Sister Joy Peterson
A Joyful Presence
It is a pretty rare occasion when one’s name so perfectly fits one’s personality. Perhaps that bespeaks the foresight of parents, or perhaps one becomes what the name requires. In any case, it is incredibly true of Sister Joy Peterson that her name illustrates her personality. One would rarely see her without a light in her eyes and a smile on her face. Nor would one find her without kindness in her manner.
Yet, Sister Joy is no stranger to holding responsible positions. She just fulfills them with ease and an inner spirit of joy and generosity. The oldest of four children of Bob and Dorothy Peterson, Sister Joy was familiar with responsibility from an early age, as oldest children often are. She grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, until her family moved to Mason City, Iowa, when she was in ninth grade. It was at St. Joseph and Newman High Schools that she came to know the Sisters of the Presentation, and developed an affinity for their ministry and, in imitation of their foundress, their concern for the poor. Sister Joy entered the Presentation community in 1963 after graduating from Newman High School.
Sister Joy earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Clarke College, after which she taught intermediate grades, and later, high school. These ministries occurred in Elkader, Whittemore, Dubuque and Algona, all in Iowa. In intervening summers she earned a master’s degree in Teaching Elementary Social Studies from Clarke College in 1977, and a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois, in 1988.
Subsequent to her years of teaching, Sister Joy offered other skills in various ministries. She served as a parish minister at St. Mary Parish in Spirit Lake, Iowa. She was a member of the formation team for the Presentation community, and subsequently served as vocation director. In 1998 she was elected to the position of congregational leader of the Sisters of the Presentation. Upon completion of that five-year term, she was re-elected, serving a second term which ended in 2008. These positions were again a recognition of her many talents.
After leaving leadership, she was an intern at the United Nations in the Non-Governmental Office as part of the International Presentation Association office. There she had significant experiences with religious men and women from diverse countries, ministries and backgrounds. “I learned volumes about the functioning of governments in various parts of the world, and in the multi-faceted global efforts for justice,” states Sister Joy. “This was a welcome broadening experience, which enhanced my already-active passion for justice.”
Thus, upon her return from the United Nations, it was not a surprise that she assumed the position of promoter of peace and justice for the Dominican congregation in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, a ministry which she greatly enjoys and at which she excels.
Based on the premise that everyone is encouraged to be concerned about justice issues, Sister Joy represents the Dominican congregation in many settings so that she can keep sisters and associates alert to current issues. “The Dominican Sisters have several groups within the community which focus on various justice needs,” states Sister Joy who serves as an energizer for these groups, as well as an organizer of the details of their agenda, decisions and efforts. “I attend their meetings and promote their concerns. I keep the community at large informed of broad justice issues by sending a monthly newsletter and emails on important current issues, such as forwarding a message from Network calling for contacting legislators, etc.”
Sister Joy speaks of her ministry: “I feel a great responsibility, whether it is in shareholder action which requires dialogue with corporations, or in helping develop corporate stances which make a public voice for the congregation on important issues.”
Sister Joy credits her parents for her interest in the pressing justice issues of today. “I learned from them that the way one loves God is by caring for others, and service was always a part of my family experience.” Her high school years also provided many opportunities for service, and she readily took advantage of those.
Sister Joy believes that there are “two feet of justice” – performing works of concern/care for others and working for systemic change where there is injustice and/or inequality. She recalls that the Presentation community established a justice committee as early as the 1970s, of which she was a member. “Looking back I realize how the community has grown in its understanding of justice issues and in its grassroots efforts toward systemic change.”
Sister Joy has enjoyed all her ministries. Those who know her know that she has always brought to them a passion and a desire for the very best outcomes. Perhaps some of her joy arises from communing with nature: she loves the outdoors. She also enjoys reading materials that are a bit lighter than the reading that constitutes part of every work day.
It is true to the heart of Presentation foundress, Nano Nagle, that several Presentation Sisters have various forms of justice work as their primary ministry, and that others in the community directly serve the poor and marginalized. Each of these sisters is supported by the prayer, encouragement and cooperation of the rest of the community and its associates.
And none of this is new. For many years Presentation teachers and principals very quietly provided breakfasts and lunches for children who came from homes where there was never enough food. This is the long tradition that precedes today’s efforts and keeps all sisters and associates involved in the needs of those who are disadvantaged.
Left photo: Sister Joy Peterson, PBVM (left) and Sister Anne Sur, OP, review the status of the work they share in serving on the Dominican Alternative Investment committee.
Right Photo: Sister Joy Peterson gives the community at Sinsinawa regular updates on current issues of justice such as immigration reform.