Remembrance of the Life of Sister Mary Joyce Reasoner SL
In Sister Mary Joyce Reasoner’s personnel file rests a unique record of her family: five registration forms completed by her father on May 5, 1942, for WWII ration books for each person in the family. Besides Joyce Carolyn, 10 years old that year, there were Elaine Doris, age 12, Nancy Ann, age 2, and Joyce’s parents, Loretta Caroline Ertmer Reasoner and Harlyn Joseph Reasoner. Joyce’s youngest brother, Thomas, wasn’t born until after the war.
Joyce was born in Beloit, Wis., and went the first four years of elementary school to Brother Dutton School in Beloit. By 1942 her family had returned to the parents’ native Illinois, settling in Sterling where Joyce and her siblings entered St. Mary’s Grade School with the Sisters of Loretto. Joyce continued with the Sisters of Loretto at Catholic Community High School, from which she graduated in June 1949.
Immediately following her graduation, Joyce wrote to Reverend Mother Edwarda, “Would you kindly send me the requirements to enter the convent; … I have felt the calling of this vocation for a number of years, and I hope I may enter your convent this fall.” Joyce’s mother also wrote to Mother Edwarda, praising the Sisters in Sterling: “Sister John Frances (Loretto former member Dorthea Heryne) has been a wonderful moral support. … Her loving example has had such a good influence on Joyce, and I might add it has meant quite a lot in influencing Mr. Reasoner in giving up his daughter. Mr. Reasoner is a convert so of course looks at things somewhat differently than one brought up as a Catholic. Both Sister John Frances and Sister Margaret Loyola (Scanlan) have kindly offered their assistance … so I feel sure we will have Joyce all ready to join you by October 25th.”
Sister Margaret Loyola also wrote to Mother Edwarda: “I am convinced that Joyce will be an asset to the Society. This is also the opinion of all the high school faculty. … Joyce takes an active part in every school event. She is a good organizer and manages groups beautifully. On two occasions this year she won the popular vote of the student body, which tells us that she does know how to get along with others. … She loves little children and knows how to keep them busy, on the playground as well as in the class room — she just completed two weeks vacation school teaching for Father Ambre; she also taught for Father last summer. … Father Ambre said … that [Joyce] is the most even-tempered girl he has ever met. The Sisters here who know Joyce would all agree.”
Joyce Carolyn Reasoner entered Loretto Oct. 25th, 1949; she received the habit and the name Sister Mary Joyce on April 25, 1950. Although no early stories are preserved in her personnel record, it seems likely her novitiate companions can and probably will recount many.
Mary Joyce professed her first vows on April 25, 1952, and immediately began a 55-year marathon in primary classrooms. First she taught two years at St. Vincent’s in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and two years at Mary Star of the Sea Elementary in Freeport, Texas. In the late 1960s she taught at St. Augustine School, Lebanon, Ky., for nearly 10 years, and she returned to Cape Girardeau for one year in 1977. But it is Mary Joyce’s years in the St. Louis archdiocesan schools, beginning in 1956, that add up to a remarkable 40-year total. Archivist Kate Misbauer wrote, “To recite the names of the St. Louis schools in which Sister Mary Joyce has taught is like saying a Litany of Saints and Feasts: Immaculate Conception, St. Michael, St. Catherine, St. Ferdinand, St. Paul the Apostle, Ascension, [and finally 20 years at] Mary Queen of Peace,” from which Mary Joyce retired in 2008. She was at that time the last Sister of Loretto teaching in a Loretto school in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
At the time of her retirement, Mary Joyce herself summed up her teaching this way: “Young children have always been a great delight to me. They are so open and eager to learn. Trying to bring Jesus to life in them, and fostering a love of His Church has always been my main goal in teaching. … [T]here is a time for hard work and also a time for good fun; [together these] make for a healthy learning environment. When the children sense that you truly love them, they’ll work their socks off for you.”
In retirement — first at Loretto Center in St. Louis, then at Loretto Motherhouse — Mary Joyce continued her lifetime of combining hard work and good fun. Barbara Barbato SL wrote of Mary Joyce’s years at Loretto Center: “She assists with the driving needs of the Community and provides unexpected novelty treats and conversation with much humor which makes for smiles among the residents. Her relationships with the small children of Mary Queen of Peace continue with their visits to the Center and their sending of cards and samples of achievement.“
Joyce retired to Loretto Motherhouse in early 2011 in the company of her good friend Sister Charles Maureen, reuniting with Sisters Bernardine and Theresa Louise Wiseman, companions at Ascension School in Chesterfield, Mo. Many stories will circulate among the Motherhouse Community and the Infirmary staff about Mary Joyce’s rich store of fun and her continuing contributions as “an asset to the Society,” just as the Sisters at Sterling predicted 68 years ago.
Sister Mary Joyce composed these final reflections some years ago: “[There’s a] quotation on a bookmark my brother gave me years ago, ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength!’ I read it every morning to renew my spirit for my daily work. I have been blessed with working with many Sisters who helped me along the way — giving me the support and nurturing that was needed. When I entered Loretto, my goal was to get myself to Heaven — and try to lead others to do the same —
through example and teaching His little ones. I’m still working on my goals but I’m satisfied that I tried my best — and thoroughly enjoyed the ride!!”
– By Eleanor Craig SL