sister joan margaret whittemore

May 12, 1944 - November 29, 2015

Lived simply, loved music, accepted life without complaint, a smile for everyone

In eighth grade, Rae Sylvia Whittemore took her first piano lessons under the direction of S. St. Elizabeth Colbert. Though she excelled in other things, such as studies or as city champion basketball player for her parish, little did she know the role music would come to play in her future. Rae was born May 12, 1944, in St. Louis, Missouri. Raymond and Mary Ann (Mulligan) Whittemore were her parents. Two weeks before her birth, her father died in a work related accident. Her brother and sister, a good deal older than she, were children of her father’s first marriage.

She met the Sisters of St. Joseph, whom she described as “incredible role models,” at St. Margaret of Scotland School and Rosati-Kain. “The reason I became a Sister of St. Joseph was I saw how much they cared about each other and that was a very strong thing and I wanted to help people.” She entered the community on September 15, 1962. When it was time to receive the habit, August 6, 1963, she asked for the name Joan Margaret. Joan was in honor of an admired teacher, S. Joan Marie Gleason; Margaret was for her parish. Fontbonne College awarded her a bachelor of music degree in music education. A master of music and a doctorate in conducting were received from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she was later invited to be a visiting scholar (1983-1985).

In 1967, S. Joan taught music at schools in St. Louis, Missouri: St. Luke and Immacolata and, years later, at Ste. Genevieve du Bois (2000). Up and until 1983, she taught at several high schools: Valle High in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri; Little Flower, Chicago, Illinois; St. Joseph Academy, St. Louis; and Rosati-Kain. She also ministered as a parish liturgical musician in Indianapolis and Noblesville, Indiana. The majority of her ministry years were spent in higher education teaching music history and theory; basic and sacred music; instruments and voice at Wadhams Hall Seminary College, Ogdensburg, New York; Aquinas College, Grand Rapids; St. Joseph College, Rensselaer, Indiana; Carl Sandburg College, Galesburg, Illinois; Regis College, Denver; Adrian College, Adrian, Michigan; University of Missouri; East Central College, Union, Missouri; Webster University, Webster Groves, Missouri, and St. Louis Community College at Meramec, St. Louis.

Beginning in 1999, S. Joan began over a decade of multi-tasking: teaching voice and instrumental music at Carondelet Studios; founding and directing the Carondelet Children’s Chorus and the Carondelet Women’s Chorus; ministering at local colleges/universities; composing music; researching various topics for books accepted for publication and becoming intensely involved with family genealogy, discovering to her delight that her ancestors were among the founding families of St. Louis.

S. Joan Margaret was pleased to invite those whom she knew would appreciate attending various musical events whenever an extra ticket or two became available—sharing her joy. She also dearly loved dogs. It was a familiar sight to see her arrive somewhere with dog in tow. At Nazareth Living Center, when she no longer had a dog of her own, it was one of her greatest delights to welcome Robey, a standard poodle, who along with his owner, was a welcome visitor.

Even after learning that she had been diagnosed with ALS, S. Joan Margaret said,

I feel incredibly blessed... The Sisters of St. Joseph have been my family ... I’ve gotten to do extraordinary things like the doctoral program, my choruses, writing, editing music, traveling, I’ve been to Venice five times and as I always said I have nothing to complain about because I have been so blessed.

And so have we.

S. Helen Oates

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