The entire life and experience of Sr Joan Mary was devoted to the Lord through her Passionist vocation. She generously offered her life to the mission, away from her homeland of America, faithfully following the Congregation’s guidance in service and apostolic work.
Joan Catherine, her civilian name, was born in Massachusetts, USA, to John Topor and Mary Urban who instilled in her the Christian faith.
She had a tranquil and wholesome youth, focused on her education. She obtained a university degree as a mathematics teacher and later specialised as a librarian. She dedicated many years to working in schools where she not only imparted academic knowledge but also instilled the foundations of the Christian life and the values that enhance human dignity.
At the end of the 1970s, she became acquainted with Sr Carmelina Tarantino, a Passionist Sister, now a Servant of God in the process of beatification. Sr Carmelina was a young Italian-Canadian who had emigrated to Toronto at a young age. There, she fell seriously ill, spending many years of her life confined to a hospital bed where she encountered the Passionist Fathers and felt the call to become a Passionist Sister. She consecrated herself to the Lord in the Congregation of Passionist Sisters and intensified the good works and apostolate she had been carrying out from her hospital bed, receiving visits from numerous people and organising pilgrimages. Young Joan Mary got to know Sr Carmelina, and through her influence, she too matured her vocation to become a Passionist Sister.
In 1980 she left everything behind and joined the Passionist Sisters of St Paul of the Cross. She started her novitiate in October 1981 and became a Passionist Sister on October 9 1983. She made her final consecration to the Lord on October 2 1988, assuming the name Sr Joan Mary of the Holy Rosary.
The initial years of Sr Joan Mary’s consecrated life were spent in Italy, first in the community of Ciampino where she had also completed her novitiate, and then, for several years in a community in Sicily. She dedicated herself wholeheartedly to serving the children in the primary school and in the Home for Children (Casa Famiglia), caring for children without families.
A few years after her profession she was called by the Superior General to lend her presence in helping the young Passionist foundation in the Philippines. There, she wholeheartedly gave of herself, working as catechist coordinator in the parish, guiding the emerging vocations entering the Congregation, participating in the construction of convents and imparting the essence of a Passionist vocation to the initial group of Sisters in the Philippines. The Sisters in the Philippines cherish affectionate and thankful memories of her.
In 1993 she was sent to another budding foundation, in India. Once again Sr Joan Mary was committed to welcoming the first young vocations from India and played a pivotal role in establishing educational initiatives for women and children. Her presence was of immense assistance and support.
In 2002, when the Indian delegation was called to serve the Catholic community in Adelaide, she was the first to enthusiastically and lovingly embrace this new mission. She led as the Superior of the inaugural community, demonstrating her unwavering dedication.
She promptly embraced her role, working in collaboration with the Passionist Fathers at The Monastery at Urrbrae for 16 years. In addition to her work with groups participating in spiritual days and retreats, she immersed herself in pastoral service to the parish community. In this role, everyone had the opportunity to witness her dedication, her eagerness to spread goodness and her fervent desire to promote the memory of the Passion of Jesus among the people, a fundamental characteristic of the Passionist Sisters.
With the advancing years, her physical strength weakened and she had to gradually withdraw from her work. However, her faith grew even stronger and her love deepened. She never lost the joy of being a Passionist and consistently felt the obligation to support the Sisters in the community. She tirelessly accompanied their apostolate with unwavering prayer.
Throughout her life, she nurtured warm and spiritually fulfilling relationships with her family in the United States and the friends she encountered in the various countries where she dedicated herself: Italy, Philippines, India and Australia.
With the same faith, she embraced the illness that gradually eroded her abilities but not her faith, her love for ‘Christ her bridegroom’ and her Congregation.Jump to next article