Telling Stories & Jokes in Heaven - Sisters Joan and Mildred

I heard news this week that two of my CSJP Sisters passed away, Sister Joan Tresch, CSJP in New Jersey and Sister Mildred Morrissey, CSJP in Seattle.  Both had celebrated more than 60 years as Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and will be dearly missed.  I never got a chance to get especially close to either one, yet they both welcomed me in their own special way to the community when I first entered and helped to make dark days lighter and lighter days even more enjoyable through their gift of story telling.

I first met Sister Joan when I was a candidate.  Long-time readers of the blog might remember that I went on a spy mission to get the lay of the land of our New Jersey community before I entered the novitiate. Joan was one of those who first introduced me to our CSJP tradition of gracious hospitality on that trip.  Tea, cake, and stories were on the menu.  Later when I had entered the novitiate and was having a hard time, on more than one occasion a funny story from Joan about days gone by would lift my spirits.

The funniest Joan story ever, which I know I cannot do justice to, was on the topic of swim suits in the first years after the Vatican Council.  As I recall the story, the Sisters were still wearing ancient swim costumes when they spent their week of vacation at our retreat house on the Jersey shore. They were old and cumbersome, with sleeves and skirt-like contraptions. One day after nearly drowning in the ocean when the skirt flipped over her head, the young Sister Joan went to the superior and asked if they could get modest modern swim suits for safety reasons.  After some consideration, the superior agreed, provided they wear long sleeve black t-shirts with the modern swim suits. Now, it was up to the local superior of each house to buy the long sleeve black t-shirts.  The superior of Joan's house couldn't find them, so she bought short sleeve t-shirts thinking they would suffice.  Flash forward to the next summer. Joan is swimming in her modest modern suit with short sleeve black t-shirt.  The same Sister who she had spoken to the last year (the head superior not of her house) summons her from the ocean with crooked finger. She asks about the t-shirt.  Joan explains.  The next thing Joan knows she is told to go up to the attic, fish out some black stockings, and sew them to the arms of her suit.  Crazy, but she does it.  All she really wants is to get back in the water.  The next thing she knows, the salt water turns the stockings that are now sleeves greeen!

It's been many years since I heard that story.  I'm sure I have the details wrong, but that doesn't matter.  What matters is that when I remember that story, I remember the dark day when I needed to laugh and she told me that story as we looked out at the same ocean where the story took place.  She lightened my heart and my load that day.

Sister Mildred, or Millie as we called her, was also known for her stories and quirky jokes.  I got to know Millie pretty well the year after the novitiate when I was living at groovy sister hq.  I had many of my meals with Millie.  We bonded because I'd come from Portland, Oregon and she'd grown up in Sheridan, Oregon.  More times than I could count, she'd look at me with a conspiratorial grin and launch into one of her many stories.  Even if I'd come to know the story, it was always a joy to hear her tell it.  What was most enjoyable was seeing how much she enjoyed making people laugh.

In recent years, both Sister Joan and Sister Mildred have had health issues which no doubt have made their lives less enjoyable than in years past.  I am comforted to think that they are both now in heaven with their loving God, telling stories and jokes to pass the time.

As for me, I am grateful for the chance to get to know both of these wonderful women.  They modeled for me the importance of laughter and sharing on the path of peace.

Eternal rest grant to them O God, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace for ever.  Amen

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