Sister Joanne Seiser (formerly Mary Gregory)

Sister Joanne Seiser (formerly Mary Gregory)

January 29, 1928 – July 28, 2017

Almost from the moment she was born, Joanne Frances Seiser started exploring her world both physically and intellectually. Explorations of new places and the great mysteries of life would be a life-long practice. The eldest of three daughters, Joanne started her education in public school and then at St. Lawrence Parish School in Muncie, Indiana. The summer she finished seventh grade her family moved to Dayton, Ohio where Joanne’s father was employed as an insurance agent. She finished elementary school at Corpus Christi Parish and it was as a freshman at Julienne High School that Joanne first met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. There she excelled academically and as a pianist. In the summers Joanne worked as a receptionist at the Information Desk of Good Samaritan Hospital and as a clerk at the insurance agency.

Joanne always knew she would be a sister and a teacher. While she might have talked about teaching, becoming a sister was the one topic she did not want to talk about with anyone. Joanne recently shared that her reason for entering was very unclear in her mind and she did her best to talk herself out of the idea. What was clear was a deep sense that becoming a religious was how she was to do God’s will. It would be 15 years before Joanne would begin to understand the “why” of her call, all the while the inner sense that she was in the right place only strengthened.

Joanne entered at Mount Notre Dame on the day World War II ended. She didn’t know the war had ended that day and she thought the pealing of the bells was a very nice welcome for her. When Joanne learned the truth, she couldn’t help thinking of all the parties she was missing. It was unusual that Joanne was the only one from her graduating class who entered Notre Dame, but she quickly got to know the 11 others who entered with her. As a novice, Joanne received the name Sister Mary Gregory. She would be known as such until the late 1960’s when she returned to her baptismal name.

She spent her early years teaching music and singing classes at various parish schools and academies staffed by the Sisters. A growing need for classroom teachers and a movement to transition Notre Dame Academies to diocesan high schools meant a two-fold shift for Joanne. Her academic studies shifted to English and she was assigned to teach seventh grade at an inner-city parish in Cincinnati. While Joanne had been happy teaching music, she found she loved teaching seventh grade. She described it as “a very good experience – there was never a day that was dull,” as 32 of the toughest kids in the neighborhood taught her even as she taught them. Joanne looked back on those years as great training in effective discipline and dealing with unexpected, challenging situations.

Next, Joanne was sent to the high school level where she taught Religion, English, Choral and Latin and served as chair of the English Department at various schools staffed by the Sisters. She loved to travel and loved attending workshops, conventions and conferences. As an extroverted thinker, she was energized by the new ideas and new people she encountered in those settings. Joanne applied for grants that allowed her to participate in learning opportunities as far away as Oregon and Washington, feeding her mind and her love of exploring new places.

By 1968, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were making decisions about how to answer the call to renewal issued by the Second Vatican Council. Joanne was one of the first to volunteer to experiment with smaller living situations and to move into a new area of ministry. She and two other Sisters moved into an apartment near the University of Illinois, Circle Campus where Joanne began serving both as Associate Director of Campus Ministry and as a teacher in the English department. Over the next decade she would found and serve as Director of the Catholic Teacher Education Program, which was jointly sponsored by the University’s College of Education, the Catholic Schools office and the Catholic Student Center. As Director, Joanne designed programs for undergraduates preparing to enter the Chicago Catholic School system at either the elementary or secondary level. The programs combined academic, clinical and formation components.

At the same time, Joanne continued working in Campus Ministry and teaching in the English department. She was at Circle Campus during anti-war demonstrations following the beginning of the bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and in the aftermath of the Kent State Massacre in 1970. In a letter to the university administration she wrote, “…we found it possible during this past week to offer a Christian service: serving as liaison between dissenting factions among the students, as a source of human support to emotionally drained and frayed participants at all levels…. As Sister-Chaplain, I was actively involved in the recent ROTC sit-in when 36 of our students were arrested. While not agreeing with the actions of these students who were operating in direct contradiction to the majority vote of students at a rally held earlier that day, I do support their right to peacefully demonstrate, provided they are willing to take the legal consequences for their actions.”

