Written in Johannesburg, Sunday 16th. May, 1999 by Sr. Joan Agnes McFadden, R.G.S.
I was born the 7th. child in a family of 13 to Dominick and Maggie McFadden, Killoughcarron, Creeslough, Co. Donegal Ireland. I was educated at Drimnaraw School and the Technical School, Letterkenny. I joined the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1950 and went to Cork for my novitiate.
When I left home in 1952 for France, I volunteered for the Missions and we were never supposed to return to Ireland again. I had to get used to a new culture, language and the French-cuisine. It was tough going but I could always count on the prayers of my family. In 1953 I received the habit and was given the name Sr. Mary of St. Joan of Arc. Saint Joan of Arc was canonized in 1923 while my father was in the Navy and he often talked about her.
On the 8th. February 1955 I was professed and had the great joy of having my brother Gerard with me. As a rule none of the Irish sisters had relatives visit them and I was overjoyed. In May 1955 I went to London to study Nursing at Whittington Hospital. We were allowed to wear our veils as nuns thanks to the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Coyle from Dublin. While in London I was visited by my Mother, Father and most of my family – but visits were limited to one hour a month.
On vacation we stayed at a Good Shepherd Convent and I was allowed to go back to Derry where my family visited me. The “Hills of Donegal” could be seen from the convent garden, how special to me…especially Muckish. I left London for Johannesburg, South Africa on the 24th. November, 1958 – my Dad’s birthday. In January 1963 I received the sad news of his death; I still remember the pain in heart that I would never see him again. May he rest in peace.
A week after arriving in Johannesburg I started my midwifery training. Upon completion I began taking care of single mothers in Fatima House. On one occasion while taking one of the girls to hospital to have her baby, we ran out of petrol and of course we had no money. Since I was the midwife I stayed with the girl in the van and Sr. Fatima got out and thumbed. She got a life on a motorbike – in her full habit. They were gone for a long time and I finally stopped some cars and asked if they saw a motorbike with someone dressed like me… they just laughed. Sister finally came back and we made it to the hospital !!! Since then we have had many a laugh about it.
In 1967 I flew back to Ireland for the first time in 15 years, thanks to Pope John XXIII rules were now relaxed. I also visited my family in America – what a joy to see my brothers and sisters again and meet all the nephews and nieces. I was visited in South Africa by family members in 1980, 1988 and all six of my sisters and my nephew Fr. Pat Brady, in 1995 – our Irish faith uniting us far and wide.
Since 1993 I work in the special ministry of caring for the dying. At first I thought it would be depressing but it turned out to be the opposite. There are two nuns, Sr. Amelia, from Galway and myself, we don’t get paid – the other staff are African and get paid the going salary. Thanks to the generosity of the people of Johannesburg we are able to pay our bills. I thank God that I can care for and comfort these patients during their last days on earth. It’s a very stressful time for them and their families. However, it’s amazing how they improve while they are with us at Sacred Heart House. Some die within a week but others improve enough to go home. It would appear that our little bit is like a drop in the ocean but that is all that God asks of any of us – that we do what we can. Many thanks to my own family for their constant support May God Bless and protect them and my new sponsor family in Creeslough.
When the opportunity arises please raise your voice for the endangered species = the nuns.
SR. JOAN’S GOLDEN JUBILEE
She celebrated her golden jubilee in 2005 in Derry among the Nazareth house Good Shepherd nuns.
Sr. Joan died in December 2020.