Funeral Reflection for Sister Donna Johnson

(Pictured left to right: Sister Mary Ann Welder, Sister Donna Johnson, Sister Melissa Cote)

Funeral Reflection for Sister Donna Johnson
Sister Nicole Kunze, Prioress
April 24, 2018

I thank all of you for being here today to celebrate the life of Sister Donna. Our monastic community certainly extends our sympathy to Sister Donna’s family and friends who are with us and we also thank all of you for your prayers and support for us.

We all know that nursing and caring for the sick was the primary work of Sister Donna’s life. The memorial card has the verse from the Rule of Saint Benedict: “Care of the sick must rank above and before all else…”
Sister Donna worked for several years at St. Alexius and Garrison Memorial Hospital as a nurse. Most of us realize she was one to never complain about anything. On a monastery ministry form from the 1960s, when she was a staff nurse at Garrison Memorial Hospital, there was a question asking about her satisfaction with her current position. Sister Donna wrote, “Could stand a change but if necessary would be satisfied to stay.” Doesn’t that just sound like her?

I am most familiar with Sister Donna serving on the nursing faculty at the University of Mary. It was touching to read the many comments left on the Facebook post regarding her death. I’d like to share a few with you: “I can see her in heaven, saying ‘Never put the towel on your shoulder.’ I still turn my patient pillows so the opening is away from the door because of her. I am a better nurse because I had the joy of meeting her.” There were also a few posts about Sister Donna and her dancing. I’m not sure everyone knows that before the final test in her nursing class, she would dance to the country music song, “Fishin’ in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, with the hope of distracting the students and easing their stress.

One could really say any form of service was Sister Donna’s work. I often think of Sister Donna during our weekly blessing of service as I read the following verse from Chapter 35 of the Rule of Benedict as a part of the blessing: “The sisters should serve one another,…for such service increases reward and fosters love.” I can hardly remember an event at the monastery during my time here where Donna wasn’t helping with dishes, moving tables and chairs, cleaning a room or doing whatever else needed to be done. Regardless of the service she was doing, coffee breaks were very important to Sister Donna. I’m assuming that may have come from her time on the hospital floors, but she always took her morning and afternoon coffee breaks.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Donna’s love for the University of Mary Marauder athletic teams. It really didn’t matter the season or the sport – she was there, usually with Sister Mary Ann Welder. I attended numerous football, basketball, and softball games with both of them over the years. I can hardly watch a Marauders basketball game today without hearing Donna yell “Concentrate!” if someone misses a free throw attempt.

In Sister Donna’s permanent file was a document written by Sister Susan Berger in 2002, while Susan was serving as prioress. Prioresses from around the world were asked to describe a member of their community who was an example of the good zeal talked about in the Rule of Benedict. Here is a verse from Chapter 72 of the Rule describing what is meant by “good zeal”: “This, then, is the good zeal which sisters must foster with fervent love: they should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior. No one is to pursue what she judges better for herself, but instead, what she judges better for someone else.” Sister Susan chose to write about Sister Donna. Here’s an excerpt from her submission:

“Sister Donna is one of the first to anticipate the needs of her sisters by using her nursing skills to gently care for the sick. Easily approachable and even tempered, Sister Donna is always ready and willing to help those who need her assistance. Sister Donna contributes to daily community life. Her name is often on sign-up sheets to do dishes, lead prayers, or do other tasks around the monastery.” I wholeheartedly agree with Sister Susan Berger. Sister Donna was an example of good zeal.

Community was important to Sister Donna. I can hardly think of a story or situation that involves Donna all by herself. When I think of Sister Donna, it is always with someone else or a group. The only thing I remember her doing on her own was her daily walk while she prayed the rosary. She loved being a part of a group – The University of Mary Nursing Division, the LPA advisors who worked with the freshmen students, the University of Mary teaching faculty organization selling hot dogs at football games, the sisters’ choir – she was always there.

Sister Donna was someone who placed caring for the sick, serving others, and being a community member before her needs. In the obituary, there is a quote from Sister Donna stating that she prayed that she may be kind, gentle, and honest. Her prayers were certainly answered.

Well done, good and faithful servant, Donna. We are grateful for the gift you have been to us. May you now share in the glory of God with the saints in heaven.


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