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Mary Joan Gendron

List of Deceased Sisters

Date of Death 05/05/2011

Sr Mary Joan SMSM
(Juliana Gendron)
30 July 1916 – 5 May 2011

Juliana Gendron was born on July 30th, 1916, in Sanford, Maine. She was one of seven children born to Susanne Langlois and Nazaire Gendron, who had immigrated to the United States from the Province of Quebec in Canada.

She entered the Marist Missionary Sisters in Massachusetts in 1936 and made her first vows on September 8th, 1938, having taken the name Sr Mary Joan. Two months later she arrived in Fiji, where she was assigned to the community in Nasigatoka. Sr M Chysostom, who had arrived in Fiji from France in 1915, was in the Sigatoka community at the time and in later years used to tell us how much she admired this young American sister and her devotion and success in teaching the children.

In 1949 Sr Mary Joan was named the acting Regional superior of the Sisters in Fiji, and in 1951, was a delegate to the second General Chapter of the congregation, held in Australia. During that Chapter she was elected as a General Councilor to Mother Mary Joan of Arc. At that time the term for a general council was twelve years. This new Council was mandated by the Chapter to move the Generalate from France to Rome, where they took up residence at Castel Gondolfo. Another important aim of this administration was to work for the promotion of the professional education and ongoing formation of the Sisters, including the establishment of a Second Novitiate Program, a period of spiritual renewal for Sisters who had served some years in missionary activity.

In 1964 Sr Mary Joan returned to the USA to make her own “Second Novitiate” at Bedford, Massachusetts. She did not return to Fiji then, but was sent to the Australian Province. She spent a year teaching at Deer Park, a school that catered to children of immigrants. Then, like many Sisters in the Pacific who had earlier been teaching without recognized credentials, she went “back to school” at Mount Street Teachers College in Sydney to earn her teaching certificate.

In 1967 she finally arrived in Bougainville, a mission that she very much loved and where she would serve for the next 23 years. At first she was teaching at Asitavi, then after 6 years was asked to be the Regional Bursar at Tubiana. After a home visit in 1974 she worked at the Catholic Education Office in Kieta, encouraging the local teachers who were beginning to take responsibility for the Catholic schools.

As the years went on she was no longer directly involved in education but did more pastoral ministry, visiting the sick, doing community service in Turiboiru, Kieta, Tearouki, and Tunuru. One Sister who had been with her during those years said, “It’s hard for me to recall exactly what she did, but she was always there, always present … In community she was generous and obliging. She was friendly with the people and had endless patience in listening to their stories and concerns.”

Those words bring to mind of the passage of our Constitutions that speaks of Mary in the newborn church: “She was the soul of the apostolic community, while remaining in the background.” (C.53). Certainly Sr Joan lived the Marist spirit in a very profound way right up to the end of her life.

It was in 1990 when the crisis erupted in Bougainville and all of our Sisters were evacuated that Sr Mary Joan returned to the USA. Here she continued her life of prayer, gracious presence and humble service as long as her health permitted. She gave service at the Grove St community for five years and was a regular visitor to the residents at Maristhill Nursing Home, which she continued when she moved to “62”, where she also served as the assistant sacristan. In March 2005 she moved to the Marillac Assisted Living Residence in Wellesley Hills until her health began to fail.

In 2007, after suffering a stroke, she became a resident at Maristhill. All of us - Sisters, friends and family - were distressed at seeing her helplessness in recent years - and especially her difficulty in communicating. And yet, so often, her smile was still there and the light in her eyes when she seemed to recognize you.

I think most of us felt a great relief on the morning of May 5th, when we heard that, while many of us were at morning Mass and Srs Maria and Sylvia were at her side, Sr Mary Joan was finally released from these last years of suffering and went home to the arms of Jesus and Mary and of all her loved ones who have gone before her.

Thank you, Sr Mary Joan, for giving us all an example of a woman “joyfully given to God for the sake of the kingdom, in the spirit of Mary.” May Mary, our Mother, who inspired your life, welcome you into your new home, as you welcomed so many during this life. Intercede for all of us that we may have the grace and courage to follow in your footsteps.

Sr Virginia Fornasa smsm
Assistant Provincial