Through her knowledge and skill, her experience, and her strong Franciscan values, Sr. Joanne Clavel is helping the Franciscan spirit to thrive in Spokane, Washington, and beyond. Sr. Joanne grew up in Spokane and attended St. Charles School, which the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia opened in 1951. During her years at St. Charles, she would often help the sisters in their classrooms after school and on weekends.

These elementary-school years nurtured the Franciscan seed that had been planted in her family when her parents were married. The Franciscan priest who married her parents told them he would pray that one of their children would become a Franciscan. His prayers were answered, and Joanne became the third in the family to become a Franciscan. Sr. Joanne heard and responded to the call to religious life, and after high school she entered the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia at Palatine Hill (Portland).

Her first years of ministry were spent in elementary education, teaching at schools in California and Washington. After many years, she became the office manager at the provincial office and later became the province treasurer. When the provinces closed, she moved to Notre Dame, Indiana, and completed the Master of Nonprofit Administration graduate program. She remained in South Bend for several years in social ministry. Since returning to Spokane 14 years ago, Sr. Joanne has continued her active involvement in Franciscan ministries. She served in the finance office of St. Joseph Family Center until its closure in 2016 and began a new ministry by opening the Little Portion, a small spirituality center in the convent of St. Charles Parish. (The Little Portion will be the subject of a future Good News article.)

St. Francis’ Portiuncula (meaning little portion) chapel, for which Spokane’s the Little Portion was named.

Sr. Joanne also is a gifted writer. While in South Bend she wrote many grant proposals for a parish, receiving monies for a local food pantry and its needs, including a 25-passenger bus for senior-citizen outings and a cargo van to haul food supplies. For the 125th anniversary of the Sisters of St. Francis’ presence in Spokane, she did extensive research and wrote a detailed article celebrating the anniversary and the ministries and contributions
of the Sisters of St. Francis since their arrival in Spokane in 1889.

Currently, Sr. Joanne writes a weekly “Franciscan Corner” reflection for the St. Charles and St. Ann Parish (Spokane) bulletins. The articles, which she has been writing for about five years, focus on themes that she develops and explores. Recently, for example, her articles prepared readers to take part in the Season of Creation, a yearly ecumenical celebration held from September 1 to October 4. Sr. Joanne helps to inform and involve the two parishes in the ongoing efforts to improve the well-being of our sister, Mother Earth.

Sr. Joanne’s August 8, 2021, “Franciscan Corner” for the St. Charles bulletin illustrates her use of her columns both to inform and to inspire:

  • In his encyclical Laudato Sì, Pope Francis reminds us that all things are connected. In his Urbi et Orbi blessing in March 2020, he asked how we could expect to stay healthy in a world, an environment, that is sick. In his encyclical, the Pope is appealing to us as Catholics and “every person living on this planet” to care for each other and our common home. He echoes St. Francis in calling us to be sisters and brothers to all creation, human and nonhuman. He reminds us that everything is connected. Do we believe in the interconnectedness of all things? What action can we take this week that would demonstrate our care for each other and for our common home?

Sisters Pat Millen, Joanne Clavel, Patricia Novak, and Elaine Thaden welcomed Bishop Thomas Daly to the diocese by providing him with a Franciscan candle.

Among the occasions when Sr. Joanne has been asked to use her writing gift was a “medal drop” for Joya, the organization that bought the St. Joseph Family Center property. Joya works with developmentally challenged young children. Sr. Joanne relates: “They’ve been very good at keeping us informed of their activities and plans. They invited us to come to their groundbreaking and asked me to write a prayer for a ceremony they had planned as they began construction.” The ceremony would involve taking medals of a few saints—including St. Francis and St. Joseph—asking for the saints’ care and blessing, and dropping the medals into the concrete for the foundation of the new building.

After Sr. Joanne, the Joya staff, and the construction workers prayed the prayer, the head of construction asked for a copy. “He thanked me because the prayer said, ‘St. Joseph, you were once a carpenter; protect those who will labor here, those who will work together to build this new facility.” Similarly, the Joya executive director, Colleen Fuchs, wanted a copy of the prayer, which included, “We ask that the spirit of the Franciscan sisters who ministered here be present and surround this property with peace and calm for those who labor as well as for those who will occupy the building when it is complete.”

Clearly generous with her time and experience, Sr. Joanne is a coordinator— along with companion Joyce McCown-Cleveland—of the Spokane area companions. Although the group is small, Sr. Joanne stresses that “they are very, very dedicated. If we ask them for help with some project, they are quick to say yes. They were a tremendous help for our 125th anniversary celebration, and for my jubilee a few years ago. During this time of the pandemic, they have been faithful to companion Zoom meetings as well as any other Zoom presentations they have been invited to attend.”

In another gift of her time and experience in support of the congregation’s mission, Sr. Joanne is the director of the Mission Fund of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. She facilitates the application process, convenes the administrators in their annual meeting, replies to all applicants, and works with the finance office in distributing the funds to those sisters and agencies who are approved each year. As she explains, “By partnering with and supporting agencies and organizations that minister to our sisters and brothers who are in need, the mission of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia continues.”

With these and further gifts and ministries, Sr. Joanne, joining with the other Sisters of St. Francis in Spokane, is keeping the Franciscan spirit strong and active and is, as she says, “doing what is mine to do.”

Winnie Hayek