By Lorraine Cooper, SC
In 2007 Sr. Joan Anderson became one of our retirees at the Convent of Mount Saint Vincent. In spite of rheumatoid arthritis, she can be seen managing convent finances or acting as receptionist at the front desk with her crochet hook or needlepoint, busy making creations for the annual Christmas and Summer sales which she coordinates, contributes to, and collects items for. Here she is raising money for the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center—her first love. This is only one of her fund-raising projects. Now she is collecting money for passports for the children of undocumented parents in one of our ESL programs. Every two months it is a different charity, such as St. Peter’s soup kitchen.
If she is not at the desk, she might be shopping for items and cards for our small store for the convenience of the sisters. Mass and her prayer life support her in all of this, but if you ask, “How can you do it all?” she responds with a Bahamian inflection, “Aye, you have to die of something, so why sit around and wait.”
It’s her 42 years of mission life in the Bahamas that is reflected in all she does now. It began when as a teenager in Brooklyn she volunteered at our home for children on Willoughby Ave. This drew her to enter the Sisters of Charity. She was assigned to St. Agatha’s Home as a group mother with boys 2–5 years old. She loved being with the children and was there for 7½ years and taught mainly 1st and 2nd grades.
In 1963 she volunteered for the Bahamas and became the principal of Our Lady’s School, remaining there for 21 years. During that time she raised funds to build a 2-story building to house the 4th and 5th grades as well as a staff room, offices, and bathrooms on each floor.
After she retired from Our Lady’s, Bishop Burke asked Sr. Joan to be the administrator of Nazareth Center for abused children, from new-born to age 12. This involved her once more in fund-raising. Like St. Vincent, she always involved those who were more fortunate, often those she taught. One, in particular, whom she taught in Our Lady’s, still contributes to her current fund-raising projects.
Monsignor Moss wrote of Sr. Joan that “she embodied the Bahamian culture.” Our sisters had been in the Bahamas for 118 years and through our many schools bonded with the children and people of Nassau, in particular. They also visited the lepers and later those with AIDS, as well those in the prisons. Our community virtues of humility, simplicity, and charity flourished because of those virtues found among the poor there, especially simplicity. Bahamians are famous for their direct and colorful expressions—they say what they think. Sister Joan tells how one of our taller sisters was identified as “one long bone woman.” Their down-to-earth view of life and religious spirit is often heard when they preface their actions with the expression “if God spares my life.” It is easy to see how all these experiences shaped Sr. Joan’s present life.