A new beginning for Sister Joan Grace

Celebrating her 60th Jubilee, Sister Joan Grace, R.S.M. is the currently chaplain at Steward Health Care’s hospitals in Brevard County. Given the choice to set aside her habit, after Vatican II reforms, she chose to keep hers. Although she cannot wear her veil on the job for professional reasons, she says, “I think it is a sign people recognize. It tells people that our life is a little different.” (STEWARD HEALTH CARE))

ORLANDO | “Life’s journey is a series of new beginnings,” said Sister Joan Grace. At just 25 years old, and a newly professed Sister of Mercy, she left behind her religious community, her family farm, her six brothers and sisters, and the rolling green hills of Ireland for sunny Florida and a teaching position at St. Mary’s School in Rockledge. While the prospect was “daunting” at first, Sister Grace has spent the last fifty-seven years educating students, visiting the sick, and touching countless lives. Now, Sister Grace is preparing for her next new beginning: retirement.

“I will be living in a Mercy convent in Limerick and I’m not going to rush into doing anything,” said Sister Grace, who will return to her native Ireland at the end of August. “I will enjoy “being” for a while, and I will be open to whatever plan God might have for me. I am looking forward to having more time for prayer and spiritual reading. I will enjoy keeping in touch with my friends here, and I hope to enjoy old movies as well.”

With the departure of Sister Grace, the Diocese of Orlando says farewell to the last Sister of Mercy serving in Central Florida. The sisters have been a presence in the diocese from the very beginning, sharing God’s love with all they encountered.

“We will miss all the wonderful Mercy Sisters who came here in the early 60’s,” said Bishop John Noonan. “Sister Joan leaves behind her many families who are eternally grateful to her; not just one generation but two and even three generations of students she has taught over these past years. I will personally miss her sense of humor and warm smile. I wish her every blessings and prayers for her dedicated service to all in the Diocese of Orlando.”

Sister Grace said she has found her work in the Diocese of Orlando to be very rewarding. She spent 42 years teaching 4th-8th grade at St. Mary’s school as well as preparing students to receive the Sacraments. During this time, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Notre Dame University, a Masters in Counseling and Guidance from Stetson University and Masters in Religious Studies from Loyola University. Following her years in education, Sister Grace spent the last 13 years serving the patients and staff of the Wuesthoff Health System.

“I will certainly miss the hospital ministry. It was very rewarding visiting patients and their families, all of whom appreciated the prayers and compassionate support. I will, also, miss all of the hospital staff who were like family to me,” she said.

Sister Grace remarked that the people she’s served alongside all these years have made her who she is today. “And I hope they’re happy with that!” she added with a laugh. But in reflecting on her years here, she said it can all be summed up by saying, “God is good!”

“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all the people with whom I came in contact throughout the years,” said Sister Grace. “Interacting and working with them has helped me greatly in my ministries. From the beginning of my time in Florida, I have enjoyed their love and support in all that I did. My prayers will be with them always.”

By Elizabeth Wilson of the Florida Catholic August 15, 2019