Sister Joan Smith

Sister Joan knew as a first grader at the Academy at St. Maries, Idaho that she wanted to become a Benedictine Sister. However, when anyone would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would tell them that she was going to be a pilot like Amelia Earhart as she was not ready to tell anyone her real “vocation” as she saw it.

After graduating from the Academy, she was offered a scholarship to St. Gertrude’s high school. She thought this would be the perfect opportunity to enter. But her father refused to give his permission, suggesting that if she wanted to be a teacher she could go to college and teach in the public schools. This was not what she intended to do.

She spent the first year of high school at the public school in Bremerton, where her family had moved after her father had obtained work at the ammunition dump near the city. She had a half day of school because the students were too numerous for the high school building.

The tide changed and she was able to spend the next three years at St. Gertrude’s Academy. She entered the day after graduation. Since she had been with the community she was able to become a Novice that summer and made First Profession the following year. But three years later she was hospitalized because of severe T.B. Thanks to new experimental drugs, she was able to return home and make Final Profession the following year.

She taught school in various towns and finished her education. Then she taught at St. Gertrude’s Academy until it closed. She became secretary to the prioress and soon took the opportunity to spend two years to study theology. More recently, she helped lead the planning and installation of the Grotto Garden, a memorial place for the Monastery’s major benefactors and is busy at the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude, managing the extensive collection that celebrates the history of the Camas Prairie.

On a Christmas visit home during her second year of study, tragedy struck. Her friend Helen’s father had died and she and a few other Sisters set out for the funeral. On the way the car hit a sheet of ice and swerved into a logging truck. Her good friend Sister Annunciata was mortally wounded and died about two weeks later. “She and I made a pact that the one who died first would come back and reassure the other,” recalls Sister Joan. “On the day of her funeral, I felt a presence in the room and a small pressure on the foot of my bed. A year later I was in Dallas and the same event occurred, and I knew she had kept her part of the bargain. Only later did I realize it was the first anniversary of her death.”

Sister Joan has had many changes of ministry since then and has lost other close friends along the way as well. “As I have grown older, I know that all of these life experiences have brought me to the person I am today and I hope to be able to use the remaining time to grow into the person God intends me to be before we meet in eternity, to spend it with friends and relatives who have been a part of my earthly life. As the Benedictine motto says: ‘That in all things God may be glorified.’”