Sister Joyce Wittman, SSND
May 13, 1947 – June 29, 2020
Joyce Louise Wittman and her twin sister, Jacqueline Helen, were born in Rochester, New York, on May 13, 1947, into a family of three boys, Eugene, John and William. Family lore had it that after three boys their father hoped for a girl and got two! Lewis and Helen Verhage Wittman were natives of Rochester. On June 2, they baptized their girls at St. Ambrose Church, and later enrolled them in the parish school taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. Here the twins received First Communion a year early in 1954, because the pastor wanted the babies he had baptized to receive Communion from him before they moved to a new home in the country.
In Gates, NY, their father built their new home next to that of his parents, and Holy Ghost School in Coldwater became their new school, where they were taught by SSNDs. Sister Mercia in the second grade grew accustomed to Joyce’s telling her that she was going to be a “Sister, but not her kind.” On June 24, 1961, the twins graduated from the eighth grade, and Joyce spent her first two years of high school at the Notre Dame Aspiranture at Holy Angels in Fort Lee, New Jersey. When the Academy was preparing to move to Demarest, the Aspiranture closed, and Joyce spent junior and senior years at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Rochester. Here she learned a valuable and beautiful life-long skill, calligraphy.
Joyce became a postulant with 34 others in Wilton on September 12, 1965. Sister Lewis Maura became her religious name a year later at Reception on July 16, 1966. First vows followed on July 18, 1967. “So that her ever growing family could attend,” she pronounced final vows at Holy Ghost Church in Rochester on July 18, 1976.
Her first five years of teaching middle school, 1968-73, were at St. Brigid School, Westbury, Long Island, followed by a year of study at Seton Hall University for a B.S. in Elementary Education, awarded in 1974. A year at Holy Family School in Rochester led to 11 years at Bishop Kearney High School, 1975-86. Sister Joyce was head of the Religion Department, teaching five religion classes a day, each with 50 students. By 1985 she had also received an M.A. in Religion from Boston College. She moderated the famous Kearney Marching Band’s Color Guard, as well, and went to Dublin for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
In 1986, Joyce left Kearney as the school year was beginning; she remained in Wilton for the next 34 years. Her varied ministries there, as Driver, Sacristan, Supervisor of Reception Desk, and Medical Van Driver on Lourdes Health Care Staff, were invaluable to the community. Her kindness to the Sisters she transported and companioned to appointments was very much appreciated. In 1995, she served at the Generalate in Rome as driver and sacristan for several months.
A very strong support to her in these years was her cousin, Father Edward Frank, who ministered in South Georgia, a gentle, kindly priest who celebrated his 40th anniversary of Ordination at Wilton on Pentecost Sunday in 1997. He was a frequent visitor. Joyce loved her brothers’ children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren (the last two a total of 37), and reveled in their doings. Many years she spent the month of May in Rochester connecting with her Kearney students, family and friends.
During all this time, even in the midst of her ministerial effectiveness, Joyce’s choice was to be completely absent from ordinary community life. In the last year or so, though, she would join her assigned small community, Augustine, for socials, and seemed to enjoy being there.
In July 2019, Joyce received the diagnosis of a rare form of cancer of the mouth. When treatment was described to her, she chose to have no treatment, entrusting her care to the Wellness staff at Villa Notre Dame and Hospice of Fairfield County. She believed at first that God would call her home by Christmas. During the weeks and months that followed, community leader Theresa Lamy was a constant, daily, loving support to her.
As her energy lasted well into the springtime, Joyce planned her funeral and burial in Rochester in meticulous detail. She connected closely with her large family and many friends and enjoyed going out to places she loved. In March 2020, as VND was entering strict quarantine for the COVID pandemic, her dear friend since second grade, Marilyn Entress Assenato, arrived to be with her. Quarantined with the community, Marilyn was with Joyce every day while the community grew fond of her humor and energy.
On the evening of June 29, 2020, 333 days after her diagnosis, Joyce gave her life peacefully back to God. Marilyn was alone with her. Her cremains will eventually be buried in Rochester when her funeral can be celebrated as she planned. Friends from the town of Wilton celebrated her life at a prayer service on the evening of July 6 at Our Lady of Fatima Church.
- Sister Kay O’Connell