I was at least 10 years old when I realized leading a religious life was my true calling. Born as Joan Marie Van Hoey, I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan in a large family with seven siblings. I attended Our Lady Refuge, a Catholic school where Felician Franciscan Sisters taught the elementary grades. I was impressed with their teaching methods and moved by their faith in God.
I was 14 years old when I told my father, a physician and surgeon, my intention to enter the convent. My young age prevented me from making that commitment, and my father advised me to wait and experience life before making that decision.
It was two years later that my father died of a massive coronary heart attack at 54. Being the oldest girl in the family, I stayed home for 8 years and helped raise my younger siblings. This allowed my mother to work and support the family, and get us through those difficult years.
It was my father’s words, “to experience life,” and God’s divine providence that led me down my certain path.
A Pilgrimage that Changed My Life
I left home at 24 and was accepted to what was then known as the Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids to study interior design, but paying for both school and supporting myself became too much to bear. I left after one semester to work in the service industry for 20 years.
At the same time, I volunteered on the weekends in my parish as a certified catechist for handicapped children for 18 years. This program enabled young children to learn basic faith. However, they also taught me the beauty of transcending their limitations and working with the capabilities and competencies they had. They taught me how to respect the dignity of their personhood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this experience was the Lord preparing me for the future.
In 1992, a friend invited me to join an eight-day parish pilgrimage to Medjugorje (then part of Yugoslavia), where six children reportedly saw apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I had this desire to join the religious community, but honoring my father’s words of experiencing all that life had to offer was also of great importance to me. So, I accepted the invitation. It was during this trip I met with one of the six visionaries who saw the Virgin Mary. She prayed over each of us in the group.
Pondering the trip on the way home and what we had done, something in my heart stirred deeply. I realized it was time. I always had the religious vocation. The problem was timing. I was too young at first. But then there was also no guarantee the convent would accept a candidate at 48 years old.
After accomplishing all of my goals in the secular world, Jesus was asking me to, “Let Go.” I was straddling two different worlds: secular and religious life. It’s a very sharp contrast. However, I often said these words to myself, “Lord, with your grace and Your trust, You will guide accordingly.” I realized that my religious vocation had been confirmed and the next step was to search for a spiritual director.
Journey of Faith
I found a spiritual director and set off to go through a three-year discernment process, a necessity to find my religious vocation. This journey of discovery is where you determine what the Lord is calling you to do through prayer, meditation, and receiving the sacraments frequently. For me, that meant confirming I was indeed being asked to serve God through a religious vocation. I continued to pursue this by visiting different religious communities around the region in search of an order that spends a lot of time serving the community. I found that in Peoria with the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.
The completion of my discernment process led to a letter of acceptance from the vocational director of the formation program. I was approved to enter the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Peoria on Feb 2, 1995, and begin a seven and a half year journey of faith into the different steps of religious life. I took the Evangelical Vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. My vocation is continually being renewed in the commitment of service to living the Franciscan spirituality.
Volunteering in Our Healthcare Apostolate
Serving my community has always been of utmost importance to me. As part of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, our primary apostolate is healthcare—meaning my fellow sisters and I work within OSF HealthCare to help care for the sick and poor. My first mission was to serve in the Pastoral Care Ministry at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington, serving both the medical-surgical floor and patients on dialysis. I also completed two years of Clinical Pastoral Education, learning how to better serve in the apostolate.
I was then transferred to an ambulatory care clinic in Pontiac to help patients with physical, emotional, mental, and financial needs. It was Sister Judith Ann who appointed me to this role because she saw a need in having a sister’s presence within the medical group. I was able to incorporate my Clinical Pastoral Care education into the medical group office with staff, families, and patients. If one of the physicians had given patients difficult news, I was called in to be with the patient and pray with them. I also did a multitude of front office assistant duties and traveled to different clinics in the region. It helped to teach and exemplify by example, not so much by words, but by the example of the OSF Mission.
From there, I went to OSF St. Mary Medical Center in Galesburg to work in outpatient services. Then after 7 years, it was time for me to return to Peoria. It was then that I was encouraged to fill a need at Jump.
The experiences I’ve gained throughout the Ministry are invaluable as I serve as a receptionist at Jump. I can take all the lessons I‘ve learned from the Pastoral Care Ministry and apply them to the education, research, and innovation taking place that could lead to new and better ways to help the sick and poor.
I’m energized by the people here, the spirit, and the fact that members of the staff all work together. It’s an exciting adventure, and with the upcoming opening of the 3rd and 4th floor, it opens up a whole new world of creativity in medicine. I imagine this is what my father was thinking of when he told me I should experience all that life has to offer.