“I was very happy being a doula and a volunteer …”, says Sister Joan O’Keefe. And then came the Congregation’s General Chapter in 2014, when she was elected Congregational Leader. Sister Joan is quick to say that being Congregational Leader wasn’t on her bucket list. “But I once thought I’d be a teacher forever, too,” she says.
After 11 years of teaching, Sister Joan was asked to move to parish work and religious education. In 1989, she found her way to the Single Parent Centre (now Chebucto Family Centre) in Halifax, NS. She was there for almost 14 years before leaving for her first leadership commitment as a Congregational Councillor in 2002.
It’s the Single Parent Centre that holds a special place in Sister Joan’s heart. “I always loved babies and young people,” she says. “It was like a gift to be with babies, toddlers and their mothers. A lot of young mothers had real challenges, they were a great inspiration.” Which is why she trained as a volunteer doula in 2010 and has enjoyed that very personal ministry, assisting with pregnancies, births and the early weeks of babies’ lives.
Direct service is obviously important to Sister Joan and in her current role as Congregational Leader, she supports Sisters who are providing service to those in need. “Many Sisters are involved directly with people and I pray that they stay healthy,” she says. “I just pray that the direct service gets done.”
“Sisters sometimes feel that they don’t have the physical or emotional stamina for direct service but they can pray for the Sisters who do,” she says. Sister Joan knows the value of advocacy work, as well, and she hopes to help Sisters do what they can, in whatever capacity they can. She’s a collaborator and she knows the Sisters can help by serving on a board, going to a meeting or being an advocate. “If we do things right, people will have the energy. Sometimes you just need to be present to someone. That’s the doing: the being there for someone,” she says.
Happy National Catholic Sisters Week to Sister Joan O’Keefe!