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Sister Spotlight: Sister Joanne Becker recalls her experience in the congregation, at the College

| Monday, November 11, 2019

Editor’s Note: Sister Spotlight is an effort by the Saint Mary’s News Department to shed light on the shared experience of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Saint Mary’s students. We will be sharing the mission and stories of the sisters in an on-going series.

It was Labor Day of 1961 when Sister Joanne Becker boarded a train to Notre Dame to enter the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. A native of Maryland who attended the Academy of the Holy Cross where the Sisters taught, Becker always enjoyed being active.

“I was involved in basketball,” she said. “We had a sodality that honored the Blessed Mother and I was the prefect my senior year. The prefect was automatically May Queen. I used to go to the Smithsonian Institute to the old buildings. We’d take a bus and I would just like to spend time there. I don’t know when they started doing those huge fireworks in D.C. but I remember one summer my boyfriend and I had a picnic and saw the fireworks in downtown D.C.”

Despite her love for the activities that a large city affords, Becker had no qualms about living in South Bend. 

“I was part of CSMC — Catholic Student Mission Crusade — and several of us came from the Academy one year to Notre Dame for conference meetings,” she said. “My big attraction was to come over here to Saint Mary’s and see what the convent looked like.”

While her parents and boyfriend were less than pleased at her decision to become a Sister of the Holy Cross, Becker was convinced that this was her vocation.

“I applied to enter the convent in August of my senior year and I heard nothing until March 17, and then I got my acceptance letter,” Becker said. ”I remember we were doing a musical production at the Academy at the time and I was happy that I could tell all of my friends that I had been accepted.”

Becker, along with 10 of her classmates, journeyed to South Bend that fall to enter the convent.

“It was just exciting,” she said. ”I was young and there was a group of us that came from my high school. I was getting on a train to come somewhere I had been before. I was excited. We all were excited.”

Friendships continued to be an important part of Becker’s life throughout her time as a Sister of the Holy Cross. 

“The best part of my life was Sister Arlene,” Becker said. ”We met while we were both teaching at Holy Cross grade school. Neither of us had a sister so we adopted each other as sisters. We shared our families.”

Their travels during their summer holidays took the two sisters across the United States.

“Sometimes we would take stops on the way. We stopped in Hershey, Pennsylvania one time on our way back East,” she said. “One time we flew to California. We have a retirement home in Ventura and so we spent 10 days with our sisters there and just did some great things. We visited some of the missions.”

Despite being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 25, Becker maintained an active teaching life, teaching in grade schools throughout Virginia, Texas and Indiana. As her condition required her to work part time, Becker began doing library work in Illinois and then became the librarian at Holy Cross before accepting her current position as congregational archivist at Saint Mary’s. 

During her time as a math and science teacher in Texas, Becker remembers the moon landing of 1969. 

“That was a big thing,” she said. “We all watched that on TV. The students were all really excited. I don’t think they could have really appreciated it. I don’t even know that I really appreciated it. It was marvelous. It was exciting.”

However, this wasn’t the only historical event that made an impression on Becker.

“I think the thing that I remember most is when Kennedy was assassinated,” Becker said. ”I was in a stairway in Le Mans Hall when somebody said what had happened. That was on a Friday. I was still in formation and we hardly ever watched TV but we watched the whole thing.”

Becker’s many stories of friendship and teaching testify to the beauty of wholeheartedly living out one’s vocation.

“There have been hard times, but then there are wonderful times,” she said. “I loved what I did and it’s been truly wonderful.”

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