Sister Joan Kerrigan, SNDdeN

Sister Joan Kerrigan, SNDdeN

(Sister Marie Eleanor)

December 16, 1933 – August 22, 2020


The biographical statements Joan wrote, first as a golden jubilarian and then for her diamond jubilee, reflect her characteristically positive disposition.  She remembers being “one of the lucky ones” in the novitiate, who by working in the school cafeteria with Sr. Lidwin Marie gained  “an idea of what my life of ministry would be like” at a time when “I wasn’t exactly sure what was ahead for me as a Sister of Notre Dame.”   Again, though she acknowledges  her first year of teaching to have been “quite a challenge” (she had 75 third-graders!),  she accentuates the positive: “I learned a great deal during that year!”  Recalling her move into  province leadership after eleven years as a parochial school principal, she writes: “This was different from being principal of a school, but it was with people I knew and loved, Sisters of Notre Dame.”   In sum, she concludes: 

I have lived a full and very rewarding life, both in community with other Sisters of Notre Dame and in ministry with children, teenagers and adults . . . .   As I look back over my years as a Sister of Notre Dame, I have much for which to be thankful.  Those I have lived within the community and those I’ve met in various ministries have meant and given so much to me.

As her impressive biodata shows, Joan earned three degrees; was Principal of four parochial schools and Assistant Principal at the Academy of Notre Dame (K St.); trained teachers in Kenya and was a part-time Instructor in Trinity College’s Education Department.  She helped found the Notre Dame Education Center in DC  to teach basic skills (reading, ESL,and computer) and help adults without a high-school diploma secure their GED certificates.  The sequence of her accomplishments is impressive.  But the rock-solid foundation for it took shape early on, in her third- and fourth-grade classrooms, where she learned what teaching is in and through her interaction with eight-  and nine-year-olds.  For her, they were little persons for whose dignity and individuality she had great respect.  Working with them on that basis, she experienced teaching as a dynamic, interactive relationship in which both teachers and students stimulate each other’s growth. 

In Joan’s file is a paper from the age of ditto machines.  Its faded purple text records a reflection she wrote during her years as a parochial-school principal. It’s a reflection on a statement from the Acts of our Congregation’s 1969 General Chapter:  “We are sent to be and to bring the Good News of the liberating action of Christ ….” (Acts, p. 8).  She  emphasizes the importance of proclaiming  God’s goodness by our presence to, and respect for, those we teach by:

  •  Providing opportunities for them to “make decisions, carry them out, and accept responsibility for their actions.”
  •  “Guiding and forming” them without having them become “merely an extension of [ourselves]”
  •  Aiming for more than rote learning.   Students need to “appropriate knowledge, develop inner strength,” and become “liberated” and “free” individuals who “share themselves with us, enabling us.”
  •  Getting  to “know” and each student and tailor instruction to her/his potential and needs: “Some students experience little if any difficulty in learning and our task is one of challenger or advisor; others plod through, needing us to be their prodders; still others experience a great deal of difficulty in the academic field,  and they need, to a great degree, our patience, understanding, and skill.”

This kind of respect for everyone under all circumstances was a hallmark of Joan’s ministry.  She had a special regard for her adult students at the Notre Dame Education Center.  They sensed that.  Long after she moved to Villa Julie, some of them continued to keep in touch by phone. 

One of Joan’s SND friends remembers how, in community, she was a person  “comfortable in her own skin,” who seemed to have an  abiding  sense that “everything is O.K.”-- or at least “getting to be OK.”   The presence and peace of the Lord seems to have been a strong part of her life.  It anchored her through her many years of fruitful ministry and was evident in her kindliness, empathy, and sense of humor when the going got rough.   She once wrote: “I believe that I have a good sense of humor.  The fact that I could remain in administration for as long as I have can attest to that!” She also remarked: “I enjoy working with others, and have always been able to get along well with my Sisters and others outside the community.”

