Related: Faculty, Religion, Trinity Alumnae

Remembering Sr. Joan Bland, SND, '38



She would probably say, “Well, dear, that’s very nice, but we must not let it all go to our heads…” or something similarly wry and humble.  Since Sister Joan Bland’s death last month, tributes have poured in from all over.  This great Trinity Alumna, Sister of Notre Dame, Founder of Education for Parish Service touched so many lives with her wisdom, faith, good humor and keen intelligence.

The Trinity family — SNDs, faculty and staff, Trinity alumnae, EPS family, friends and admirers of Sr. Joan — will gather with members of Sr. Joan’s family to celebrate her life and remember her many accomplishments at Mass on Sunday, August 3 at 3:30 pm in Notre Dame Chapel.  All are welcome to attend.

Following are some of the messages we have received about Sister Joan from Trinity Alumnae:

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“I was at Trinity from 1945 to 1949.  For a part of that time Sr. Joan “filled in” in the English Dept. for Sr. Loretta (“Lottie”) and taught us at least part of a Shakespeare course.  But what I remember even more was her moderating the Inter-racial Club of which I was a member.  Her sage advice to us when we were preparing to go to Holy Redeemer parish (I think that was the name – an all Black parish under the leadership of the Josephine Fathers) to teach Sunday school has remained with me to this day. One of the things she firmly told us was:  “Do not go there as if you were Lady Bountiful.  You’re not.” For that alone I am grateful.”  (Beth McCormick, OP, ’49)


“Many people are significant influences in a person’s life. But Sister Joan was more to me—she quite simply set me on the course of my adult life. As a history major I envisaged a job in Washington at the CIA (remember that we were deep into the Cold War, and the Agency hired well-educated liberal arts majors). I knew that I needed employment, and this seemed like a decent career. Never had I imagined that I might attend graduate school and become a college professor–not very many young women thought in those terms in the late 50s. It was Sister Joan who insisted that I really ought to go to graduate school. It was she who helped me decide which universities would be best for me. And it was she who told me to apply for a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship that would cover my tuition. And so I came to Yale, and have only left it for a few years. And certainly one of the sweetest results of her gentle coaching and prodding was that I met the wonderful man I would marry.” (Cynthia Eagle Russett ’58)

“I remember Sr. Joan Bland fondly from my Trinity years, 1961-65, and recall her thoughtful gaze and shy smile. I wish I could travel half-way around the world for the August 3 memorial, but will be with you in spirit. I thank God for her life which lives on in the Trinity tradition of Knowledge, the Handmaid of Faith.” (Joan Martin Teaiwa ’65)

“I remember Sr. Joan as being very intellectual exciting and it looks like she did many valuable things after her teaching career that I knew.  Hooray for her existence!  Thank you to her family for sharing her with us.”  (Ellen Connolly Langreth ’59)


“What comes to mind are the weekly tests in US History given to all freshmen. She gave 10 questions and we had to reply with brief answers on one side of a small size paper. She was more outgoing than some of the SNDs at that time- 50 years ago, a great tribute to herself and to the college.”

(Mary “Betsey” Statt Romson ’53)


“The mention of Sister Joan Bland’s name conjures up memories of that lovely figure that floated down Trinity’s marble corridors, always listing a little to one side, with her Nun’s habit sitting on the head somewhat askew.  When asked a question, she would focus those intense blue eyes on you and begin, “My dear.”  Sister Joan loomed large in my struggle in picking a career.  I went to her in panic my senior year and asked what I should do next in life.  “What would you like to do, dear?” she asked.  Groping for some response to give I said, “Well, I would like to serve my government overseas.”  I had gone to Europe the summer before and had become aware of life beyond the continental U.S. for the first time.  She did not discourage me but hinted that my mediocre academic achievements would not make me very attractive to recruiters.  She advised me to pursue area studies, a new phenomenon in the early sixties, and I applied and was accepted at Columbia University.  I never imagined then what a dramatic turn my life would take from that nudge from mentor Sister Joan.  I think she did not either.  Years later my Arabic speaking Foreign Service husband and I invited her to come dine with us in our small apartment on 19th Street and Kalorama Road in Adams Morgan.  She happily accepted and another wonderful picture I have in my head of Sr. Joan is of her riding with David in our tiny MGB with the top down and her veil floating behind her as they whizzed through DC’s street.  I had many helpful mentors in my life after that but none had a greater impact on the path of my life than Sister Joan. She made me a better and fuller person.” (Marjorie Marilley Ransom ’59)


“I never had the pleasure of having Sr. Joan as a teacher, but as a student I knew that she had a devoted following among her students. She was terribly important to the class of 1954 of which I was a member.  I am very happy to know that she was a member of a green class also. Please extend my deepest sympathy to her sisters in Religion and to her family as well.  I will surely keep her my prayers.” (Margaret Kenney Berkey ’54)