In 1974, Joanne had the opportunity to visit the Taize Community in France with student delegates to the World Council of Youth. The next year she was one of 33 campus ministers and diocesan justice and peace coordinators who journeyed to Peru as part of a cultural and theological exchange program sponsored by Maryknoll. A few months after that experience, Joanne wrote: “I had to get outside in order to look inside. It was an experience…of a totally different culture and peoples, of a different value system, so that we might then return to our own country and our own ministries and take a new look at them, and then do whatever our own conscience and creativity might direct.” She continued, “Life hasn’t been quite the same since I’ve been home, I’m glad to say…the programs I find myself planning for campus or with students for themselves take on a different dimension –we have to let others know about the rest of the world, including Skid row, but not excluding the real Third World….Whether here or there, I have to stay in touch, and help others stay in touch, with these spiritual attitudes of human powerlessness and dependence on God out of which creative solutions can come, either for my own life, for the lives of the poor nearest us, or for lasting social change.” Joanne served as Director of Campus Ministry 1978-1979 and in 1978 she was one of 10 women cited for outstanding service to the campus ministry apostolate.

In 1979, Joanne was appointed as the first Director for the Lay Ministry Program of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In that position, she was responsible for developing both English and Spanish programs for the recruitment and training of lay ministers, as well as for helping to develop role descriptions for parish ministers in the Chicago Archdiocese. Joanne helped reactivate the Office for Education and Leadership Training and was responsible for the recruitment and coordination of staff and faculty, curriculum development, budgeting and liaison activities with parishes and other diocesan personnel. Under her leadership the enrollment grew from 15 to 160. Over 600 people went through the program during her time as director. During the same time, Joanne completed a Doctorate of Ministry with a special emphasis on systems-development and wrote a dissertation on “Lay Ministry Development in the Archdiocese of Chicago.”

Joanne was invited to Britain in the fall of 1985 to spend a semester teaching in a lay ministry preparation program based in Lancaster, England. Twenty-five participants from all parts of the Commonwealth benefitted from Joanne’s input while she took the opportunity to explore on weekends and familiarize herself with the SNDdeN reality in Britain. When the semester ended she took the opportunity to travel to Rome and other parts of Europe before returning to Chicago. Joanne described it as “a good break.”

Joanne returned to Chicago and served as a Consultant for Lay Ministry Development by offering resourcing and consultation services for dioceses, parishes, seminaries and other religious groups around the country. She also taught courses and workshops in university and non-academic settings and served as adjunct faculty for field experience for Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

In 1988, Joanne accepted a position as Director of Ministry for the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart based in St. Louis, Missouri. In this position, Joanne reported directly to the provincial and sat on the Provincial Council.  Her work with the Friars meant traveling extensively and stretching her creativity. She created plans to transition institutions to lay control, to systematize province ministry policies, and to facilitate planning, review and formation activities with provinces/regions, parishes, clusters of Friars and related groups of laity. Joanne described her work with the Friars as “the most challenging and interesting of all the ministries which I had been asked to do...The demands of this position…took me in many different directions in order to serve the ministerial needs of just under 500 Friars based in 16 states with varied ministries.” In a letter written to the Friars as she transitioned out of her role in 2000, Joanne wrote: “It has been my privilege to be a part of your province-life during these past years and I want to assure you that you have made a profound contribution to my own. Franciscan values and spirituality, together with the concrete personal experiences of these past years will continue to influence my life in the future.”

After her work with the Friars, Joanne took a sabbatical to rest and discern where God was leading her next. It became clear to her that Dayton was where she could best be of service. Joanne wanted to be closer and more present to her family in Dayton. She was also energized by the possibility of starting a new site for the Alliance for Worked-Based Education Program that the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur had started in 1990. Joanne approached Dayton Marriott to see if they would be interested in hosting an AWE program. They were and they estimated 8-10 employees would want to participate. Thirty signed up! The program focused on tutorial work, GED and citizenship preparation, English as a Second Language programs and practical skills development with the blue collar working force. The goal was to teach people skills to help them improve their lives and at the same time help the company retain current employees. Joanne recruited the tutors from area parishes and organized the program. The company provided on-site space, telephone services, use of office equipment, and paid participants to attend one of the two hour long tutoring sessions per week. Joanne also organized special classes for managers and staff that included Basic Spanish, Skills for Business Communication and Critical Incident Writing Skills. In March 2006, Joanne traveled to Washington DC to receive a national award from Marriott for the program. By 2009, 188 workers had participated in the one-to-one sessions and more than 30 had participated in the group classes.

