Our beloved Sister Joan Panella: what to say about this gentle, caring, competent woman who believed in serving and “walking with” all those who needed her. Our presence here today is because our lives have been touched and infinitely blessed by Joan’s beautiful spirit. It even took 3 different SNDs to share even a little bit of the gift that Joan is to so many, many people.
These words are from Sr. Georgi, Sr. Cathy Waldron, and me (Sr. Sharon McMillan). Thank you, Joan, for helping us know what to say. Oh, how I wish Joan were sitting right here so she could know, while she was here with us, how much she is loved and deeply appreciated.
As many of you know, Joan was born on the 27th day of August, 1940 to John and Lucille Panella and from that day forward, she began to live the words of the Prophet Jeremiah that she often quoted: “I know the plans I have in mind for you: they are plans for peace, to give you a future filled with hope.” God’s final earthly plan for Joan took place just the other day on December 30, 2018 and so we come together today, knowing that Joan’s spirit is closer to us than ever before and that she is with us in more ways than we can ask or imagine. We gather to pray, to console one another, to share what this loss means for us, and to rejoice in the new life that she lives now, embraced in the arms of her good God.
We remember that, in any situation, she would be the first to ask, “How can I help?” That was just Joan. We remember her wonderful, contagious smile and a personality that put people at ease. She was unassuming and wanted little attention drawn to her. She would be dreading this focus on her and is probably even now looking over my shoulder.
When Sr. Georgi asked others to share some words to describe our Sister Joan, these are the ones she would hear: teacher, friend, cousin, devoted daughter, a woman who lived service, a gentle presence, strong willed, a good listener, kind and compassionate, quiet, a detail person, but with fire in her eyes when she would speak about her expectations of Church, or parish or Notre Dame. She had no trouble insisting that the Body of Christ live the life the Gospel calls us all to, and she was always quick to jump into those very places where people were needy, and jump into relationships that could be blessed by her support and good humor and generosity.
Joan walked many roads during her 60 years as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. She taught at both elementary and secondary levels, she was a licensed clinical social worker, always watching for persons who were in pain of any kind. She ministered as a medical social worker for fifteen years, carefully assuring that each person leaving the hospital had what he or she needed for home support. About the same time Joan left Los Gatos Community Hospital, she was asked to be the first Province Center Administrator. She willingly, competently, took on such tasks as: helping newly-retired Sisters move in, supervising the cooks and cleaners, and doing her best to form this group of “all chiefs” into a coherent and vibrant community. And then later, when others might think about retirement, Joan decided she could serve as a receptionist for St. William/St. Nicholas parish. Ministry really was part of her DNA!
She was also committed to stood with and support the local Catholic LBGT community and encouraged diocesan support in addressing their needs. For her Hermitage Arms neighbors and Sisters in San José, Joan was also the unfailing late night driver to or from the airport. She always said YES first even before she knew the details of what was needed: “Yes, I’ll take notes.” “How can I help?” Where am I needed?” As Sr. Carole Proctor said to me this morning, “Joan was always there, Joan was simply always there”; she was companion, friend, “real,” and “risen”: the listening ear, the generous heart, the light in the window late at night when someone needed to drop by or someone needed an understanding heart. Blessed is she who believed that what was promised to her by the Lord would be fulfilled. Joan is rejoicing in that fulfillment now, and is closer to each of than ever. But she is also so missed! St. Julie’s good word for today is “Let us ask that God may send us that spirit of charity, of goodness, of simplicity which makes us docile to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” God sent us that spirit in the person of our Sister Joan who was charity and goodness and simplicity, and whose light in our lives shone brightly with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In the name of all the Sisters of Notre Dame, we offer our loving condolences to Joan’s family and assure them of our prayers and ask their prayers for us. And lastly, thank you, Joan. We know that you remain with us now and always. You are ever a part of our lives; all the good you have shared will live on in our hearts.