“I remember after our graduation—exactly fifty years ago—when Sister Joan was visiting with us, the new grads, she showed that she cared and might actually miss us. I though, wow. Before as the giver of weekly quizzes in history I saw her in a sterner, though still kind, light, while always appreciating her wit.  Five decades on Sister Joan and I met at the Trinity pool where I saw the dedicated swimmer in action.  Again a role model!  I noticed her gorgeous thick white hair (always meant to ask for her hairdresser!) which of course we of mid-twentieth century Trinity never glimpsed.  Sister Joan set me on my path in history: without her I would not have done my MAs and PhD and taught and written history.  I should claim her as my feminist forebear as well.  She was a feminist without the hoopla—she left that to us!  Thanks Sister!” (Margot Farranto Badran ’58)

As a grad of TC and EPS Sister Joan was a larger than life figure in mine at two different phases of my life. In both however there was a constant; her radiant SMILE. It lit up a room and then coupled with her breathtaking and boundless (literally) she swept you up into the JOY of each and every moment. Adieu dear Sister Joan. I am sure you are giving some angels grand new ideas.”  (Kathleen Murphy Battle ’66)

Sister Joan has been very much in my thoughts since Reunion, when I learned she was being cared for at Emmetsburg. Sister Mary Ann Cook let me know that her condition had taken a turn for the worse…and then came, first, the mail from Sylvia Ba, then from you.  Sister Joan left a real mark on history students especially. She encouraged me, at least, to study unusual areas (first Chinese, then Southeast Asia) and to do graduate work. I have never regretted either choice, although I feel sure that, if my interests had been different ones, she would have pointed me in a different direction, too. We also found common ground in EPS, for I was trying to interest Catholics here in something of that order.  Alas, my memories of her are much too numerous to put into a mail. Some are humorous, some tender. When planning a US visit last summer, I decided to stop at Trinity (where the nuns gave me hospitality) last August. (Yes, August in Washington!). As a result there was time for a long, unhurried visit with Sister Joan, including a couple of trips to the swimming pool, and reminiscences about my times and hers, even to her family and her schooling. I thought I should schedule the visit then, even if I was planning to be at Reunion 2008, because during Reunions so many people want to meet and chat with their former Profs.  Now I know how precious that visit was.” (Mary Somers Heidhues ’58)


“Thank you for the notice of the passing of Sister Joan, a fellow Historian.   Please send my condolences to her personal family as well as her friends, colleagues and admirers at Trinity.”(Renee Joyner-Pitts ’07)

“Yes, in faith and in prayer she is still with us, but her absence is very real.  Astute, sympathetic, witty, outspoken–yet always gracious and with something valuable to say, to me that is and was Sister Joan and at this very moment she continues to affect my life profoundly. Some favorite memories:  in a Trinity history class, “Senator [Joseph R.] McCarthy would investigate me if I weren’t wearing a habit.”  Forty years later she told me I had moved to her left, and she was not surprised!  In the summer of l953: “Study Chinese. It’s the future.” (I did)  In spring 1978 she asked that I host a luncheon at which she could explain her grand idea–EPS–to prospective students. I was a member of the first EPS class.  In summer 1997 she urged me to come to Rome, for a three-week program directed by the EPS affiliate there.  Oh, my!  What if I had said no?!  Throughout the years, she wrote countless letters of reference, the last possibly in 1986!  We had lunch together this past October, and said goodbye on the Metro, as I got off and she traveled on to the northeast station that serves the Brookland area.  I am so very grateful for her presence.”  (Mary Ellen Forbes McMillen ’55)

We are saddened to learn of Sr. Joan’s death but rejoice in her joining the Communion of Saints at the Eternal Banquet of Life. Please extend our sympathy to her family as we are unable to attend on the 3rd of August.  Both John and I credit Sr. Joan for “getting us back together” by encouraging me to get my Masters degree at Penn, move to Philadelphia and get a bit closer to John in Boston to “work things out!”  I did and we celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary tomorrow. We’ll remember her in a special way tomorrow. Peace.”  (Susan Smyth Tew ’62)

“I have many, many cherished memories of Sr. Joan!  She was truly an inspiration – as a teacher, as a mentor, as the Founder of EPS, and as a friend.  I graduated in 1955 and was privileged to have Sr. Joan as professor of the History of England, and of U.S. Diplomatic History. She offered a vivid presentation of historical events and the human personalities that participated in them. Sr. Joan also set me on my path of China studies by arranging for Sr. Margaret Therese to come to Trinity to teach Chinese. A marvelous opportunity!  (And these many decades later I am STILL teaching the cultural history of China here in Pawleys Island, SC.)  Over the years I enjoyed visiting with Sr. Joan when I was in Washington. And I had the privilege of working with her as the Naples, FL. EPS Director.  How many lives she influenced, urging us all to continue learning and to place our talents at the service of the One who gave them to us. And she maintained a delightful mix of knowledge; astuteness and humor. Words I always associate with Sr. Joan: “Put it in the hands of the Lord.” Powerful and effective advice for many a quandary!  Thank you, Sister Joan.”  (Margaret Forbes McGreevey ’55)

