Sister Joanne Miller remembers being an eighth grader at Ascension School in Los Angeles when her teacher, Sr. Mary Joan, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet, invited her and another girl to a clothing ceremony at the St. Joseph Motherhouse. Sr. Joanne recalls, “It was a pretty impressive ceremony in those days with so many young postulants dressed as brides, then, during the ceremony leaving the chapel to return in that awesome black habit and the white veils of novices.”
When the Miller family moved north to Santa Clara, her parents enrolled her at Notre Dame High School in San Jose. As was the custom, her senior class went to the novitiate in Saratoga for a picnic. At the end of the day, Sr. Mary Emmanuel asked her: “How was that for you?” Joanne went on about the food and all the fun talking with the novices until Sister interrupted and asked again, “I mean, how was it for you?” “Sr. Mary Emmanuel saw something in me that I couldn’t see yet. It was as if they were planting a seed and it needed time to grow. Something was nudging me, and the influence of these Sisters gradually made it clear.”
Sr. Joanne looks back and sees how, over the years, she has often felt the gentle nudge of the Spirit. She enjoyed many years as a teacher and administrator in Notre Dame elementary schools from Los Angeles to Seattle to Honolulu. She especially enjoyed teaching the boys at Mission Dolores School in San Francisco. “That experience surely,” she claims, “taught me how to teach.” She also served as parish secretary at St. Francis Xavier in Seaside, CA, and as executive secretary for the California Province, before returning to elementary education as principal of Notre Dame School, Santa Barbara, and, later to teach, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel also in Santa Barbara. For a number of years she served on the staff of La Casa de Maria, a retreat center in Santa Barbara.
The seed planted years ago continues to grow, so much so that Sr. Joanne sometimes feels as if she’s all the way out on the branch of a very tall tree! Sr. Joanne hopes for a time when the church is truly welcoming of all people – the immigrant workers in Carpinteria’s flower fields and nurseries, her gay nephews, and women who yearn for greater equality in the church. “There have been few dramatic moments in my life,” she says, “just this gradual pathway that now calls me to be of support to so many people.”
And for her personally? “I love the Sisters of Notre Dame,” she says. “There have been rough times in my life and they were there for me. These days it is so good to be part of a community who cares deeply about what is going on in our world – from global warming and poverty, to cultural diversity and peace-making. This can only lead to new life among us. We have to have faith and trust in the future. We are a new community. The Spirit continues to nudge all of us.”