Meet Sister Joan (Marie Angele) Panella

As a child, Joan discovered the Land of Oz and its inhabitants; now she finds that ‘following the yellow brick road’ is a metaphor for her own journey of fidelity in Notre Dame.

At Notre Dame High School Belmont, Sr. Helen Cecilia Miller’s lively human-ness, commitment to education, and concern for the neglected and poor provided inspiration for Sr. Joan’s life commitment. By following the path that life put before her, and with countless fellow travelers, she has served in elementary and secondary education (San Jose, Salinas, Alameda and Folsom), campus ministry, social work, administrative roles and community ministries.

Words from the psalm, ‘If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart,’ have guided her discernment. “Every ministry developed as one more voice called … another brick in the yellow brick road,” she says, citing the Tin Man looking for a heart. For her this meant being responsive and in relationship, an SNDdeN with a ‘heart as wide as the world.’

It was during her work at San Jose State University (SJSU) Newman Center that Sr. Joan recognized the pain and unmet needs of gay and lesbian Catholics and their families. In 1984 she asked for support in addressing these needs and was granted it by Bishop Pierre DuMaine. By 1986, a committee that he formed established a new pastoral ministry to the LGBT community, one of the first in the nation. Until very recently, Sr. Joan has continued to coordinate and/or serve on the committee to network and provide resources for individuals, parishes and priests ministering to that community.

Sr. Joan earned her Master’s of Social Work at SJSU and her license as a Clinical Social Worker. She worked for 14 years in a neurological rehabilitation unit at Community Hospital in Los Gatos. She recalls learning from patients that helping, or not helping, can be equally ministerial.

Sr. Joan (left) with Sr. Joan Bernhart, and a Franciscan friend at the Sisters' Carmel House of Prayer.

Currently, Sr. Joan shares an office with a former Notre Dame San Jose student as the two of them perform the multiple responsibilities of Administrative Assistant at St. Nicholas & St. William Parish in Los Altos. She is dedicated to the ministries of SNDdeN Sisters in Africa and Latin America, and is involved in several fundraising activities for them. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Notre Dame High School, San Jose.

Now, celebrating her 60th Jubilee, Sr. Joan relies on God’s pledge: "I know the plans I have in mind for you, they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope." (Jer. 29:11), and she will not cease from listening and responding to the voices calling her along her own yellow brick road.

By Sr. Claudia McTaggart


Sister Joan Panella models the headdress of a visiting Nigerian SNDdeN.

Sacred Heart School, Salinas; St. Lucy, Campbell; St. John, Folsom; Sacred Heart, San Jose; Madonna, Salinas; Notre Dame High School, Alameda; Notre Dame High School, San Jose (Counselor); San Jose State University (Campus Ministry); Los Gatos Community Hospital (Medical Social Worker); Notre Dame Province Center, Belmont (Administrator); St. Nicholas and St. William Parish, Los Altos.

Sr. Joan celebrated 50 years as an SNDeN on her mother's 100th birthday.

Sr. Helen Cecelia was an inspiration and mentor to Sr. Joan.


  1. Congratulations on your Jubilee, Joan! So much service and goodness has been given through you as you paced that 'yellow brick road'!

  2. Dear Joan,
    I just learned last night from Monica May's e-mail of your imminent Jubilee celebration! Wasn't this event always in summer? Jack actually researched a flight I could take from NY, but I couldn't clear my calendar on such short notice. Do know that you will be very specially in my heart and prayers on Sunday; I am so grateful for a lifetime of knowing your joyful (teasing) humor, your dedication and generosity, your steadfast determination and your solid loyalty to friends as well as anyone in need . . . not just 60 years but 4 precious years of high school as well! Ad multos annos, Joan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *