Joan McKenna, RSCJ

Joan McKenna, RSCJ

Birth: January 19, 1932
Profession: July 21, 1963
Death:September 12, 2013

Religious of the Sacred Heart Joan McKenna died September 12 at Oakwood, the Society of the Sacred Heart’s elder care center in Atherton, California. Known for her razor-sharp mind, tireless curiosity and a beautiful gift for friendship, her life will be celebrated in a Mass of Christian Burial Saturday, September 21 at 10:00 a.m. at Oakwood, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027. Burial will be in the Sacred Heart Cemetery at Oakwood.

Joan McKenna was born in San Francisco on January 19, 1932 to Henry P. and Agnes McGuire McKenna. She is survived by her only sister, Kathleen P. McKenna, as well as her sisters in the Society of the Sacred Heart.

Joan attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart in San Francisco (Broadway) on scholarship, initially finding the environment strict and confining. However, her daily chapel visits combined with her admiration for the nuns, helped to change her attitude toward the school and toward religious life. She entered the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1954, after graduating from San Francisco College for Women. She made first vows in 1957 and her final profession in Rome in 1963.

Sister McKenna’s first assignment was at the brand new Convent of the Sacred Heart School in El Cajon, CA, where she taught juniors in high school for three years. When she was sent to teach at her alma mater in San Francisco, she found herself teaching her own sister, Kathleen. 

During the tumultuous1960s, she served at both the San Francisco College for Women (later Lone Mountain College) and the San Diego College for Women (now the University of San Diego). Her love for students and teaching made her popular with both students and administration, and she often served as peacemaker between the two.

For three years, 1974-77, Sister McKenna was principal at Schools of the Sacred Heart School in San Francisco.

In 1977, Sister McKenna entered law school at the University of San Francisco. Upon graduation, she worked for the city attorney in San Francisco for three years. She returned to the classroom – where she felt most at home – in 1984 as a teacher at Sacred Heart Prep, Atherton. The following year, she also began teaching theology at the University of San Francisco, where she taught world religions, social justice and European history for 17 years. She found her ministry so stimulating and her relationships with students so life-giving that, as she stated it, “I didn’t grow old!”

In 1998, Sister McKenna agreed to serve as interim director of Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton. For nearly three years, she provided gracious and skilled leadership. She returned briefly to the University of San Francisco, then spent many years as a volunteer mentor for teachers and tutor for students at St. Martin de Porres School in Oakland. She retired to the Oakwood community in 2011.

Sister McKenna was a very caring person, sociable, interested in people and a born educator. She taught many women who went on to join her as a Religious of the Sacred Heart. She received the 2002 St. Madeleine Sophie Barat Award from Sacred Heart Schools, Atherton: “Hers has been a life of learning and helping others to learn, in a tradition of values-based education that she treasures.”

One colleague recalled, “I remember Joan’s comments to the St. Joseph’s graduating class of 1999, in which she quoted Micah and encouraged the students to ‘act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly with their God.’ These simple words were made all the more powerful by the fact that they were delivered by one who has lived them herself and one who has consistently made her faith so accessible to others.”

Joan McKenna was a graduate of the Convent of Sacred Heart, San Francisco. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degree in History from San Francisco College for Women, a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of San Francisco and a law degree from the University of San Francisco.

Memorial contributions may be made to Oakwood Retirement Center, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027, or the Sister Joan McKenna Scholarship Fund, C/O Sacred Heart Schools, 150 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027.


Submitted by Genevieve Varga on

Joan was a dear friend, a good listener, and wise advisor. I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with this special colleague. She had a soft spot in her heart for my son, Michael, and I am glad that he too had the benefit of her special friendship.

Submitted by Charles Brady on

Sr Joan McKenna and a handful of others in and near San Francisco and Sacred Heart Schools is my reason for accepting a teaching job at Broadway and for staying 30 years...My first time in a classroom with the young. Meeting infrequently with Joan, we formed a friendship and shared moments in passing. Her EVERLASTING SMILE was her trademark, and one always knew where her heart and soul were located. The world simply cannot afford to lose people like Joan McKenna,but we must.

Submitted by Carroll Saussy on

When I arrived at Lone Mountain in the summer of 1967 to start the masters' program in Theology, Sister Joan McKenna immediately took me under her wing with a most gracious welcome. Her ready smile and consistent loving kindness meant the world to me. I feel her presence as I write this and thank the Holy One for her devoted life and faithful friendship.

Submitted by Sterrin Bird on

Sister Joan McKenna was a remarkable woman. I feel blessed to have known her for even a short time - the countless lives she touched are forever changed for having known her. Her wisdom, kindness and compassion were unparalleled. Heaven certainly has a new angel.

Submitted by Mike Henseler on

36 years ago as a rather young deacon, soon to be ordained a priest, I applied at Broadway to teach theology. Having had very little teacing experience, Leo Hogan, just beginning his tenure as principal, asked me to come to "audition" in one of Joan's theology classes. I vividy remember her sitting in the back corner of the classroom on the mezznine level, at least appearing like she was enjoying whatever it was I was doing. Evidently I passed inspection, and the rest, as they say, is history, as over the next 20+ years I came to ientify myself as much as an RSCJ as a member of my own community.

Submitted by Anita Ergina Tabagon on

I was. an incoming Freshman at the San Francisco campus and new to the Convent of the Sacred Heart Schools when i first met Sr. Mckenna. I was shy, apprehensive and like a fish out of water, I will never forget Sr.Mckenna's graciousness. Her warm welcoming and undying kindness meant the world to me then. She knew my older brother Patrick and would often ask about him. I will never forget her generous spirit, warm smile and loving spirit which will live on in the hearts of all who were fortunate to have known her. I am grateful and honored to have known this great human being

Submitted by Michael Morosin on

I am forever grateful to Sr. McKenna for having hired me in 1976 as a very young and inexperienced English teacher to work at Convent. Under her guidance, leadership, and kindness I found my way relishing the great environment at Convent. She had great compassion for the students and fellow instructors and always wore a smile, two virtues which helped immensely to create an atmosphere of community at Broadway. Her remarkable career is a testament to the generosity of spirit and innate curiosity she embodied. Joan was an inspiration.

Submitted by Cecelia Haack on

Sister Joan was a truly lovely person. The earth is better for having been witness to her life and heaven is richer because she is there.

Submitted by Larry McDonald on

My husband, Greg, and I have known and loved Sister Joan for almost 40 years. It's been one of the great gifts of our lives that Joan didn't simply accept us for who we are, she embraced us enthusiastically as her brothers. As much (and often) as we disagreed on matters of faith and religion, we never disagreed for a second on the importance of loving family... not simply the family we were born to but the family we create as we grow and age. We won't mourn Joan so much as we will, for as long as we live, be grateful that she loved us and so warmly welcomed our love for her. Her presence has always added glory to the universe... she has simply changed where and how she does that.

Submitted by Simone Haas on

I am so saddened to hear Joan has passed on. I got to know her while she was teaching at USF. When she found out I was a convent girl, we became instant friends! i so enjoyed our times together. I remember her telling me "an old friend is a wonderful thing. It can be years and you pick up right where you left off." I am so grateful to have had her in my life. Her enthusiasm for all things was infectious and I will miss her great smile and wonderful laugh.

Submitted by Suzanne Buckley on

We knew Sister Joan as a cherished family friend and bright light in our world. She truly appreciated people, had great insight, humor and wit. The depth of her spiritual life was manifest in her loving presence and life of true service. Joan was an exemplar, and will be missed.

Submitted by Tracy Howard-CSH EC on

I met Sr. at Broadway where I graduated in 1973. I also was a Mormon girl (now Catholic) and was treated no differently than anyone else. She DID have a great gift for friendship and we all loved her very much. She could tell you about your behavior in such a nice way that you forgot it was a scold! Was thinking of her and found that she, as a true Bride of Christ, is where she belongs with God.

Submitted by TRACY HOWARD on

Sister McKenna was a warm and welcoming face to a country bumpkin from Convent in El Cajon that closed and I was displaced. She would always have a group of girls around in her office. Sacred Heart was probably the best the time of my life because of all the sisters who nurtured me. She was a mother to many in her life's work. Tracy Howard Broadway 1973

Submitted by Aidanbrigg on

Sister Joan McKenna was an amazing lady. I sensation honored to have known her for even a brief timeframe - the innumerable lives she touched are always showed signs of change for having known her online cheap assignments. Her astuteness, graciousness and sympathy were unparalleled. Paradise unquestionably has another heavenly attendant.