Dear Friends of Joseph House:
Our hearts are heavy as we begin this Newsletter. On Sunday, March 8, 2020, Our Lord came to call Sr. Joan Marie Albanese home. Sr. Joan died at Wicomico Nursing Home here in Salisbury. She had previously been under the care of Coastal Hospice in our convent, and the wonderful nurses continued their loving attention until the end. We are so grateful for everyone who helped us care for Sr. Joan as she made her final pilgrimage to God.
One of three children, Sr. Joan was born April 7, 1942 in Stamford, Connecticut to Harriet (Horton) Jacobson and James Jacobson. Following high school, she later met and married Matthew Albanese. Joan worked at Armel Electronics in Union City, NJ for 20 years.
In 2003, Joan followed a call to religious life. She entered our community on May 28, 2003, and professed final vows on October 31, 2011.
Sr. Joan found her niche and ministry in the Hospitality Room at the Joseph House Crisis Center. It was to her that the homeless and countless persons would come for prayer or to fill a special need—be it a bar of soap, clothing, or any one of the little things she knew they needed—or for one of her famous hugs (her nickname was “Sister Hug-a-lotta”). She now sends her hugs from a glorious distance.
Sr. Joan was preceded in death by her parents and her brother John. She is survived by her sister, Catherine Jacobson, and her nephew, Justin Jacobson. In addition to her sisters in community, Sr. Joan had many friends at Joseph House and St. Francis de Sales Church. Her funeral was at St. Francis on March 13, and she was laid to rest in our community’s burial space in Parsons Cemetery.
At the end of Evening Prayer each day we sing a song that begins, “Sister, let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you.” During the last several months the words took on a special meaning as Sr. Joan struggled with memory loss and declining health. She needed help with everyday activities, such as fixing a plate of food at meal times. As she slowly faded away the list of things got longer. But her gentle and soft-spoken nature never faltered. As her body failed her beautiful spirit remained intact and shone all the brighter. We give thanks for the gift of her life. May our merciful God in Heaven grant our dear Sr. Joan eternal rest.
One of our customs in the convent is to have table reading during the latter part of dinner. The book we are currently reading is The Little Flowers of St. Francis, a collection of stories about the beloved saint and the first members of his community. The tales are charming and sometimes humorous but they all convey a spiritual truth. Our well-worn copy of the book bears witness to holy poverty: it is falling apart and the cover price is 95 cents!
Some of the stories have a more serious tone. The ones involving the imposition of the stigmata on St. Francis, that is, when the wounds of the crucifixion appeared in his flesh, seem appropriate at this time of year.
St. Francis received the stigmata in the twilight of his life. He had always felt immense compassion for the suffering of Jesus, and in his later years Francis heard the call to withdraw deeper into silence and solitude, to be alone with the mystery of Christ’s Passion. In the year 1224 Francis spent time in a simple hut among the trees and rocky cliffs of Mount Alvernia. A prayer filled his heart: “O Lord, I beg of You two graces before I die: to experience in myself in all possible fullness the pains of Your cruel Passion, and to feel for You the same love that made You sacrifice Yourself for us.”
Early one morning, before sunrise, a mysterious seraphic angel came to visit Francis. It bore the image of the Crucified Christ, who gazed upon Francis with immense love. For Francis, it was a moment of overwhelming communion and a flood of divine charity filled his soul. The vision departed, but it left its mark, literally, on Francis: he was imprinted with nail marks on his hands and feet and a wound in his side.
Francis kept the stigmata hidden at first, only revealing his wounds with hesitation to a few of his brother friars. It was as hard for Francis to make sense of these marks as it is for us. Perhaps we can begin to understand by remembering that God desires to share His life with each person in a special way. It is up to God to decide what will be for our own good, what will bring us to the perfected reality of our creation.
Very few people will ever have a profound mystical experience like St. Francis. All we have are the ordinary experiences of being human—something we share with Jesus—and that is all we really need. The demands of daily living will show us what it means to love and to sacrifice for the sake of love.
The wounds of the crucifixion pierced the soul of Francis long before they touched his flesh. Can we be just as vulnerable to our suffering Lord, present today in the poor, hungry, marginalized, and homeless?
Gus came to us cold and hungry. We could tell that he had a slight degree of mental impairment. It was February, and Gus had been sleeping in a cemetery. He asked us if we could help him get back to Baltimore where he had family. We purchased a bus ticket and some of our volunteers contributed an extra $55 for his miscellaneous expenses. Gus started crying and had to give everyone a hug.
Bennie, 63, had no fixed address. He either slept outside or if he was lucky someone would take him in for a few days. Bennie stopped working last year because of health problems. For most of his life he got paid “under the table,” off the books, hence his Social Security is only $143 per month. Bennie did get approved for subsidized housing, but before moving into an apartment he needed to pay a security deposit. He had absolutely nothing. We paid the $250.
Tamara, 29, has three young children. When she lost her job she fell behind in her bills and the water was shut off in her home. She started to clean houses for money and then she found a second job, too. Her combined income is $1,600 per month, but the rent takes a big portion of that. She was worried that she would never be able to save enough money to get the water back on for her children. Tamara came to the Joseph House and we paid the outstanding bill of $250.
Rebecca, 61, lives alone on a fixed income. She keeps her bills very low. Rebecca needed to have cataract surgery, but she could not afford the $200 co-pay. We sent a check for the amount to her eye doctor.
Sean, 76, and his disabled wife lost their home and had to move in with a friend. There was finally an opening in an affordable housing complex for senior citizens, but before Sean and his wife could move in they had to settle an unpaid bill with the electric company. We helped them find the funds with a $200 contribution.
The spread of the coronavirus has brought sudden changes to our world. We are writing this mid-March and we don’t know what’s in store. We hope you are well and staying healthy. Let us continue to look out for each other because that is how we stay strong. And thank you for your faithful support. Even when times are “good” life is hard for the poor. Regarding our health and everything else, we must do what we can and trust in God’s providence. Visit our website for the latest updates on our ministry.
Our prayers are with you and the whole world. May you have a Happy and Blessed Easter. We will be clinging a little tighter to the promise of the Resurrection this year.
Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary
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“What does a truly human life look like, in such times as we are enduring? In answering, I reach a point at once dazzling and darksome. The point being the consequences of the cross of Jesus. It is a point of sacrifice. The cross, (which is to say, the Crucified One) invites the living to the heart of reality, in an embrace as guileless and self-giving as it is indifferent of consequence.” – Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ
Header artwork: “Stigmata of St Francis” by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1485. Public domain.