A reflection by Sr. Kay McMullen
Notre Dame Associate and friend, Joan Marsh, was born on October 15, 1937, and died on March 31, 2017, surrounded by her family in the Carmel Valley home she shared with her son James’ family. Joan grew up in San Francisco but lived in the Carmel area for most of her adult life. She was an editor for educational publishers for many years and for many more was married to the one she loved, Don Marsh.
Joan and Don met Sister Kay McMullen thirty years ago when they were volunteers for the Monterey County AIDS Project. Soon after, they met the Sisters at retreats for people with HIV/AIDS and for Monterey County AIDS Project volunteers at Villa Angelica, the Sisters’ retreat house in Carmel. Always ready to help out and adept at washing multitudes of pots and pans, Joan became well acquainted with the kitchen at Villa Angelica! Searching for deeper meaning in life, she soon made her first retreat which was a private retreat at the Sisters’ House of Prayer at the Villa Angelica site. Her retreat director, Sister Gertrude Boracca, suggested she read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Being Peace – and that made all the difference.
“Being Peace” became a unifying thread in her life, and her eventual retirement from publishing gave Joan a special opportunity to practice “Being Peace.” She volunteered with the Center for Creative Nonviolence in Santa Cruz and immersed herself in its many educational and political activities. In time, she discovered the program on facilitating nonviolence by Pace e Bene and began facilitating training in non-violent living and relating with men at Soledad Correctional Facility, the section for offenders in protective custody.
SND California Associates invited her to facilitate their annual retreat on the theme “Nonviolence is Organized Love.” The Associates at the retreat loved her! Sr. Jeanette Braun, former Associate Coordinator, shared these thoughts about Joan: “At my first meeting with Joan, I enjoyed a rare and lovely experience. Joan felt like a long-time friend. Her warmth and wit along her enthusiasm and love of life made me look forward to our visits. Some years ago, Joan facilitated our Carmel retreat. At the closing reflection, one retreatant shared with the group that Joan would make a fine Associate and that she had invited Joan to consider joining our Notre Dame Family. No sooner than she finished, several participants around the room piped up, ‘I also asked Joan!’ The room burst into laughter and to our delight Joan discerned and accepted our invitation. Her time with us was brief and we are richer for her presence.”
At her commitment to Association the following February 2, 2011, she said, “I’ve become more and more fond of and in admiration of all the Sisters of Notre Dame stand for. After participating in two Associate retreats, my admiration grew to include that group as well. I truly believe that these remarkable women will stretch me to be of more and better service in the future.”
Joan’s service did grow and deepen. With other volunteers, she facilitated learning non-violence with churches, civic groups, and programs sponsored by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department. She continued to lead maximum security prisoners at Soledad as they learned tools to avoid reacting violently in situations and to live and relate in new ways. Some of the men continued in the program and become facilitators of nonviolence themselves. In a message of appreciation that she received from one of the prisoners in her last week, the man wrote, “You have changed my life.” The more than 50 men Joan worked with in prison will remember her at memorial service to which her family has been invited.
Joan made strong friends during her years as a production editor of university level math and science books. One of her authors was Jeffrey Bennett, an astrophysicist, professor, writer and family man, who was distraught over the quality of science in his children’s books. When he came to her saying the he and friends wanted to create a series of science books for children, she agreed to help out. With Joan taking charge of production, Jeffrey’s family dog, Max, went to the moon, to Mars, Jupiter and the International Space Station. Max Goes to the Moon and others in the series, can be bought in hardcover, and on the group’s website, children can listen as astronauts at the Space Station read the stories to them.
Joan’s life was full and rich, and family was most important. One of the greatest gifts arrived in the tiny bundles of Jason and Grayson, twin grandsons. Jason needed special medical care in his first days and years and Joan’s was saving help for his little family. Today he is a lively, smart and ever ready to tumble with his brother. Since they started school and Joan moved in with the family, she loved shuttling them to and from school, “from school into laughter,” as granddaughter Julia Marsh says.
Shortly after Joan died, Julia Marsh sent the following message: “Friday evening, around 7 o'clock, Joan left us for the next world. We were with her when she passed peacefully, all surrounding her bed and telling her we loved her. We like to imagine she's now walking with our Grandpa Don in Garland Park, among the freshly bloomed lupine and poppies.”
Joan’s good friend, Associate Lois Jones, remembers her as a wonderful, caring and intelligent woman who brought joy to their lives. “Her sparkling eyes, great smile, infectious laugh and openness provided an untold number of opportunities to build deep and meaningful friendships,” she says. “Joan often spoke of her family, and her love for them was deep. Her grandchildren were special to her and conversations allowing us to catch up on grandchildren were special times. Her faith in God was strong, and she brought out the best in all who had the opportunity to be part of her life. Her faith and goodness were evident in how she lived her life.”
So joyful she was called “Joyful Joan” by those she worked with in prison, our Associate Joan spent her lifetime in service to others, living the compassionate, non-violent way she helped pass on. She would like us to keep the words of poet Wendell Berry in heart, something she and husband Don had written on a small blackboard in their kitchen:
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
Through you have considered all the facts.”
The family is planning a gathering to remember Joan and to give thanks for her life with us on June 4, at Villa Angelica, Carmel. Please contact Sr. Kay McMullen for more information at 650-704-5645 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Please share your thoughts and memories of Joan by writing a comment below…