Our dear Sr. Mary Joan Rice of our Lansdale community went home to God last Monday, July 1st. She was in the 87th year of her life and the 59th year of her religious consecration. We will miss your smiling eyes and kindly heart, dear Sr. Mary, but rejoice that you are now with God.
Reprinted below is the eulogy offered by Sr. Clare Teresa, RA at the funeral Mass of Sr. Mary Joan, July 6th at St. Stanislaus Church, Lansdale.
Sr. Mary Joan Rice, R.A.
I think I can summarize Sister Mary Joan’s life in three phases.
When she entered the Assumption, Mary Rice became Sister Mary Immaculate of the Child Jesus. On making her final profession, she received her ring and chose to have “Et Verbum caro factum est” engraved in it. (We choose a word from Scripture to direct our spiritual way.)
She was older than I but younger in religion. As a young sister, Sister Mary Immaculate was very proper, paid attention to appearances, very set on being the model religious – like Therese of the Child Jesus. That made her also quite formal and uptight. A very strong personality, she made great efforts to be in control of herself and to acquire the virtues of the Child Jesus. She didn’t say things but had ways of letting her feelings be made known.
I teased her that I was getting black and blue because she kicked me so many times under the table to express her amusement, disapproval or dislike of something. At other times she would say: “If you only knew….” To which I would reply: “Knew what?” But never received an answer.
A wise, old Jesuit told me when I was a novice: "When they are young, they look holy – but they aren’t.”
After Vatican II, which stressed the importance of a Christian’s baptismal identity, Sister Mary Immaculate reverted to her baptismal name, becoming Sister Mary Joan. During those years, she really became herself.
She was an educator: principal in three different elementary schools -- first at Ravenhill Academy in Philadelphia, then at St. Hugh’s and St. Ambrose in Florida. She went on to become Director of Religious Education in Delray Beach and Director of Religious Studies for the Archdiocese of Miami. (Sister Anne Christopher recalls how they enjoyed going on weekends to a very poor parish in the Everglades.)
Those of us who worked with her or under her - students, teachers, parents, all appreciated her professionalism and competence, along with her concern and affection. She put charity above all and earnestly worked at being friendly and kind to everyone. She became easier to know.
When Sister returned to the Northeast, she saw the need for psychological counseling and spiritual direction and responded. Her last assignment, one she loved -- helping those obliged to work full-time to get a degree -- brought her back to her Alma Mater, Chestnut Hill College. She worked advising and counseling in the innovative Accelerated Adult Degree Program. If she devoted herself to Catholic education, she gave herself equally to the necessary study. Her undergraduate degree was in Philosophy and, before entering religious life, she envisaged becoming a lawyer. For her apostolic work, she acquired Masters Degrees in Education, Religious Education and Psychology, undertaking other studies as needed. She was pastoral assistant here at St. Stanislas with the RCIA program and with other groups and individuals.
In her elder years, Sister Mary Joan was known most often as just Sister Mary. This was the time of fulfillment; the time when the Spirit completed the work begun with her religious profession. Our Foundress St. Marie Eugénie, when relieved of her charge as Superior General, responded: “Now I can just concentrate on being loving.”
The move into nursing care is a difficult one. At first, Mary thought she would be returning home to her community but that was not to be. Her community would go daily to her. She adjusted herself to the new reality, entering into activities for which she had no attraction – to make others happy. She had a cunning way of disguising the onset of old-age dementia – by asking questions, making you talk. "What’s new?" was the frequent question, often repeated several times. Nevertheless, she always made sense when speaking of Jesus and could still offer words of spiritual advice and comfort.
Residents and staff liked the one they called just "sister": her kind words, thank you’s, smiles and sense of humor. An Irish lass, all throughout her life she was known for her ready and welcoming smile, her sense of humor and kindness. These became her true self.
"Et Verbum caro factum est"… The Word had taken flesh in her. The Christ-life had transformed her. As St Paul said so aptly: "For me to live is Christ." Her love, her wisdom, eternal life were in her smiling eyes. I ‘saw’ that song: “When Irish Eyes are smiling.”
That wise, old Jesuit told me: "in the beginning, they look holy but they aren’t; at the end, they don’t look holy but they are."
Sister Mary, Aunt Joan, was especially devoted to her family: accompanying her elderly mother and following up with interest and prayer her only brother’s children - and their children and children’s children! She loved them all. And the sisters have seen that love reciprocated. I have not met you, but I know a lot about you because Sister Mary Joan spoke so often about you – with affection and pride.
Maybe you also saw the gradual transformation.
In lieu of flowers, contributions to the Religious of the Assumption would be appreciated.