Friendship – an essential dimension of our Notre Dame charism - was a hallmark of Joan’s life.  For her, as for St. Julie, it embraced a whole range of relationships – with Sisters of Notre Dame; with her two natural sisters, Marie and Eleanor; her nephew Chuck; her great-niece and great-nephews; with former colleagues, students, and so many others who had been part of her life.   She was a staunch companion as Sister Rose Bosler waged her losing battle with leukemia and a sensitive, empathetic presence for her sister Marie at the time of her husband’s and daughter’s deaths.  Wherever and with whomever she lived in an SND local community, she invested her time, her gifts, and her energy in making it truly a home where Sisters could let down their hair and be.  At Villa Julie, she was quick to take her turn at the receptionist's desk, drive Sisters to doctors’ appointments, take us shopping, and solve our computer problems.   Daily Mass, morning and evening prayer, recitation of the rosary for peace each Saturday afternoon were staples of her religious life.  She was fun-loving, too:  a connoisseur of ice cream (vanilla!) and a shark at playing cards (a winner, almost to the very end).

On her Kenya application,  Joan had written:  “It is hard for me to describe my particular type of spirituality.  I have a strong belief in the Church, and the Holy Spirit within the Church and within me.  I also am in awe as God reveals himself in so many ways.  I am much more reflective than verbal regarding my spiritual life.”  As she came to understand that she was dying, we asked if she was afraid.  Her one-word answer:  “No.”  It seemed to those of us who sat with her at Gilchrist Hospice Center that God was indeed present to her “in so many ways” – as Fr. Stan anointed her and gave her Viaticum (a tiny particle); as her nurse gave her a few last tastes of ice cream ever so gently;  as we prayed with her and played some of her favorite songs – especially Precious Lord, Take My Hand.  Indeed, the Lord seemed to be doing just that as she slept her way peacefully into heaven.

Images and phrases from the  readings at Joan’s Mass of Christian Burial may help us imagine the joy of her arrival and hearty welcome::

  • Judith’s triumphant cry, “Open the gates”;  the crowns of olive leaves,  the tambourines and cymbals;  the women all dancing and leading the men in a “new song” of praise (Judith 13:11; 15:12-14; 16: 1, 13);
  •  St. Paul’s glorious declaration:  “Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing  in the heavens”  (Ephesians 1: 3-14);
  •  And last, but not least, Elizabeth’s and Mary’s warm, vibrant embrace:
  •  “Most blessed are you among women!”
  •  “My spirit rejoices in God my savior!”  (Luke 1: 39-47).




  • Born Joan Susanne Kerrigan, Chester, PA
  • Parents:  James Joseph  and Susan Bradley Kerrigan
  • Siblings: Marie Kerrigan Kramaric  and Eleanor Kerrigan


  • Entered Notre Dame: August 5, 1951
  • First Profession: January 31, 1954
  • Perpetual Vows: July 30, 1959


  • Our Lady of Grace (Milmont, PA) and St. Michael (Chester, PA)
  • Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA, 1951
  • B.S. - Trinity College, Washington, DC (Education & English) - 1964
  • M.S. – Fordham University (Educational Administration & Supervision) – 1971
  • M.A.T. -  Trinity College (Education & Computer) - 1993


Elementary Education

  • St. Ursula, Parkville, MD, Grades 3-4  (1954 -57)
  • Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ilchester, MD, Grades 3-4 (1957-60)
  • Trinity School, Ilchester, MD, Grades 3-4 (1960-62)
  • St. Jerome, Hyattsville, MD, Grades 4-5 (1962-65); Principal (1970-76)
  • St. Philip Neri, Linthicum, MD, Principal & Grade 4 (1965-67)
  • Little Flower, Great Mills, MD, Principal (1967-70)
  • St. Francis Xavier, Washington, DC, Principal (1979-83)

Secondary Education

  • Academy of Notre Dame, K Street, Washington, DC, Assistant Principal (1985-87)

Post-Secondary Education

  • Instructor in Education, Trinity College, Washington, DC (Part-time, 1982)
  • Instructor, Egoji Teacher Training College, Meru, Kenya (1983-85)
  • (Including related study of Swahili in Tanzania)

Adult Education (GED)

  • Notre Dame Education Center, Washington, DC (Teacher, 1995–2009; Co-Director, 2000-2009)
  • Volunteer Literacy Teacher, Washington DC Area (2009–2011)

Provincial Administration, former Maryland Province

  • Director of Educational Ministries (1976-79)
  • Unit Leadership Team (1987-94)

Community Service and Ministry of Prayer

  • Villa Julie Residence, Stevenson, MD (2013-2020)


Prepared by Mary Ann Cook, SNDdeN, with the assistance of Joan’s community  at Villa Julie, especially Agnes McBryan, SNDdeN