SISTER MARY JOYCE PIETSCH, SSND
“His banner over me is love.” (Song of Songs 2:4)
On the morning of May 4, 2021, as sisters were gathering for the prayer service for Sister Beth Haltiner, word was received of the death of our beloved Sister Mary Joyce Pietsch, 96. She died in Notre Dame Health Care at Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mankato, her home for the past 61 years.
The Funeral Liturgy for Sister Mary Joyce, with Father Eugene Stenzel as presider, will be held Thursday, May 13, 2021, at 10:30 a.m., followed by burial in the Good Counsel Cemetery. A Prayer of Remembrance will be held Thursday morning at 9:00 a.m. We extend our sympathy to Sister Mary Joyce’s sister, JoAnne Blockey, her brother Roger (Ruby), her sister-in-law, Annie, her nieces and nephews and their families, her colleagues and former students, and her sisters in community, the School Sisters of Notre Dame and SSND Associates. She was preceded in death by her parents, Joseph and Anna (Hoehn) Pietsch, her sister Charlotte St. Martin, and her brother, Joseph.
In 1919, Minnesota-born Joseph and Anna Pietsch moved to Richmond, Virginia, where Joseph and his brother operated a billiard hall/bowling alley. Four of their children were born in Richmond; their second child, Harriet Anne, was born November 7, 1924. She received the sacrament of baptism two weeks later at St. Joseph Church. In 1930, when Harriet was five, the business failed because of the Depression and the Pietsch family moved back to Minnesota, settling in North Mankato. Harriet began first grade that fall at Holy Rosary School, where she was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She later wrote, “From my first day at Holy Rosary School, I loved the good School Sisters of Notre Dame. The idea of becoming a sister was a dream never to be realized (so I thought) for they were not human beings. I loved the sisters and always wished I had been born one, but as long as I was not, the matter was put aside for about eight years.”
Instead, she focused on school and on one of her father’s great passions, baseball. She commented, “Many summer afternoons found our family attending ballgames, umpired by my dad.” (Later her dad was named “Mr. Baseball of St. Paul,” and he won a trip to the World Series in New York.)
After sixth grade, Harriet and her family moved across the river to Mankato and she completed her elementary education at SS. Peter & Paul School. During eighth grade, the desire to become a sister again surfaced. However, her dad found employment with the State of Minnesota Conservation Department, and the family moved again, this time to St. Paul. Harriet attended John Marshall High School and graduated in 1942. During High School she was active in the Catholic Youth Center. (And during the summer she attended St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Miller baseball games.) Following graduation, she worked for two years filing and typing insurance forms at Anchor Casualty Insurance Company.
Desiring more in life, Harriet entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame candidature in 1944. She wrote, “In between studies, what fun we had playing softball!” The group picture for her candidate class shows her seated on the ground, holding a softball and bat. As a second-year candidate, she taught third graders at St. Andrew School, St. Paul. She was received into the novitiate in July 1946 and given the name Sister Mary Joyce. After profession of vows in 1947, she taught junior high grades at St. Matthew School for two years. In 1949, she was assigned to Strasburg, North Dakota, during a time when Catholic schools functioned as public schools. A law had been passed forbidding the wearing of the religious habit while teaching, which required sisters to wear secular clothing. Sister Mary Joyce described her experience, “It was both a penance and a privilege to be able to make this sacrifice. It has only made the habit dearer than ever to each one of us.” She remained at Strasburg until 1953, when she moved to Holy Family School, Clarkston, Washington, and stayed for one year and then to Holy Guardian Angels School, Colton, Washington, until 1960. She divided her time between the elementary school and Notre Dame Academy, where she taught shorthand and typing. During her years of teaching, she earned a BA in English from St. Catherine’s College in 1953 and an MA in education from Gonzaga University in Spokane in 1958.
Sister Mary Joyce continued her story, “As needs grew in the administration area at Good Counsel, much to my joy I was called in from the West to do the work I really love – secretarial work and accounting.” Her list of meticulously detailed job descriptions gives a good picture of how her role changed over the next 49 years. She worked with seven Mankato Provincial Leaders and their councils. As province secretary she prepared documents, letters, and lists; kept minutes for the various meetings; wrote the province chronicle and obituaries; edited province communications (she was especially proud of Currently, a printed province communication); proofread the writings of others; and answered questions on province history, geography, personnel and events, as well as many other topics (“Ask Sister Mary Joyce”.) She also kept a well-organized filing system of personnel and other records, saving documents and photos for the Archives. She commented at the time of her 45th anniversary of secretarial ministry: “Over the past 45 years I have seen many changes – from the days of almost 900 sisters, over 400 Academy girls, less than ten lay employees, about three cars, and wheat fields and gardens where the Education Center now stands – to these days of our being blessed with over 100 dedicated lay employees.” She described another set of changes: “I have seen so many changes over the years – from the days of typewriters (no computers), carbon paper (no copiers). . . .” Sisters who worked with her over the years tell of her reluctance to give up her typewriter for a computer, although she eventually fully appreciated how a computer could assist in her work.
For the first 27 years she assisted in various ways with province finances. This gave her the opportunity to attend regional finance meetings in several motherhouses and priories in Minnesota and both North and South Dakota. In 1968 Sister Mary Matthew Michel also began working with province finances, and she and Sister Mary Joyce formed a strong bond that continued after Sister Mary Matthew retired in 1999.
Another role that Sister Mary Joyce held was that of secretary for the SSND North American provincial leadership group, a position that she held for 11 years. She wrote about this experience: “I had the opportunity to come to know and appreciate the Provincial Councils and their leadership. I attended meetings in all eight Motherhouses in the United States and Canada, and two highlights were a trip to our Region of Puerto Rico and our Region of Japan, which also gave me an opportunity to go to Hiroshima.” In 1987, she was invited to Rome to serve as one of the secretaries for the General Chapter, another memorable experience. For almost every travel experience, she compiled a 3-ring binder with postcards and other mementos of the trip.
Sister Mary Joyce used her secretarial skills in a variety of ways, including recording retreat conferences in shorthand and then typing the conferences for sisters who desired a copy. From 1971 through 1978 she was the secretary of the Mankato City Charter Commission. She also served as secretary for the Winona Diocesan Board of Education in the 1980s.
Her interest in and knowledge of the Minnesota Twins baseball club was legendary; when games were played on the West Coast, she stayed awake, listening to the game until it was completed. On the occasion of her retirement in 2009, she was an honored guest at the Twins Winter Caravan in Mankato.
Sister Mary Joyce remained close to her brothers and sisters and their families, and she relished time spent with them. She shared an interest in family history with them and enjoyed learning more about Richmond, the city of her birth, and Madison Lake, the village of her mother’s birth.
Throughout her life as a School Sister of Notre Dame, she was appreciative of the “many spiritual advantages, daily prayer with the community, and the life with my companion sisters who are an inspiration to me by their love and lives of dedication.” Sister Mary Joyce retired in 2009 but continued to give service as long as she was able.
The full text of the Scriptural theme for Sister Mary Joyce’s funeral liturgy is “God has taken me to His banquet hall and the banner He raises over me is love.” May Sister Mary Joyce now be a permanent resident in God’s banquet hall, enjoying eternal life under God’s banner of love!