Sister Joan Petrik, MM

Born: April 7, 1928
Entered: October 5, 1946
Died: February 4, 2004

Sister Joan Petrik died suddenly on Wednesday, February 4, 2004, in Somotillo, Nicaragua. She was planning a three day retreat with the teachers which was scheduled to begin the following morning when she suddenly felt very sick. A doctor came immediately and rushed her to the clinic. Several hours later Joan died in the arms of Sr. Rachel Pinel, a Presentation Sister, who worked with her. Joan was 75 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for 57 years.

Joan Marcella Petrik was born in Baltimore, MD on April 7, 1928, to John Petrik and Dolores Lutz Petrik. She has one sister. Joan graduated from Seton High School, Baltimore, MD in June 1946. She entered Maryknoll on October 5, 1946, and at Reception received the religious name of Sister Rose Sharon. She made her First Profession of Vows on April 6, 1949, and her Final Profession on April 6, 1952. Both ceremonies were at Maryknoll, NY. Joan attended Maryknoll Teacher’s College and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education in 1952.

That same year Joan was assigned to Hawaii and taught grades 1 and 3 until 1969. Joan was considered an excellent primary teacher with great understanding and patience with children in that age group. She was very creative and passed this creativity on to the children by allowing them to express themselves through art and paper sculpture.

In 1970, Joan was assigned to the Middle America Region and did pastoral work in Guatemala until 1971. From 1973 to 1980 she worked in El Salvador in the formation of Basic Christian Communities as well as with the Delegates of the Word. In 1981, she returned to Maryknoll to work in the Promotion Department. Upon completion of congregational service in 1984, Joan went to Nicaragua.

Her first mission in Nicaragua was in Limay where she worked with Delegates of the Word within the Basic Christian Communities. Then in 1987 Joan went to Somotillo and worked with women, with agronomy projects, and with Delegates of the Word. During this time the people urged her to begin a junior high school with an emphasis on agriculture. It would be the first of its kind in the area. In 1995 Joan began attending to the many street children in Somotillo and it was at this time in collaboration with Fe & Alegria, a Jesuit organization, a grade school named San Isidro was established for the street children. With the help of various groups including the Maryknoll Affiliates from Connecticut, Joan also established a computer school particularly for the teachers but also available to the people of Somotillo. In the aftermath of hurricane Mitch in 1998, Joan with other Maryknollers helped to bring in food and building supplies to the people of Somotillo.

We would like to share what one of our Sisters wrote about Joan after she learned of her death: “What a shock and surprise to hear of Joannie’s passing. Her sudden transformation quickens sharp memories with her still visible presence: Joanie ‘is’ laughter – I can still hear it: contagious and free, erupting through the whole house; Joanie’s love of good food; Joanie’s sense of hospitality; Joanie’s creative projects; Joanie’s openness to want the best for those in Nicaragua; Joanie’s exuberance and love of life – yes she made her ‘small contribution’ as part of this emerging Universe.”

The numbers of people who attended Joan’s wake and funeral in Somotillo were a testimony to the love they had for Sister Joan and all that she meant to them. The teachers from the two schools she established, Basic Integral Rural Agronomy and San Isidro’s took care of all the necessary preparations for Joan’s wake and funeral. The Delegates of the Word and other lay people gave excellent eulogies which were an impressive, inspirational witness of their deep spiritual life and strength they received through Joan’s ministry.

Indeed, Joan showed her own strength and deep spiritual life as she ministered to the people she loved. She was always conscious of their needs and what could be done for them, involving them in a way that would eventually help them to become more independent. A teacher from NY, who yearly visited Joan with his students, remarked that he saw her as “quiet and dedicated and always looking out for the people.”