December 2009: SISTER JOAN WINKLER (entered eternal life on February 14, 2021)
“Choosing religious life is not just a one time choice. In fact, the choice of a life of commitment is a decision that must be made over and over again as you face life’s realities. You need to remind yourself that you are being called to a deeper place within yourself where you can experience the presence of God,” said Sister Joan Winkler.
Joan Carol Winkler was born on September 25, 1934, at St Joseph’s Hospital, Breese, IL, to Raymond and Anna Margarete (Cope) Winkler. The family lived in nearby Trenton where Raymond operated Winkler’s Bowling Alley, and the children learned that business comes before pleasure. “As kids, my siblings and I were expected to work in various jobs such as setting pins and being the foul judge for the bowling leagues, obviously before things were automated,” Sister Joan recollected with a grin. “I also served as waitress at the lunch counter serving ice cream and hamburgers and our popular pork brain sandwich. Occasionally we served banquets, and I helped prepare the meals. However, like my mother, I never enjoyed cooking.”
You might suspect that after hours in their Bowling Alley, many of the family became experienced bowlers. During WWII they even made up a team so they would not lose some business. “My highest score was 250; I threw a power ball with a strong right arm-nothing fancy. I always aimed at the 1 and 3 pocket,” she admitted.
Religion was important to the family; Sister Joan’s father was Catholic and her mother was a convert to Catholicism. “Early on I learned the importance of respecting other religions and was deeply influenced by my mother’s strong ethic: Tell the truth and keep your word.”
A life-long interest in learning
Sister Joan attended St. Mary’s Grade School, Trenton, and was taught by the Poor Handmaid Sisters, whom she admired. When it came time for high school, Sister Joan decided to enroll in St. Francis Preparatory School here at the Motherhouse. “I had been to St Francis Convent as a child, and since all three of my older sisters attended the Prep School for a year or two, and my sister Fran had entered the community, I too decided to enroll at the school.”
Although the idea of becoming a Sister was on her mind, Sister Joan also had a need to learn more about religious life. One day while looking out a classroom window, “Something clicked and I realized that his was the place that I belonged. Then I began to write a prayer verse:
Dearest Lord Jesus, all loving and true; Tell me please, where to serve You. Is it within this convent’s wall, or is it elsewhere that you do call? The grounds, the chapels, I love them so; But be it your will, from them I’ll go. I pray ask you dear Savior, please let me stay; For it is here that I feel I’ll not go astray. Thank you dear Jesus for listening to me; now relieved and refreshed, I’ll gladly serve Thee.”
During her junior year, Sister Joan entered religious life as a Hospital Sister. One memory of her second year novitiate is that she liked to use free time by getting water samples from the Motherhouse Lake and looking at the water under a microscope to observe the micro organisms in it. This interest in science was reflected in a paper she wrote for a nutrition class and, to her chagrin, led to her being selected to study dietetics. “Mother’s advice to keep your word and faith in God’s presence in obedience helped me to accept this direction for my life,” Sister Joan said.
Upon making her First Profession as a Hospital Sister on October 4, 1953, she continued her education by earning a bachelors degree in dietetics from Fontbonne College (St. Louis, MO) and completing an internship in dietetics from St. Mary’s Hospital (Rochester MN). She served briefly as a dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital (Highland) and St John’s Hospital (Springfield) followed by serving as Director of Dietary at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, (Belleville) from 1958-65.
After a short time as the Assistant Novice Mistress at the Motherhouse, Sister Joan was assigned to Sacred Heart Hospital (Eau Claire) from 1966-71 as the Director of Dietary. From May 1971, she served as the hospital’s Assistant Administrator and served as the Executive Director and Administrator from October 1973 to August 1974.
“My grade school teacher considered me a leader despite the fact that my deportment grade often indicated that I was ‘inclined to mischief’. Over time, the philosophy that I learned at Fontbonne began to influence the way I thought things through, and the time in formation at the Motherhouse enkindled an interest in psychology and a desire for further education. My superiors suggested that I pursue my master’s degree in health care administration, and so I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) where I became fascinated with Economics, which began as a branch of Ethics, and in Organizational Behavior where I focused on the ways that values are incorporated into corporate decisions. I graduated in 1976,” Sister Joan said.
She continued to live and work in Madison until 1986 where she served as the President of the Catholic Health Association of Wisconsin. Sister worked briefly in Chicago at Alverna Home Nursing Center, at which time she earned a masters degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University and a certificate in Spirituality from the Institute of Spiritual Leadership. Always interested in people and their spiritual development, she returned to the Motherhouse in 1988 to serve as Program Director at the Franciscan Apostolic Center until January 1992. “I then had the opportunity to serve as a live-in manager at Manressa House (Florissant, MO). The House provided assisted living for senior women,” she said.
The most recent and present
Sister Joan served as Provincial Councilor from 1995-99 and Provincial Superior of the American Province from 1999-2007. Presently, she serves at St. John’s Hospital in the People Services Department as a reflector and mentor for the hospital’s journey to excellence.
In recent years she has developed a deep appreciation for the profound meaning contained in the words “to be and to bring Christ’s healing presence…” which aptly summarizes the Sisters charism and mission. She believes that there is no substitute for taking time each day to reflect on the presence of God in our lives, not just in the Eucharist, but in the day to day events and relationships “in which we are called to be and to recognize the presence of God amid the ordinary events and people in our midst.”
“You must have self knowledge. Know who you are and where you’re going and inspire others to follow. Trust that God will direct you if remain true to your word and God,” she concluded.