Identifying Our Gifts – Joanne Burns-Theriault, Coordinator, Caritas
By Angela Rafuse, SC Centre
Joanne joined the Sisters of Charity in 2017 as the first lay person to assume the role of Coordinator at Caritas, however it seems she was destined for this role given her interconnected history with the Sisters of Charity. Joanne was born and raised in the North End of Halifax, around the corner from St. Stephen’s Convent and Parish which her family attended. Joanne’s maternal aunt is Sister Cecelia Catherine Batten (RIP), and her paternal aunt is Sister John Anthony Burns (RIP).
Joanne attended St. Stephen’s School and Saint Pat’s High School. She went on to Dalhousie University and was awarded a Sister of Charity Bursary. She worked at Mount Saint Vincent University for over 34 years. A number of the Sisters who taught Joanne now reside in Caritas.
While her role as a collaborator involves the responsibility of Manager, acting as liaison with partners and volunteers, advocating on behalf of the Sisters of Charity, you quickly realize Joanne’s “heavy work” is a bit more “abstract in nature”. The unique disposition of working in a retirement community as every Sister arrives for a different reason, some due to circumstances beyond their control. What is certain, a Sister has left a community for which they were fulfilled, comfortable and happy to be part.
When a Sister’s ministry journey calls them to Caritas, there can be a profound sense of unfamiliarity and transition: transition of new spaces, ways, relationships, and community to nurture and belong. While Joanne prepares the tangible aspects of the transition and move, the collaboration involves more unspoken aspects to fulfill. Some days may be easier than others as Sisters transition and adapt to their new community, and Joanne is here to walk with them in whatever aspect that may involve. Joanne remarked, “she has the grace to follow those steps wherever they may lead, and certainly with her faith in God”.
When we spoke about challenges in her role, you quickly learn Joanne is not one to shy away from challenges. While working full-time managing both the International Student Office and Campus Recreation and busy raising two sons with her husband Stephen, she returned to graduate studies. Studying often involved sneaking peeks into the textbooks during intermissions of her boys’ hockey games. Joanne graduated with her Masters in Adult Education and was the recipient of the Mount’s President Prize.
The unprecedented challenges during the pandemic while surreal and not to be downplayed, Joanne confronted with the confidence of her faith. From government lockdowns, healthcare deficiencies, staff and volunteer shortages, these paled in comparison to Joanne’s greatest fear of the inability to be physically present with the Sisters. The grueling obstacles and emotional challenges put on her was echoed within the Sisters and the world. Yet through adversity, Joanne’s commitment to her role, compassion for the Sisters and resilience to persevere emerged as she adapted to new ways to care for the Sisters and deliver on their needs, despite the chaos around her. In some ways, Joanne made it seem effortless and found new ways to thrive herself as the world emerges on the other side of the pandemic.
This was the longest one-on-one time I spent with Joanne, and I was truly moved by Joanne’s heartfelt care and compassion shared in her commitment to leverage her gifts to deliver on the needs of the Sisters. Her final thoughts to conclude our interview: “this is not a job; it is a ministry.”