Rockledge and Melbourne, FL (July 31, 2018) – At first, she wasn’t at all sure she wanted to be a nun. During her religious training, even the mistress of novices told her she’d be better off getting married.
“But here I am, 60 years later,” said Sister Joan Grace, chaplain at Rockledge Regional Medical Center and Melbourne Regional Medical Center. “So, God’s plan for me was bigger than the plans I had for myself.”
Sister Joan is celebrating her diamond jubilee – 60 years in her religious vocation. Marking the occasion is a Mass at 11 a.m. on Aug. 12 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 565 Stadium Parkway, Viera, FL 32940. A reception will follow in the church’s Holy Cross Hall.
She was born Juliette Anne Grace in 1937 on a farm in Ireland, where she helped tend the animals as a young schoolgirl. In her last year of high school, Juliette Anne – who went by the name Joan – decided to enter the convent and pursue a religious vocation. Her religious name was Sister Mary Immaculee.
Sister Joan, 81, said her vocation wasn’t obvious to her at first. “You need time to think and pray about what you’re going to do and if this life is for you,” she said. “As time went on, I just became more and more happy. You start to realize there’s a certain peace about where you are. With prayer and conversation with people, you learn what’s best for you.”
After teaching three years in Limerick, Ireland, she came to Florida to teach at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Rockledge, a position she held for 41 years. A graduate of Notre Dame University and Stetson University, the longtime chaplain and educator completed her graduate studies in counseling and guidance at the latter, earning her master’s degree in religious studies in 1988 from Loyola University.
Sister Joan has appeared multiple times in Who’s Who Among American Teachers.
In her chaplaincy, Sister Joan offers spiritual and emotional support to patients, their families and hospital staff. A big part of her work is simply being there for people who need her. “Being available for family and people who are sick, being there with them, praying for them – it’s been such a blessing,” said Sister Joan, who became the hospitals’ chaplain in 2006. “Helping them through prayer and empathy, sympathy and compassion, helping them come to terms with their situations.”
Patients can reach her at either facility by simply dialing “AMEN” on the hospital phones.
Sister Joan said she ministers to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, connecting the latter to local clergy if they request it. And every night, she makes it a point to pray for each person who asked for prayer that day.
One vital part of Sister Joan’s job, she said, is to maintain a positive demeanor during her hours at the hospital for the sake of those around her. “I bring the Lord with me to the hospital,” she said. “When I enter the doors, I choose to be happy and cheerful because that’s important to the staff and the people in the hospital. My philosophy is to smile as much as possible through the day.”