“How grateful I will always be to Sister Joan, who opened my mind and heart to so many realities.  Her creative insight and zest for life still inspire me.  I missed seeing her at the recent Reunion weekend.  It would have marked her 70th.  I intended to write to her this summer, but she has been called to a greater Reunion.  Perhaps a small part of her eternal reward is somehow knowing how cherished she was and remains.  On August 3, I’ll be thinking wistfully of all the people gathered in her memory at Trinity, since family plans made long ago prevent my being present.” (Martha Murphy Schwieters ’63)


“Sister Joan was an inspirational teacher who opened the eyes of her students to a wider world of knowledge and scholarship. I felt as if I had become a different person after taking her freshman history course and treasured all my interactions with her over the years.  I took the opportunity several times to tell her what a difference she had made in my life, but I remember her impact and her leadership most clearly from a sillier incident.  When I was a few years out of Trinity, I had attended the annual Mass for teachers at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and on the way out met Sr. Joan.  We began to walk along together and, of course, she was animated and fascinating as always.  Before I knew it, we had reached Pennsylvania Avenue and she launched herself into the traffic.  It didn’t cross my mind to stop her, to tell her to wait for the light.  Instead, I went with her and the traffic stopped.  I’m sure the traffic always stopped for Sr. Joan.  I always looked forward to seeing her at Reunion…how fortunate that her Reunions coincided with mine, so many more times to enjoy her presence and to thank her. A few years after graduation, I was living in DC, getting a Master’s at Georgetown.  A gentleman friend invited me to a party and when I arrived, the only guests were two other young women and myself.  I don’t know how the young man had anticipated the evening would unfold, but it turned out the women were Trinity graduates, a year or two ahead of me and all three of us had been history majors.  We spend a wonderful evening reminiscing about Sr. Joan, each of us with amusing incidents, but also a sense of having been changed in profound ways by her wisdom, her dedication, her zeal for learning and for teaching.  I don’t know if our host had a good time, but we certainly did!” (Mary Alice O’Dowd, M.D ’63)

As I tried to think of a favorite memory of Sister Joan, I found that no one stood out . . . just the overall joy she conveyed in everything she did. She was a fine teacher, a fine lady, and a fine example of faith in action.”   (Patricia Kirby ’61) 

“My fondest memories of Sister Joan go way back to when I was in her first year History of England class, September, 1949. It seemed to me that the entire Class of ’53 was in the huge classroom, all girls, and all seated in alphabetical order in three longs rows.  Sister Joan sat at her desk smiling at all of us as we made our way to the correct seat. Her smile was sufficient to calm the jitters I felt at being in my first class at Trinity.  The book we had as a textbook was the thickest and heaviest book I had ever seen!  How could I get through it all in one semester?  Her opening lecture was filled with some humorous comments about England, the monarchy, the people, and how to approach the subject of her class.  Somehow, I managed to read the material, study for the 10 question quiz once a week, and in the process, I came to appreciate the skill of Sister Joan in her approach to history that was stimulating as well as interesting.  It was truly her story of English History.  I was saddened to learn of her death.  She will brighten the heavens with her wisdom, her wit, and her wonderful smile.” (Patricia Shannon McNally-McDonough ’53)


“As a freshman in Sister Joan’s class, I was introduced to the writings of John Courtney Murray and challenged to change my point of view on public housing and poverty. Then, in later classes she encouraged me to do research on my great, great grandfather, the first governor of California (an admirer of the Mexican culture and a convert to Catholicism) and then to pursue the Area Studies Program on Latin America. Curiously, looking back on these unrelated topics, they all come together. I continued in graduate school in Argentina and Berkeley to specialize in Latin American history, then to go to Venezuela as a volunteer worker in community development.  Later, as a Program Assistant at the Ford Foundation, I was assigned to Mexico City, where I met my husband and discovered that his father, one of the three founders of the National Action Party (PAN, now in power) had been reading John Courtney Murray and incorporated some of his ideas on Church-State relations in the platform of the PAN Party. Just this June, when I returned to Trinity for my 45th reunion, I donated two of my books on Mexican colonial Indian history to the Library. Afterward, I was so happy to greet Sister Margaret and moved when she told me that Sister Joan would have liked to have been there to see the books, since she remembered me, but was ill and not at the College. Only after returning to Mexico and receiving the notice of her death, did I realize that she had died the very day after my being at reunion.  Like so many of my classmates, Sister Joan made a difference in my life and I join you in remembering and honoring her. My best wishes and condolences to the Trinity family and to Sister Joan’s family.”  (Dorothy Tanck de Estrada ’63)


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: