Sister Joan' Kupfert, OSB 1921-2012

By Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB

From the wake service held Jan. 18, 2012

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” (Matt. 11:25)

This evening we celebrate the life of Sister Joan´ Kupfert.  And what a life she lived.  From 1944 until 1991, she spent her life educating youth.  She once wrote that her service to the Church was a particularly stable one.  She noted, “I have long felt a great need to witness to Catholicism in a Catholic high school setting.”  And that she did.  But where did it all start?

Bonita Kupfert was born on May 28, 1921 in Peoria, a daughter of Frank and Kathryn Roth Kupfert.  She had an older sister, Dorothy, who died suddenly at the age of seven when Bonita was just over a year old.  She and her younger brother, Bernard, his wife Lois, and their eight children were very close. She dearly loved Bernard’s family and spoke of them often.

In her autobiography, she wrote: “I was born to devout, stable and faith-filled parents.  Being cared for and being loved were predominant in the memories of my childhood.  Catholic education was a top priority; my parents saved and sacrificed to make it possible.”

Bonita attended St. Boniface School and the Academy of Our Lady in Peoria.  After graduation from high school, she worked as a secretary before entering our Benedictine community on December 8, 1942.  She was given the name Joan´ as a novice and made her first profession as a Benedictine Sister on August 21, 1944.

Sister Joan´ wrote: “My call to religious life seemed to follow naturally from my home environment.  The transition from home to community was not too difficult since the ideals and values taught at home were strengthened in the religious environment.”

She received a Bachelor’s degree in education from Quincy College in Quincy, Ill.,  and a Master’s degree in secondary administration from Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wis. She also received certification in guidance and counseling from Xavier College in Chicago.

Her ministries included teaching elementary grades 4-8; high school religion, P.E. and business education, as well as dorm perfect at St. Mary’s Academy, Nauvoo.  She served as secretary to Mother Ricarda and as secretary to Sister Rose and registrar at St. Mary’s Academy. Already at the school for 16 years, she became Principal of the Academy from 1962 to 1969.  During those years the enrollment at the Academy was at its peak.

In an article in the school newspaper entitled, “A Day with the Principal: Efficient, Understanding, and Fun,” it spoke of her sensible direct method of discipline, her personal approach to the students, and her interest and participation in the girls’ activities.

Upon hearing of Sister Joan´s death, a St. Mary’s alumna wrote: “I loved Sr. Joan´. Her enthusiasm at each day’s general assembly always included ‘This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it…..Alleluia! I have that verse written on a plaque in her honor in my home to this day. Thank you to her and her love while I was in High School at St. Mary’s.”  — Leonora Holmes

After leaving the Academy, Sister Joan´ taught business education, and she was a guidance counselor both at Bergan High School in Peoria and Alleman High School in Rock Island.

Sister Joan´ returned to the monastery to serve as Subprioress from 1991 to 1996.  She continued her service to the community as sacristan, both in Nauvoo and after our move to Rock Island.

Sister Joan´ was a woman of prayer.  She loved the Liturgy of the Hours.  It was always a privilege to sit next to her during prayer because she recited each verse with such meaning.

There was another beautiful side of Sister Joan´ that cannot be overlooked.  She will always be remembered for her distinctive sense of humor.  As one of our Sisters related to me, “She was so mischievous.  She was always getting me into trouble.”

There are many, many stories about Sister Joan´ that could keep us entertained for many hours.  She could say things with such a straight face that one didn’t know whether to believe her or not.

Sister Rosemary Murphy told me of one such instance.  As a novice, Sister Rosemary was assisting with chapel work.  She had been using a broom that was worn down, so Sister Adele, her novice mistress, gave her a new broom.  Sister Rosemary told Sister Joan´, a junior sister in the group ahead of her, that she had a new broom.  Sister Joan´s comment was, “Has it been blessed?”  Sister Rosemary thought she had better put the broom back in the closet. When Sister Adele came along, she asked why Sister Rosemary wasn’t using the new broom.  Sister Rosemary responded with the question, “Has it been blessed?”

This is only one of many stories.  Each of us has special memories of Sr. Joan´. We all know that she was a fun character.  I would like you to tell more of that story.  I invite you to share a memory of Sister Joan´ with us.

Sister Phyllis McMurray, OSB
January 17, 2012

2 thoughts on “Sister Joan' Kupfert, OSB 1921-2012

  1. Sister Joan’ came into my life when I was a freshman at The Academy. As each year passed, she became more important to me. She did her very best to give me guidance and discipline, and I tested her at so many turns. She saved me in many ways. I am so happy that I was able to visit with her a few years ago and tell her how much she has meant to me through the years. We had a wonderful visit and shared our memories. I learned so much about love and loving from her.


  2. Mary Jo Zerwer Overbeck

    Coach, Mentor, Teacher. Thanks, Sr. Joan’. God bless!


Leave a Reply to Mary Jo Zerwer Overbeck Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s