Eulogist: Sister Pat McLennon
Vigil: Feb. 28, 2010, at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia
This is what we are all about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow…
And we water seeds already planted,
Knowing that seeds from the past
Have within them what is needed
For the transformation and new life
That is taking place.
— Archbishop Oscar Romero
Some of you may not know that Sister Joseph Ann was an avid gardener. In conversations with her it seemed to me that gardening was what grounded her and actually served as a spiritual guide for her throughout her life.
Winifred Sylvia Vap was born May 11, 1931 to Joseph and Anna Kacirek Vap on a small farm in Western Kansas. She was welcomed into the family by her two older brothers Leonard and Melvin. The family grew and Winnie, as she was called, had four younger sisters, Ramona, Geraldine, Yvonne, and Virginia, and two younger brothers, Leo and Eugene. She is survived by her sister Geraldine Lane and her brothers Leo and Eugene.
Sister Joseph Ann said that her older brothers Leonard and Melvin lost no time showing her the farm and introducing her to the cows, horses, pigs and chickens. Wherever her brothers went she was sure to follow. She said that her mother found it almost impossible to give her a job in the house because she always wanted to be outside, and so she helped her mother feed the chickens and pick the eggs. Winnie liked little chickens very much. When she was in seventh grade her mother gave her some little chickens to take care of. She said, “How proud I was of them, I even went so far as to make them a little house. The roof was flat, but it served the purpose, and that’s all that mattered.”
About the time Winnie was ready to begin school the family moved to Atwood, Kansas and lived across the street from Sacred Heart Church. She really liked school and met new friends to play with. It was about that time she planted her first flower garden.
Joseph and Anna Vap, were very loving parents and instilled the beliefs and values of their catholic faith in their children. Catholic school education was one of their values. When Winnie was ready for eighth grade her parents sent her and her sister Ramona to Notre Dame Academy in Omaha, Nebraska. It was staffed by the Sisters of Notre Dame. During the five years that she attended school there she developed a devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. She became a Child of Mary on December 8, 1945. She said that it was the most solemn ceremony she had ever attended at that time.
When she was a junior in high school she felt a call to religious life but resisted it because she wanted to be an airline hostess. She said she wanted to fly all over the world!
After she graduated from high school she and her sister Ramona attended Marymount College in Salina to become nurses. Once again the vocation question surfaced for Winnie. She said that she talked about it with Sister Mary Leon who helped her “face the facts that she really had a vocation and she needed to do something about it”. That year during the annual student retreat she had a profound experience of God’s presence. She knew with certainty that God had always been the ground of her being, loving her unconditionally and gently luring her to a vocation as a catholic Sister. She made a decision to follow her call and become a Sister of St. Joseph.
Winnie entered the community on February 5, 1951. She was received as a novice and given the name Sister Joseph Ann on August 15, 1951. She pronounced first vows on August 15, 1952, and final vows August 15, 1955.
Sister Joseph Ann received her diploma from Marymount School of Nursing in 1955, and then took State Boards to become a registered nurse.
During her 46 years of hospital ministry, Sister Joseph Ann served at St. Joseph Hospital in Concordia, Seneca Hospital, St. Anthony Hospital in Sabetha, Kansas, and St. Joseph Hospital in Belvidere, Illinois. Her great love was St. Joseph Hospital in Belvidere, Illinois where she served for 37 years as a pediatric nurse, medical and surgical nurse, and in 1992 she became a certified Patient Relations Representative.
In one of her early reflections about her ministry she wrote; “I may not do great work in the eyes of the world, but I will be ever mindful of the suffering Jesus as I minister to the patients”. Years later she wrote; “Suffering is a part of life’s journey and each of us is a partner in service to others along that journey.”
As she ministered to patients, families, and the hospital staff, she said that she practiced attentive and compassionate listening as she believed listening is an essential element in the healing process. Recently, she told me that her Maxim is taken from Mx. 80. “Be aware that holiness consists in something utterly hidden and known to God alone.
Writing about her years at St. Joseph’s she reflected: “Since I have been here over 30 years I find myself called upon for the needs of many patients. I am on call at night if needed by dying patients or their family members.
My nursing background has provided me with a great compassion for both the physical and spiritual needs of the people of Belvidere who the Sisters of St. Joseph, Concordia, Kansas were called to serve in 1900.” And I planted a lovely garden in the grotto and cared for it throughout the years.
OSF St. Joseph’s Hospital closed September 30, 1999. Sister Joseph Ann and Sister Mary Luke were the last two Sisters living and working at the hospital. I was invited to the closing celebration. Yes, it was a celebration. The people of Belvidere celebrated the almost 100 years of healthcare service by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and expressed their gratitude with the greatest possible solemnity in spite of the loss and sorrow they were all feeling. After a lovely dinner we all went to the Community Building of Boone County. The auditorium was filled to capacity. There were speeches given by the Mayor, doctors, nurses, hospital officials, funny skits, lovely music, gifts, and light displays by the Belvidere police and fire departments.
Sisters Mary Luke and Joseph Ann were invited to speak to everyone. I was touched as Sister Joseph Ann took Sister Mary Luke by the hand and gently led her to the microphone. S. Mary Luke was no longer able to speak to a large audience. Sister Joseph Ann gave a lovely and gracious response to the Belvidere Community. She and Mary Luke both knew that it was time to leave and did so with acceptance and dignity. At that moment I recognized the quiet strength of a woman who had the courage and trust in God’s providence to let go of a familiar and wonderful place of ministry.
Sister Joseph Ann moved to Medaille Center when she returned from Belvidere. She didn’t waste any time getting involved with residents at Kenwood Nursing Home in Salina. She visited and prayed with residents living there each week. Her sister Ramona Hanson lived in Salina and so she had time to be with her during her last years. S. Joseph Ann and Ramona had been very close throughout their lives. During these last years they were both diagnosed with cancer. Ramona died in November.
As people have been remembering Sister Joseph Ann these days I have heard over and over how hospitable and gracious she was to the employees…she always made a point to greet them and call them by name. How considerate she was of Sisters who were sick or incapacitated; and how her lovely smile just made everyone feel so good.
I was not going to include this story in the eulogy, but after I heard so many comments about her smile…It seemed important to include it. This picture of S. Joseph Ann was taken by her mother. S. Joseph Ann said that she never liked to have her picture taken…but her mother got her to stand still enough to take this one. When her mother went to pick it up from the man who developed the film he encouraged her mother to send it in to a contest in Chicago. Her mother did not take the picture to enter it into a contest but she finally decided to send it in. The picture won 6th prize and was entitled “SMILES”.
During these last months, living between life and death, Sister Joseph Ann found hope in the faithful love of God and the support and love of her family, friends, and community. She died peacefully February 26, 2010 at the Motherhouse.
This is what Sister Joseph Ann was all about:
She planted seeds that one day grew…
She watered seeds already planted,
She knew that seeds from the past
Had within them what she needed
And now…the transformation and new life
Has taken place
in the fullness of God’s Great Love.