It is hard for most of us to comprehend how different the world was 100 years ago – ordinary people did not have electricity, running water or cars; and of course there were no televisions, computers, or cell phones. But there were silent movies, and for one local woman, Sister Joanna Connolly a member of Sisters of the Holy Family in Fremont, her first career was as a child actress in many of those silent movies. This month Sister Joanna Connolly (childhood name: Bobbe Connolly) celebrated her 100th birthday with a party and lots of conversation remembering her 100 years.
Bobbe started her career in the movies as a baby and retired when she was 5 years old to go to kindergarten. School, family and friends defined her life for the next decade. Then one day during high school when, according to her, she was avoiding doing her homework, she read a pamphlet that explained what it meant to have a religious calling. It resonated with her, the joy of devoting one’s life to God seemed so right. A few weeks later, when she read another pamphlet, “Gleaners Along the King’s Highway” about the work of the Sisters of the Holy Family, Bobbe knew immediately that she wanted to be one of them. She kept that knowledge a secret for several years because she was not sure her father would approve. Little did she know that on the day that she was born her father had asked God to take his daughter as God’s bride. So when she finally told her plans to her father, she received his blessing. Many of her other family and friends doubted that she would last long as a novitiate of Sisters of the Holy Family, but she did, and has spent 80 joyful years as a Sister.
Sister Joanna taught religious education for many years in various cities in Southern California. She particularly loved working with children and ministering to families who were outside regular parish programs. In 1955 Sister Joanna was sent to Hawaii in response to a request from the Bishop for Sisters to teach catechism. Although the Catholic church had been in Hawaii for many years, there was very little religious education being taught there. So, just as they had done in California, Sisters of the Holy Family went out to the small towns, gathered the children and started catechism classes, holding the classes wherever they could find space, which was often outdoors. Sister Joanna loved the native people in Hawaii and was delighted to make that her ministry and home for 45 years.
Sister Joanna has lived through many changes in the church as well as the world. She remembers the day when she and the 3 other Sisters she lived with in Hawaii stopped wearing their traditional habit and for the first time wore a simple blue-grey suit and a short veil with a little bit of hair showing. She remembers when Mass went from being celebrated in Latin to English and helping counsel parishoners who found it difficult to accept the change. Sister Joanna said her philosophy was always that the gospel message was the same, and so the changes never bothered her. Now Sister Joanna is back in California, living at the Motherhouse in Fremont, still finding ways to reflect the love of God to everyone she meets.