Sister Joan Michel Kirsch, MM

Born: October 20, 1919

Entered: September 7, 1943

Died: July 28, 2014

We gather this morning to remember and celebrate the life of our Joan Michel Kirsch who died very quietly and peacefully in Maryknoll Sisters Home Care Three, Maryknoll, NY at 6:30 a.m. on the morning of July 28, 2014. She was 94 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 70 years.

Virginia Dorothy Kirsch was born on October 20, 1919 in Wheeling, West Virginia to Ann Kress Kirsch and Jacob A. Kirsch. She had three siblings, all of whom have predeceased her – sisters Gertrude Roth and Madeline Knutsen and brother Charles Kirsch. Sr. Joan attended St. Alphonsus Commercial School in Wheeling, 1934-1936 and then did secretarial work until she entered Maryknoll from St. Alphonsus Parish, Wheeling, on September 7, 1943 at Maryknoll, N.Y.  At   Reception, she received the name Joan Michel that she kept throughout her life. She made her First Vows at Maryknoll, N.Y.  on March 7, 1946 and her Final Vows in Tanganyika, Africa, on that same date in 1949.

In 1948, at the invitation of the Maryknoll Fathers who had arrived in Tanganyika in 1946 (now Tanzania), the Maryknoll Sisters were missioned for the first time to Africa, going to the Kowak mission in the vicariate of Musoma. To her delight, Sr. Joan was one of the four pioneers in this first group. In Kowak the Sisters first learned the language of the local Luo tribe, did home visiting and the many tasks needed by a pioneering group. Of these days Sr. Joan wrote: “The young girls at the mission were of invaluable help to us in the unfamiliar chores of  fetching firewood for the wood-burning stove, fetching water at the local water hole and going to the ‘river’ to wash our clothes.” Their diaries are filled with interesting stories of floods, roof collapses, bush fires and unwelcome snakes and insects.  Catechetical and pastoral work then became Sr. Joan’s main ministries in Kowak.

Shingyanga became a diocese in 1957, under Maryknoll Bishop Edward McGurkin and, at his request, Maryknoll Sisters were assigned there. Sr. Joan went to Buhangija as Local Superior and did catechetical and pastoral work. Here was a new tribe, the Wasukuma, so she had to learn a new language. The Sisters did not lack for exercise. They did home visiting, by foot, to the 18 villages in the parish, each with many outstations. The local people had never seen Sisters and weren’t sure how to greet them as women or men, so the Sisters gladly answered to both greetings.

In 1962, Sr. Joan went to Sayusayu, a second mission area in the Shinyanga Diocese. Here she did catechetical work, especially working with the volunteer catechists, many of whom were still illiterate. She also did pastoral and development work.  In these first three assignments in the country, Sr. Joan was always known as a dedicated, adaptable and hardworking person, willing to use her skills and talents to do any needed task.

A fourth assignment sent Sister to Uganda. The Pastoral Institute of East Africa Bishops was located in Gaba, Uganda, and Sr. Joan was one of three Maryknoll Sisters sent there where she was in charge of the Secretariat and private Secretary for the Institute Director. When she left Gaba in 1973, their magazine said they had “lost a good and faithful servant. Her gifts and talents had certainly contributed a great deal.” They thanked her for her dedication, warmth, presence and creativity.

Now Sr. Joan entered a new phase of her missionary journey, as she returned to Maryknoll in 1973 and continued to use her secretarial skills for many years and in many offices. She first did secretarial work for the Center Unit Board and then became a member of the general secretarial pool, which served several departments. From 1975 to 1991, she was the secretary in the Personnel Department.   After serving as secretary for the Center Council from 1992-1994, she retired.

In the 1990s, Sr. Joan, with other pioneers, was invited back to Tanzania on two special occasions: the Maryknoll Fathers’ golden jubilee in 1996 and the Maryknoll Sisters’ golden jubilee in 1998. While there, Joan had the opportunity to visit her old missions and see many old friends. The Sisters remember that when she arrived in Dar es Salaam, her first request was to buy an African dress so she would “feel at home.”

Sister joined the Chi Rho Community in 2002. At this time, the leadership wrote: “Sr. Joan has contributed much and continues to share her love and generous spirit with all.” Kenya became her prayer ministry.  In 2006, she joined the Eden Community on Maryknoll Sisters Home Care Three. We are grateful to the staff who took loving care of our Sister.

Sr. Joan felt God’s love for her and  asked that one of her favorite scripture passages be read at her funeral: Isaiah 54:4: “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you, nor my covenant of peace be broken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.”

We are pleased to welcome many of Sister Joan’s relatives and friends with us today.  And we welcome Maryknoll Father Edward Dougherty who will preside at this Mass of Christian Burial.