Sister Joanna, from South China, entered Maryknoll in 1964, after teaching secondary students at Maryknoll Convent School in Hong Kong. She earned a B.A. in Mathematics from Maryknoll College in the Philippines in 1967.
Sister Joanna went to Chicago’s Chinatown in 1968 and to New York’s Chinatown in 1969. In addition, she was director of youth services at Transfiguration Church until 1986. During roughly this same period, she was co-founder and artistic director of the Four Seas Players in New York City (1970-1977 and 1983-1992). In 1986 Sister Joanna was artistic director of the Hong Kong Repertory Theater until 1990 and six years later became the group’s director. In 1992, Sister Joanna co-founded the Yangtze Repertory Theater of America in New York City, a group that produces works for and by Asian artists.
Sister Joanna also was manager of the Maryknoll Communications Office between 1976 and 1977. She was appointed coordinator of Maryknoll’s China History project in 1980. In 1991, she created our Heritage Exhibit, which chronicles the mission history of the Maryknoll Sisters, and she remains the director of the exhibit.
Sister Joanna has received many honors. A vocations’ video, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Deeds, which she wrote and directed, she won a Clarion Award for excellence in early 2000. She was also an honoree at an All-Star Salute to Chinese American Cultural Pioneers at City Hall in New York City in 1993; and July 9th of that year she was named “Joanna Chan Day” in the City of New York.
She also received the 1994 Distinguished Alumni Award from Teachers’ College of Columbia University, where she earned her M.A., M.Ed., and Ed.D. Degrees with a major in communications. Sister Joanna has been a prolific playwright and stage director in China, Hong Kong, Canada and the United States for over 35 years.
In 2002, Sister Joanna began working in the Rehabilitation through the Arts program at Sing Sing State Prison in Ossining, NY. She directed inmates in August Wilson’s Jitney and the critically-acclaimed production of Sophicle’s Oedipus Rex. In 2014, NBC’s Dateline program featured Sister Joanna and a former Sing Sing inmate, who with the help of Sister Joanna was proven to have been erroneously convicted. The program included a story about the business that this ex-inmate started after being released from prison. An Interview for the program was filmed at Maryknoll. Sister Joanna also is an accomplished painter and designer and in her youth trained for six years under the great HON Chi-Fun. Sister Joanna’s art has been presented in solo and group exhibitions throughout New York. In 2003, her oil painting An Outburst in Late Spring was honored at the Best of America Art show by the National Oil & Acrylic Painters Society.
Sister Joanna was named in 2016 as the only living Chinese person featured in a permanent exhibit “New York at its Core” at the Museum of the City of New York. In 2017, she received the Dynamic Achiever Award from OCA Westchester & Hudson Valley Chapter. She currently resides at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, NY.