On a 1976 form that asked about additional activities outside of her “official” ministry, Joanne wrote, “Too multiple to be listed here.” Through the years she was an active member in many professional organizations including the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators and the National Association of Lay Ministry. Joanne participated in justice and peace organizations and served on various Boards of sponsored ministries, on the National SND Sponsorship Committee and on various province committees. She participated in SNDdeN gatherings locally, regionally and nationally. She was a delegate to the 1984 General Chapter of the SNDdeN and served as a part-time member of the Ohio Unit Leadership Team 1972-1975, 1978-1981, and 1994-2000. Joanne said about her service on the Team: “It was a pleasure to do it and I could do it because of the flexibility of the other ministries I held at the same time.”

In community, as elsewhere, Joanne was interested in absolutely everything. Other Sisters might read the province newsletter – Joanne would make copious notes in the margins. She was fun to be around, never wanting to sit still, always ready to go explore some place new. She was always looking for a good book to read and usually was reading three books at a time. But reading a good book or seeing a good movie was not enough. Joanne also looked for people to have a “stimulating discussion” with about the book or movie. She was argumentative not to oppose, but because for her it was a way to search together for deeper truth. Joanne was deeply concerned about the need to integrate the intellectual and spiritual development of the Sisters. Her analytical skills led to dozens of ideas and in some areas Joanne’s ideas were far ahead of the moment she was living. Others were seeds sown that would later be harvested.

Failing health brought Joanne to the Mount Notre Dame Health Center in 2015. In an interview later that year Joanne praised the Health Center administration for their support and expressed her appreciation for the flexibility of life there. Grateful to be close to good friends and not far from her family she said, “I think I’m in the right place at the right time. It happened naturally during most of my life that I seemed to be in the right place at the right time.” She hoped to continue to use her gifts and start a book discussion group, but her body could not keep up with her mind.  It was clear to Joanne that she was preparing for a new exploration into the Paschal Mystery. Now as her Sisters, family and friends gather to celebrate her passage into resurrected life, we rejoice in the wonderful gift she has been to us and to so many others. We give thanks for the many ways Joanne made known God’s goodness and rejoice with her as she now contemplates with all who have gone before her the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge so that she may be filled with the fullness of God. (Based on Ephesians 3:18-19)

Bio Data

Born January 29, 1928 at Muncie, Indiana

Parents: William F. Seiser (born in Dayton, Ohio) and Dorothy M. McWilliams (born in Cincinnati, Ohio)

Siblings: Mary Ellen Pfeiffer & Carla Curry


Baptized on February 12, 1928 at St. Lawrence Church, Muncie, Indiana

Confirmed on October 9, 1935 at St. Lawrence Church, Muncie, Indiana


Entered August 14, 1945 at Mt. Notre Dame

First Profession: January 24, 1948:

Final Profession: August 13, 1953


Corpus Christi Parish School, Dayton, Ohio, 1941

Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio, 1945

Bachelor of Arts in English from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1960

Master of Arts in English from St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri, 1966

Doctorate of Ministry in Pastoral Theology from St. Mary of the Lake, Chicago, Illinois, 1985

Assignments Included:

1946-1947 Mt. Notre Dame Academy, Reading, Ohio

1948-1949 Student

1948-1949 Music teacher, Dayton, Ohio

1949-1951 St. Joseph Academy, Columbus, Ohio

1952-1953 Music teacher, Reading, Ohio

1953-1958 St. Augustine School, Cincinnati, Ohio

1958-1959 St. Stephen School, Hamilton, Ohio

1959-1960 Notre Dame High School, Hamilton, Ohio

1960-1963 Bishop Hartley High School, Columbus, Ohio

1963-1965 Mt. Notre Dame High School, Reading, Ohio

1965-1966 Student, St. Louis University, St. Louis, Missouri

1966-1967 Badin High School, Hamilton, Ohio

1967-1968 Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois

1968-1979 University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois

1972-1975 Province Leadership Team

1979-1985 Lay Ministry Training Program, Chicago, Illinois

1978-1981 Province Leadership Team

1985-1986 Sabbatical

1986-1988 Consultant for Lay Ministry Development, Chicago, Illinois

1988-2000 Director of Office of Ministry, Franciscans, St. Louis, Missouri

1994-2000 Province Leadership Team

2000-2001 Sabbatical

2002-2009 Director, Alliance for Work-Based Education-Marriott site, Dayton, Ohio

2010-6/30/2015 Volunteer, Dayton Ohio

7/1/2015-2017 Community Service, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio


Died on July 28, 2017 at Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio


Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN

July 31, 2017