Sister Joyce Quinn, MM

Born: December 2, 1932
Entered: September 2, 1956
Died: August 4, 2000

“This vocation of ours is a precious, priceless gift, freely given us by God to help make God’s kingdom come, and we should definitely be marked by it so that no one should ever take us for anything but missioners.” (MMJ 1943) Mother Mary Joseph’s hope for her sisters was fulfilled abundantly in Sister Joyce Quinn – she was in essence a missioner in every aspect of her life, no less true in her dying than in her living. Joyce had been ill for five months and the end came quickly. All through these last days at Sloan-Kettering Hospital, Joyce wanted to “come home” – and she did. Her mission life on this earth ended at 5:15 p.m. on August 4, 2000 in our Maryknoll Residential Care Facility. But the mission life of her heart and spirit will continue – of this we are very sure.

Joyce Anne Quinn was born in Troy, New York on December 2, 1932, the second child of William F. and Mary Sweeney Quinn. Grade school and high school in Troy were followed by a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. She worked a year and then entered Maryknoll in September 1956, making her first vows in 1959 and her final vows in Korea in 1965. Her first Maryknoll assignment was to Bethany New York, and then the next year she went to Kansas City, Queen of the World Hospital. In 1961, Joyce went to Korea and, as the Koreans say, spent her “spring and summer” there, doing medical work at first and then moving on to ministry among young factory workers. One of the defining relationships of her time there was her love of a young factory worker, Cecilia Lee, whom she nursed through illness to death. Joyce loved Korea and entered wholly into the culture. She was delighted when one old granny told her that “if it weren’t for that long nose you could be a Korean.”

Joyce was elected to the Central Governing Board in October 1984, and then in 1991 she was sent, at her own request, to Cambodia as part of the founding group of sisters there. In Cambodia, in her “autumn” years, and what she thought would be winter years as well, she did community-based health and education work, most recently with Sr. Regina Pellicore and a team of dedicated Cambodian colleagues. She was concerned in January of this year that she felt very tired, but then seemed to shake that off. At the end of February, she felt ill enough to go to Bangkok for a medical check. There, they found she had a serious illness. She came home to Maryknoll and underwent treatment without success; she had hope right up to a few weeks ago that she might be cured or at least have some good time with family and friends, But, once the end was in sight, Joyce moved quickly “home” – to Maryknoll and then to the side of the God who loves her. As she was dying, among her friends and family, she gathered us together one last time saying: “I am ready, now – let’s just do it…together”.

Joyce brought a multitude of gifts to mission life: two of them she possessed in extraordinary measure. First was her absolute commitment to mission. Mission urged her forward and the gospel was her constant sustaining force. Just a month before she left Southeast Asia, she led sixty Maryknoll men, women and children in a “Festival of Mission, 2000” – a retreat with Fr. Gene LaVerdiere, time spent sharing mission stories, rejoicing in the new assignments to Nepal, and weeping with the suffering of East Timor. Just four days before Joyce left Cambodia, she prepared and led a pastoral theological reflection for the Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful members, affiliate, priests and sisters who make up our Maryknoll mission team there. The theme was our call to be clear light and hope for the Cambodians in their suffering, and Joyce’s insight was that we can only be persons of hope if we are rooted in God’s promises for the people, and are willing to let God break into us, making us transparent witnesses of God’s love for them. When I asked Joyce last week what she wanted me to write in this letter, she responded: “that mission is my center and that I carry the Cambodian people and team in my heart.”

Secondly, Joyce had a genius for friendship. Looking around this chapel today, we see clear evidence of this gift – her close and loving family, many childhood and school friends, friends from her entrance group, the Maryknoll-Korea sisters, priests and co-workers, close friends from the Center, and we feel the presence of those in Cambodia who mourn her loss today with tears which come from seared and broken hearts. Joyce was in essence a quiet, simple woman, a warm fire in winter and a touch of shade in the summer; people drew near to her and were welcomed, refreshed and strengthened. You could count on her love. She was clear about the difference between her needs and wants. Simple pleasures — a few friends, the beach, her cat and dogs, Korean food, pizza, ice cream in abundance, TV when we had it, and a good book — these were enough. Her passion was reserved for mission, for justice and for the ordinary people with whom she shared life. The sadness evoked in Joyce by Cambodia was overwhelming at times, but she struggled always to bring hope and prayer into that bleak reality. That she succeeded is evidenced by this card from a woman on her team in Cambodia — the language is as Metrey wrote it: “Dear Sr. Joy, My heart and my liver fall down on my toe when Sr. Regina tell me you are ill. I tell Lord every time I miss you. Please, don’t worry at our work, I will try to do my best at Sr. Regina’s order. I hope you will be fine. You are seem to me my real sister, my saving life, my mother, my angle and my God’s solace.” Joyce is loved by the people there. The “saving grace of a sense of humor” was abundant in her as well; exercise was great—for others!; community was a taproot of her life, but going out in what she called “flocks and herds” was not an option.

Cambodians, many of whom lost their whole family to the Khmer Rouge genocide, are amazed and touched that others want to be with them and often ask foreign people how long they will stay in Cambodia. Joyce’s response was invariably: “until death.” Faithful and steadfast friend that she is, she kept that promise.

We join our sorrow with that of Joyce’s family and friends today. She felt very close to each of them and treasured visits and pictures.

We welcome as well Fr. Marty Lowery, M.M., our Presider this morning; Marty shared ministry with Joyce among the factory workers in Korea and is a close friend as well. We say farewell this morning to Joyce in the way we have known her until now — friend, sister, aunt, co-worker — but in new ways she knows now, she will continue to be a faithful friend to us. We can count on that.