Birth: January 19, 1932
Profession: July 21, 1963
Death:September 12, 2013
Religious of the Sacred Heart Joan McKenna died September 12 at Oakwood, the Society of the Sacred Heart’s elder care center in Atherton, California. Known for her razor-sharp mind, tireless curiosity and a beautiful gift for friendship, her life will be celebrated in a Mass of Christian Burial Saturday, September 21 at 10:00 a.m. at Oakwood, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027. Burial will be in the Sacred Heart Cemetery at Oakwood.
Joan McKenna was born in San Francisco on January 19, 1932 to Henry P. and Agnes McGuire McKenna. She is survived by her only sister, Kathleen P. McKenna, as well as her sisters in the Society of the Sacred Heart.
Joan attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco (Broadway) on scholarship, initially finding the environment strict and confining. However, her daily chapel visits combined with her admiration for the nuns, helped to change her attitude toward the school and toward religious life. She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1954, after graduating from San Francisco College for Women. She made first vows in 1957 and her final profession in Rome in 1963.
Sister McKenna’s first assignment was at the brand new Convent of the Sacred Heart School in El Cajon, CA, where she taught juniors in high school for three years. When she was sent to teach at her alma mater in San Francisco, she found herself teaching her own sister, Kathleen.
During the tumultuous1960s, she served at both the San Francisco College for Women (later Lone Mountain College) and the San Diego College for Women (now the University of San Diego). Her love for students and teaching made her popular with both students and administration, and she often served as peacemaker between the two.
For three years, 1974-77, Sister McKenna was principal at Schools of the Sacred Heart School in San Francisco.
In 1977, Sister McKenna entered law school at the University of San Francisco. Upon graduation, she worked for the city attorney in San Francisco for three years. She returned to the classroom – where she felt most at home – in 1984 as a teacher at Sacred Heart Prep, Atherton. The following year, she also began teaching theology at the University of San Francisco, where she taught world religions, social justice and European history for 17 years. She found her ministry so stimulating and her relationships with students so life-giving that, as she stated it, “I didn’t grow old!”
In 1998, Sister McKenna agreed to serve as interim director of Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton. For nearly three years, she provided gracious and skilled leadership. She returned briefly to the University of San Francisco, then spent many years as a volunteer mentor for teachers and tutor for students at St. Martin de Porres School in Oakland. She retired to the Oakwood community in 2011.
Sister McKenna was a very caring person, sociable, interested in people and a born educator. She taught many women who went on to join her as a Religious of the Sacred Heart. She received the 2002 St. Madeleine Sophie Barat Award from Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton: “Hers has been a life of learning and helping others to learn, in a tradition of values-based education that she treasures.”
One colleague recalled, “I remember Joan’s comments to the St. Joseph’s graduating class of 1999, in which she quoted Micah and encouraged the students to ‘act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with their God.’ These simple words were made all the more powerful by the fact that they were delivered by one who has lived them herself and one who has consistently made her faith so accessible to others.”
Joan McKenna was a graduate of the Convent of Sacred Heart, San Francisco. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degree in History from San Francisco College for Women, a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of San Francisco and a law degree from the University of San Francisco.
Memorial contributions may be made to Oakwood Retirement Center, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027, or the Sister Joan McKenna Scholarship Fund, C/O Sacred Heart Schools, 150 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027.