ALLEGANY, N.Y. — When Sister Therese Joyce came into the world 100 years ago this month, her birthplace, which was in a small, thatched house in Ireland, came as something of a surprise for her family.
Joyce, who was given a birthday party earlier this month by the Franciscan Sisters at St. Elizabeth Motherhouse in Allegany, shared highlights of her childhood and her adult years as a Sister.
Born Aug. 10, 1919, little Kathleen Joyce, her baptismal name, arrived at her grandmother’s home in County Galway in Ireland while others from the family were at church. She explains that her mother, Mary McDonnell Joyce, had traveled back to Ireland to see her dying mother, and during the visit went into labor. Her father, Peter Joyce, also a native of Ireland, had stayed behind at their home in Boston, Mass.
“My mother’s mother was dying and she was expecting me … she was there before her mother died — and I surprised her,” Joyce said with a soft giggle. She noted her late, older sister, Sister Francis, who had also been a Franciscan Sister, had traveled to Ireland with their mother, as well. Her mother returned to America with her two little girls. She later had four more children.
“There were six of us, four girls and two boys,” Joyce said of her siblings. Of the six, just she and an 89-year-old brother, Jim, who attended her birthday party, are still alive.
While growing up in Boston, Joyce and her siblings were taught by the Sisters of Charity in grammar school.
“I was very much (drawn) to my fourth-grade teacher, I liked her very, very much,” Joyce said of her long-ago instructor. “It seems from then on, I wanted to be a Sister.”
When she was in high school, she recalled that some of her mother’s friends from Ireland who visited them were Franciscans.
“And they said, ‘We came to get you,’” Joyce said, emitting a sweet laugh at the memory.
She was uncertain about this at the time as she also liked the Sisters of Charity.
After working for a short while at a candy counter at a 5 &10 cent store, Joyce joined the Franciscan Sisters, and was later followed into the faith by her older sister.
In her early years, Joyce taught at a grammar school in New Jersey. After earning her master’s degree in library science, she worked as a librarian at St. John the Baptist High School in Long Island. She worked there for 34 years until she had a stroke at the age of 87, compelling her to move to the Motherhouse in Allegany.
“Three of the boys who were my students at the high school came to visit me” at the Motherhouse, she said. “They became priests, and one of them became a bishop. We had a wonderful time.”
Sister Mary Lou Lafferty, local minister of the congregation, said Joyce is admired by all at the Motherhouse.
“She attends everything, she attends prayers, she attends all activities,” Lafferty said, noting Joyce also enjoys Wii bowling and bingo. She also taught a couple of Vietnamese Sisters who lived at the Motherhouse a few years ago.
“There’s nothing she misses … and she reads the Olean Times Herald, from the first page to the last, including the classified ads,” Lafferty commented.
That revelation brought more laughter from Joyce, who added, “Even the obituaries — and they’ll tell me, ‘You don’t know anybody (in the obituaries),’ and I’ll say, ‘That’s OK, I like to read them.’”
Lafferty said they were all happy that Joyce has been doing well with her health after experiencing illness last winter.
“Her first thoughts were, ‘I want to be here for my 100th,’” Lafferty recalled. “And she made it.”
As for her birthday party, Joyce said she was pleased with those who visited, including a few relatives from Ireland who traveled to Allegany to celebrate with her. She also enjoyed presents that included a Boston Red Sox jersey, as it is her favorite team.
When asked if there was anything else she would like to do or see at this point in her life, Joyce replied with a laugh, “I want to keep going.”