I’ve lived more outside my American culture than I’ve lived in it,” remarks Sister Joanne McMahon.
The educator who arrived at Maryknoll in 1946 from Duluth, MN, with a passion for missionary service in her heart, arrived in Micronesia in 1952, where she would teach on the islands of Yap and Koror for 59 years.
During that time she would teach middle school, serve as principal of St. Mary’s Elementary School begun by Maryknoll Sisters, and help start a teachers training program, helping the school grow until its administration and faculty would be entirely Micronesian.
Beginning in 1971, and for the next 40 years, Sister Joanne focused on religious education, becoming coordinator of such programs for the whole island, then working with church leadership of the two Catholic parishes on Yap, as well as with nine Christian communities on the Island.
As the communities developed, plans for the first Catholic high school formed and Sister Joanne joined a task force of ten with making the dream a reality for the Catholics of the island. By 2008, 83% of the population was Catholic and 60% under twenty-five years of age.
Born in Brookston, MN, Sister Joanne, whose religious name was Sister M. Francis Xavier, attended Sacred Heart Cathedral High School in Duluth. Following her graduation in 1942, she worked as a bookkeeper for a year, then as a secretary for her parish (Sacred Heart Cathedral), entering the Maryknoll Sisters from Duluth in 1946. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Maryknoll Teachers College in 1952.
Sister Joanne’s knowledge of language, customs and thinking enables her to train local leaders for a society in transition. One of Sister Joanne’s eighth grade students became the first Yapese priest, ordained a Jesuit in 1983.
In 2011 Sr. Joanne returned to Maryknoll Sister Center where she is retired.