Breaking the Cycle

I am going to begin this story, in a sense, where it ended, and where it will never end. It has been determined that Daniel Pitcher, the man who confessed to and was convicted of murdering Ursuline Sister Joanne Marie Mascha, will not go to the electric chair.

I knew Sister Joanne, and her life has ended. But her peacemaking continues, even after her death.

I met Joanne at the Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, Maryland, where the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation's Group Leaders Class of 1995 assembled for our eight-day residencies. Joanne was one of my 29 classmates. In May 1994 and February 1995, our class stayed at the Marriottsville center together, praying, listening, sharing, walking, laughing, and at times playing.

Joanne was without a doubt the most gentle of all of us. She was slight of build and fair-skinned, and appeared younger than her 58 years. Joanne talked in glowing terms of her convent home with the Ursulines in Ohio; about her love of birdwatching, which she did at home, walking on the grounds of her convent. She loved centering prayer as much as she loved one of her ministries to children whose parents were in jail. At Christmas Joanne would buy presents for them, from their parents. I'll never forget how joyfully, almost gleefully, Joanne described the amazement and joy the kids expressed when they opened gifts from their parents that had been purchased by the sisters.

All of Sister Joanne's life she had worked for peace. She worked to ban nuclear weapons, belonged to Amnesty International and the War Resisters League. At Thanksgiving 1994 she wrote a letter to her local Ohio newspaper urging people to write Congress to make hunger a political priority. And yet she died a violent death, during Lent, March 28, 1995, strangled and sexually assaulted, as she walked her convent grounds, birdwatching.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1996
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