended Mercy Academy. Following graduation in 1954, she entered the Sisters of Mercy in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from College of Saint Mary in 1963 and received a master’s degree in reading in 1975 from Cardinal Stritch College in Milwaukee, Wisc. She also earned an master’s degree in Religion from Seattle University in 1984 and a certificate in pastoral care in 1998.
Her first teaching assignment was in Omaha at St. Bernard’s School from 1959 to 1961. She taught in Omaha again from 1970 to1972 at Saint Margaret Mary’s. The rest of the teaching phase of her life was spent in Missouri Catholic schools including: St. Peter’s in Joplin (1961-1963); Holy Trinity (1963-1967), Holy Cross (1967-1969), St. Michael’s (1969-1970) and Visitation School (1975-1979) in Kansas City; and St. Mary’s (1972-1975) and St. Ann’s (1979-1982) in Independence.
In 1980, she was asked to be part of a seven-member task force to plan Mercy Housing, which is now a ministry based in Colorado and has sites throughout the nation. According to Sister Jeanne Ward, who also served on the task force, each member had to do an internship. “Sister Joan Marie went to Maine and really roughed it there the whole time,” Sister Jeanne said. “That’s where she learned many of the hands-on tasks she was so good at doing.”
That assignment began the second phase of her life – housing.
Following the internship, she was one of five members of the task force who were then part of Mercy Management Services, the organization that oversaw the housing developments in Idaho. “We had five housing sites in Boise, Twin Falls, Idaho City and American Falls, Idaho, that we were responsible for,” Sister Jeanne said. “While there were managers at each site, we all pitched in wherever we could.”
For example, in Twin Falls, Sisters Joan Marie, the late Carlyn Sullivan, Theresa Svehla and Jeanne Christensen were responsible for renovating and maintaining 20 townhomes. They painted, replaced screens, mowed the yards, cleaned apartments, and even did most of the electrical work and plumbing. “Sister Joan Marie had a great relationship with the site managers whom she supervised,” Sister Jeanne said.
It was in Idaho that she got to know Sister Michon Rozmajzl. “I was teaching in Boise and she was doing housing in Twin Falls. We spent time together often,” said Sister Michon. “She had a heart of gold. She would do anything for you and for others. And, handy, that was Sister Joan Marie. If she could do the repair, she did it.”
From Idaho, Sister Joan moved to Kansas City in 1989 where she continued her housing ministry, She served as property manager of Mercy Housing Kansas City while Sister Jeanne Christensen served as executive director.
In 1995, Sister Joan Marie joined the pastoral care staff at Mercy Medical Center in Nampa, Idaho, and entered the third phase of her life – chaplaincy. After two years there, she moved back to Missouri and became a chaplain at Saint John Medical Center in Joplin. She served in the role until 2005 when she took a sabbatical while she recovered from breast cancer. In 2006, she became a volunteer chaplain at St. Luke Northland Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. She learned in April 2010 that the cancer had spread to her bones.
From that April diagnosis until December 2010 Sister Joan continued her ministry. Sister Charlene Ross lived with and cared for Sister Joan with support from other Sisters of Mercy in Kansas City and two Mercy Associates. Sister Eleanor Castle, who is also originally from Marshall, kept in contact with Sister Joan’s family. During this time, Sister Joan was sustained by her deep faith in God. In December 2010, she moved to Mercy Villa in Omaha, where she spent the last months of her life in the company of caring sisters and staff.
Sister Joan Marie is preceded in death by her parents, Urban and Martha Martin; brothers, Bernard, Norbert, Urban (Bob) and Eugene Martin; sisters, Helen Widel, Dorothy Pollard Samson and Theresa Lang. She is survived by sister, Mildred Kempf Moore; numerous nieces, nephews, grand, great grand and great-great grand nieces and nephews.
Funeral services were held in Omaha and Marshall. The interment of her ashes will be in Marshall, Mo.