Life at the Center: Sister of All – Sister Joan Chatfield 1932-2019

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Sister Joan Chatfield profoundly influenced many lives for the better during her time here on earth with us. On the few, precious occasions that I had the chance to speak with her, she struck me as an absolutely authentic human being. Nothing about her was fake or put on. She was genuinely interested in meeting me – whoever I might be – as a fellow soul on life’s path. And I saw her – a Catholic nun – reach out to many others in that same inclusive way, whether at Gandhi Day celebration events, at The Interfaith Alliance meetings, at Peace Day, at a Mouna Farm and Cultural Arts Village event, or at the Voyage of Aloha convention. Wherever  like-hearted, big-hearted souls gathered on Oahu, Sister Joan seemed to be there.

Sister Joan left her body this last Friday, March 1st, and while many grieve her passing, she remains a strong presence in our lives. Raj Kumar, president of the Gandhi International Institute for Peace, tells me, “Sister Joan was like a real angel in my life. Her noble deeds were like Mother Teresa’s. She united people from all faiths to promote love, peace and harmony in our community. We will continue her legacy.”  He adds, “Sister Joan was a great soul.”

Dean of Humanities at Chaminade University, a professor at the University of Hawaii, and a teacher in Hawaii’s Catholic schools for decades, Sister Joan lovingly helped many young people to shape their lives in uplifting ways they may never otherwise have considered. Sonia Fabrigas shares how, as a student attending her religion classes at UH Manoa, Sister Joan profoundly guided her early life in ways that far surpassed Sonia’s comfort zones.

“Once I graduated with degrees in comparative religion and comparative philosophy, Sister Joan offered, or should I say, threw me into a peace education program working with prostitutes leaving their profession. I suspect she wanted to me to find peace with any judgements and fears I had within, as I would otherwise fail to educe peace in these women.”

Says Sonia, “There was a time I contemplated choosing a cloistered path. Sister Joan gave me an assignment to find female saints who were married. I understood then that spiritual commitment is not lived by taking vows to live a cloistered life. Spiritual commitment is just lived no matter what one’s path.”

Sister Joan inspired Sonia’s decades of peace education, interfaith dialogues and multi-cultural arts, leading her to produce the wonderful Peace of the Rainbow television program that aired for years.

Sonia instructively adds, “Sister Joan opened my eyes and heart to the world of human trafficking, domestic violence and issues that women in spirituality face. Out of this came a lesson that I created and still use to this day called ‘The Line and the Circle’. She gave me opportunities to see where I drew lines and challenged me to turn them into circles.”

The Hawaii Forgiveness Project officially recognized Sister Joan as a Heroine of Forgiveness. “May every step I take be one of forgiveness,” a quote by Jerry Janpolsky, seemed to be a credo for her. According to Roger Epstein, Founder of the Hawaii Forgiveness Project, Sister Joan was in a good deal of pain over her later years, yet she gladly and uncomplainingly took care of her senior Maryknoll sisters through their difficult and dying years.

Sister Joan dedicated herself to helping others and doing the right thing over and above the institution, according to Roger. Diplomatic, she could still make her point in the hierarchy she had to report to; she was the chief ecumenical officer for the Catholic Church in Honolulu for many years. Intriguingly, Sister Joan directed the Maitreya Institute, founded by a Tibetan buddhist rinpoche, to promote art, healing and spirituality, looking into many religions and traditions for insight.

Sister Joan earned the Living Treasure of Hawaii award in 2009, given by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, for her lifelong compassion and altruism. Leaders of all faiths looked to Sister Joan’s example of reaching across religious boundaries. She also served as the Chairperson for the All Believers Network and the Executive Director of the Institute for Religion and Social Change.

Even as a representative of the Church, Sister Joan never stood on ceremony, just being helpful and truthful at all times. “It helped my life just to know her. And her spirit is still present with us,” summarized Roger Epstein.

David Castellano of Unity Church mentions that Sister Joan inspired us to bridge the gap between Spirit and Humanity. “Sister Joan had this condition, it’s where her heart didn’t know when or where to stop loving. It’s something the world needs more of.”

Masai Asago, President of Hawai‘i Conference of Religions for Peace (HCRP), recalls about Sister Joan:  “I never forget her saying, ‘No one should be discriminated for any reason in this world.’ Her passion toward humanity and a sense of equality touched my heart. She has been many people’s role-model, mentor, and sage to look up to in our interfaith community.”

Her kind smile reaches out
To make you a friend forever
On first meeting
Her musical voice sings
A thousand stories –
Wise and gentle humor
Precious history
Sister Joan is no longer in one body
So now she lives in all of us
In every sky, ocean, flower, sunset
In every hand and heart
Memory of aloha

– Michael North

Services will be held March 21, 2019 at Sacred Heart Church, 1701 Wilder Ave, Honolulu. Viewing is 9-10 am, Mass at 10:30 am. A reception will follow 11:30 am -1:30 pm at Maryknoll Grade School campus, 1722 Dole St.
Burial is 2 pm at Diamond Head Memorial Park.

Dancing in Joy and resting in stillness with you,

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