Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Sister Joan Maeilner Serves parishes
 to her last days

Geoffery D. Brown
Frederick News Post

(11/1) Sister Joan Maeilner worked almost to the day she died, losing her battle against an aggressively spreading cancer that she and her friends and colleagues believed to the end she would win.

The tireless 67-year-old Franciscan nun was still teaching class Wednesday, although her health had been slipping in recent months.

Sr. Joan had convinced people she was going to beat the cancer, which had spread from her uterus throughout her body, friends and colleagues said. The news a shock to even those who were closest to her.

"She worked like a Trojan to the end," said Sr. Marietta Culhane, her friend and colleague of 51 years.

Sr. Joan was pastoral life director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Thurmont and St. Anthony Shrine in Emmitsburg for the past two years, running daily operations of the two parishes with the help of Sr. Marietta and Sr. Eleanor Horneman.'

With a shortage of parish priests, Roman Catholic bishops frequently appoint nuns, deacons, and lay persons to fill pastoral positions, and Sr. Joan was such a leader, Sr. Marietta said.

A longtime educator and provincial administrator, hospital chairwoman, and pastoral director, she worked from Delaware to inner city Baltimore to Appalachian Maryland, helping the poor, developing innovative programs, reinvigorating neglected parishes, and inspiring and influencing countless people, her colleagues said.

"Wherever she was needed, that's where she'd be," Sr. Marietta said.

Two years ago she was called to replace Father James Hannon, - who was transferred from the Emmitsburg and Thurmont parishes to pastor seven parishes in Western Maryland.

By Monday afternoon the parish had received 200 to 300 calls of condolence since Sr. 'Joan's death Saturday, Sr. Marietta said.

"The lady was somebody who would give her all no matter how sick she was."

Wednesday she conducted a class for people interested in entering the ministry: Thursday her health rapidly deteriorated and she was taken to Union Memorial Hospital.

She was telling me what I needed to do to replace her on Friday," Sr. Marietta said. That night she had difficulty breathing, and a code was called to resuscitate her. She told the nurses not to bother the sisters at night to come out to the hospital in the rain; she said to wait until 8 a.m.

In the morning she began to slip away and the sisters came to pray with her.

"She knew we were there. We prayed with her and she just died," Sr. Marietta said. Her immune system had been compromised and she had contracted a virus, and it killed her.

To hear Sr. Marietta, Sr. Joan was a saint. "She was very interested in justice and peace and what she could do to help others."

"She's a great team manager, a great listener. She just was someone who knows how to bring the best out in people. What can I say? We're going to miss her terribly.

The sisters at St. Anthony Shrine and Our Lady of Mount Carmel will wait for the bishop to name a new pastoral life director. Until then, "the team is working together to keep the parish together," Sr. Marietta said.

Beulah Browne worked. with Sr. Joan in Baltimore, where she was principal of St. Katharine's of Sienna Catholic School. The school was struggling in the early 1970s, and unbeknownst to the staff, Sr. Joan had been sent to close It down.

Instead, she transformed St. Katharine's into a cutting edge, nationally-renowned school that matriculated students who went on to become judges, doctors and lawyers, Ms. Browne said.

"She was a fantastic person, She was my friend and she was my mentor. This women taught me more about education then any insinuation of higher learning could have taught me.

Ms.' Browne and Sr. Joan corresponded and visited each other for years after Sr. Joan left St. Katharine's, but Ms. Browne said the letters stopped about six months ago, she thinks because with her work and her illness Sr. Joan had less time to write. In one of her last letters she wrote about her cancer.

"I'm going to be fine," the letter said.

"I was just thinking what I was going to tell her at Christmas," Ms. Browne said. Annual Christmastime letters between the women were always full of news, she said.

Then the news of Sr. Joan's death came Monday.

"I'm just absolutely devastated," Ms. Browne said.

Read other news stories related to Emmitsburg