Obituary of Sister Joyce L. Wittman SSND
Sister Joyce L. Wittman, Sister Lewis Maura, SSND
At the age of 73, Sister Joyce, a School Sister of Notre Dame, entered into eternal rest on June 29, 2020 at Villa Notre Dame in Wilton, CT. She is predeceased by her parents Lewis & Helen Wittman; brother, Eugene Wittman; sisters-in-law Jeannie Wittman & Dorothy Wittman. Sister Joyce is survived by the School Sisters of Notre Dame; brothers, John (Margaret) Wittman & William Wittman; twin sister, Jacqueline Wittman; 37 nieces & nephews; the loving Wittman, Frank & Torpey cousins & BFF, Marilyn Entress Assenato; the OLM class of 1965; many friends and students who crossed her path through the years.
SISTER JOYCE’S FAMILY IS REQUIRING ALL GUESTS TO WEAR MASKS AND PROPERLY HAND SANITIZE AT ALL OF THE SERVICES. THANK YOU!
Sister Joyce’s celebration of life will be, Saturday, August 15th, 9:30 AM at St. Jude the Apostle Church, 4100 Lyell Rd. Interment to follow in Holy Ghost Cemetery.
In honor of the Holy Spirit please consider wearing red to her services. In lieu of flowers donations may be sent to School of the Holy Childhood, 100 Groton Parkway, Rochester, NY 14623 in Sr. Joyce’s memory.
My name is Rev. Betsy Fisher. I am an Episcopal priest in the diocese of Western Massachusetts. I was raised Roman Catholic on Long Island, NY and attended St. Brigid School in Westbury. That is where I met my friend Joyce. It was the first day of school 1968. We had been taken to a classroom that everyone know was the classroom of a very good but very strict nun. My sister had had her. My sister was very compliant. Let’s just say, I was not! This very good and very strict nun loved my sister. I knew this was not going to go well with the two of us, so I took the last seat in the corner of the classroom to be as far away from this good but strict nun as possible. Suddenly, this five- foot -nothing nun who looked about 2 weeks older than all of us, and was NOT the good but strict nun, was standing in the doorway staring at us very seriously. We had never seen her before and, not knowing who she was, we all just stared back. In her most serious and strict voice (which I later learned took tremendous practice and I must admit wasn’t very scary at all!), she said to us “I think it is customary in this school to stand when your teacher enters the room.” We were dumbstruck, and all I could think as we all stood to greet her was, “This is going to be fun!” And I wasn’t wrong! My seventh- grade year with Sr Lewis Maura was a life changing experience for me. And it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. There is so much to say about Joyce, so much good to share. But I want to share with you
three things that Joyce taught me that changed my life.
Frist, as a 13- year- old girl, she helped me see that I mattered. She listened to what I thought and felt with respect and patience and love. I was the youngest of six children in my family, 4 sisters and a brother. I had interesting, talented, and successful siblings. As a young girl, it was sometimes overwhelming to try and make my mark amid these siblings that I adored and looked up to. But with Joyce, I really felt seen. She got me. And she made me feel like I mattered, that I, too, could be successful and make an impact on the world. She helped build my 13-year-old self’s confidence to go find my life.
The second thing Joyce taught me was how to do just that, how to find my life and make an impact on the world. The most important thing she taught me is you make the most impact be being authentic. Just be yourself. Joyce was completely and totally authentic. She didn’t try to fit into a role. She was simply her vivacious self! Growing up, we were often taught about the lives of the saints. Honestly, the never really grabbed me. They seemed way too pious for me, and kind of boring. But Joyce showed me you can live a life given in God and still be yourself. You didn’t have to be perfect, meek or mild (which I was never going to be able to do!) You can be fully yourself and know that is exactly the way God loved you. As yourself! She gave me the courage to take risks and make mistakes, because she showed me, I was loved no matter what. And she showed me that living a life rooted in God can be fun! Because she was fun and joyful. And compassionate when life was hard. And forgiving when life was unfair. She didn’t waste a moment.
Which brings me to the third thing Joyce taught me. She taught me how to die. I spent several years working as an oncology chaplain and a Hospice chaplain. I have seen many people face their deaths. I have never seen anyone do it with more grace, and peace and life than Joyce. She lived fully every day until she died. And she lived her final 333 days with gusto- from the bucket list adventures she shared with her BFF Marilyn, to enjoying an ice cream cone, to reaching out to friends and family, giving away her belongings and telling them how much she loved them, to posting messages on Facebook reminding all of us to enjoy this day, and that we are loved, and that life is a gift. I told her that her final ministry was a Facebook ministry. She reached hundreds of us with her daily posts and poured out her hope and joy and belief in the goodness of God, she reminded us of the preciousness of life, and the dignity of every human being. I am really going to miss those daily reminders. She had no time for self-pity, for “why me” moments. For anger and, most especially, for fear. She knew her God, she knew she was loved. She knew where she was going, and she was ready. What a gift we were all given to have shared this last year with her. The most extraordinary thing about Joyce is that I know I am not the only person who was impacted so deeply by her. There are thousands of students and fellow sisters and friends all over the country who had the same kind of experiences with her. This was who she was. She brought life, tremendous life, and hope, and compassion and joy to all of us who knew her. She showed us the face of God, and helped us believe that we mattered, that we were loved, that our lives meant something. Her was a life well lived.
In closing, I’d like to share with you a prayer. It is my favorite prayer. Last March, Joyce calligraphed this prayer and sent it to me. When I read it again, it struck me that this is how Joyce lived. This is what made her so extraordinary.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
God bless Joyce, and all of us who loved her. I will miss you, my friend, more than you will ever know
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