By Associate Vicki Welsh
This is a vocation story about a girl from a good Catholic family who grew up on the very Catholic West Side of Cincinnati. She was a young woman who grew to see a “need” and say “I could do that!” She became a community builder with words as simple as, “Come over and play cards with us.” She knew innately that the invitation was the strongest evangelical tool she had. She was good at it; she’d invite, people came. But let’s start at the beginning.
S. Joyce Brehm was the third oldest of nine children who grew up with a good Catholic core and compass. As a Price Hill girl, S. Joyce attended St. William’s parish and grade school and Seton for high school. The Sisters of Charity served in many and nearly all positions in church and school. When it came to college, S. Joyce opted for Thomas More College in Northern Kentucky.
Now this is where S. Joyce’s story gets interesting. She signed up for Thomas More’s Work Study Program. Her first assignment did not work out. Her second assignment was to Santa Maria Community Services. S. Kateri Maureen Koverman served as social worker.
What a beautiful role model of a religious vocation S. Kateri Maureen was! S. Kateri quickly worked her mentoring influence on S. Joyce. This was during the Vietnam War. Catholic Relief Services needed all sorts of people with certain skills to volunteer. S. Kateri had the skills and the desire. She was waiting for the Sisters of Charity to give their final permission to go. S. Joyce recalls, “… She comes in … like Loretta Young, with her garb flowing behind her … she was on cloud nine, the Community was letting her go to Vietnam!”
In a wistful tone, S. Joyce describes the very short frantic few days. She helped S. Kateri organize the office in preparation for Sister’s replacement. One minute S. Joyce had a God-given mentor in S. Kateri, and the next moment that mentor was gone to Vietnam! But S. Joyce continued going to Thomas More and working at Santa Maria.
Enter ‘Bob,’ a sociology teacher at the College of Mount St. Joseph, who just so happened to work at Santa Maria. S. Joyce recounts, “I was visiting him one day in his office and he says to me, ‘Have you ever thought of becoming a Sister of Charity? Kateri thought you would make a good one.’ I said yes I had thought about it, and his response, ‘When are you going to do something about it?’”
She wrote to S. Kateri that night and was referred to S. Alfreda Alexander. This was a time soon after Vatican II. By the time the paperwork had all been completed and S. Joyce was ready for the pre-entrance program, it was 1972. Today S. Joyce Brehm is the sole Sister celebrating her Golden Jubilee in 2022!
S. Joyce completed her college work at Thomas More with a teaching certificate in math and began teaching grade school at Resurrection in Price Hill (Cincinnati). This only lasted two years. “Teaching was definitely not my gift,” S. Joyce admits. “I couldn’t discipline the classroom!”
S. Joan Groff was provincial of the Sisters of Charity at this time. She suggested that S. Joyce make a move to working with the elderly. She saw in S. Joyce a gift she had in working with the senior population. So for nine years, S. Joyce, with no sociology or psychology background, visited the senior, sickly, and depressed clientele at a Home Health Service in the West End of Cincinnati.
In S. Joyce’s preparation for final vows, she made the Jesuit 19 Annotated Retreat. She used this time, besides her assigned goals, to discern what she wanted to do after her final vows. She reflected on all she had already experienced and took into account her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. She had already begun to feel the effects of the MS; it was harder to walk distances, fatigue, and sensitivity to extreme temperatures. In her discernment she believed she needed to go to Georgia, where life moved slower and work with S. Jean Therese Durbin was calling!
From this point on, S. Joyce was never far from S. Jean until the time of S. Jean Therese’s death. There was always something to be done and S. Joyce could do it. The first task S. Jean gave her was to take the car, pick up a load of children and take them swimming in the park! After that, S. Marie Daniel (Danny) Delaney, needed help with Meals on Wheels. S. Joyce quickly responded, “Okay, God, why wouldn’t I come? I can do that!”
This began S. Joyce’s many years of going and doing what was needed at the time. Even when a particular priest said he had a need for a Sister and it turned out to be a housekeeper he was looking for, she looked around and visited nursing homes, taught CCD classes and anything she could find to do for a year and a half.
S. Joyce would spend the next 10 years in Georgia, then to Tennessee with S. Jean working in mission parishes inviting and creating Church communities that could function. If RCIA classes were needed, she did it, if a Finance Board was needed, she started it. Programs for young and old alike were initiated to create a tight Christian community.
By 1991 both Sisters Jean and Joyce were ready to move closer to home. In Dayton, they spent nine years inviting and doing what needed to be done. They ministered to the needs of the Associates in the area, and to the homeless. They provided necessary support services to other Sisters of Charity in and around the Dayton area. They held Bible Study for their parish, all the while creating community.
Their next move was to St. Joseph’s Infant Home, then finally to the Motherhouse. Within a few years, S. Joyce landed in the Archives. There was always something to do there and she has been given several specific projects along the way. Most recently you may have seen her posting photos on Charitynet inviting readers to write captions for the photos. “I get a lot more than just a caption,” she shares. “I get memories, names, and stories.”
There you go, S. Joyce, still inviting and creating community!
Reflections by Associates
S. Joyce and I attended St. William grade school and Seton High School together. Life pointed us in different directions. We met, again, in the mid-1970s at a Seton career event to which a handful of Seton alumnae were invited to share with students how our Seton experiences and memories impacted us in our choice of jobs.
We didn’t see each other again until I ended up being asked to join a planning committee for one of our Seton Class of 1967 reunions. S. Joyce was already a member of this particular committee. We joyfully reconnected and a reunion meeting was scheduled at a local restaurant. I picked her up from the Motherhouse and drove to the meeting. No one else came. S. Joyce and I spent the next two hours sharing our lives, over the past 20-plus years, with each other.
That meeting quickly morphed into lunch at the Motherhouse with then Director of Associates Mary Jo Mersmann and Kathy Vogelpohl (both grade and high school classmates). After lunch, Mary Jo handed me an Associate application and my Associate journey began. I was companioned and mentored by Kathy, S. Joyce as well as Associate Mary Hirsch. I professed my Associate commitment on June 26, 2013.
A few months later, S. Joyce said a volunteer was needed in the Motherhouse Gift Shop and asked if I would be interested. I was and started working with S. Jo Anne Termini. Then, S. Joyce suggested I might like to volunteer in the Motherhouse Resource Center with Irene Diesel (grade school and high school classmate) and Kathy Vogelpohl. The three of us worked with S. Irene Luther for a few special years.
Wednesday was my volunteering day with lunch being a volunteer bonus. Our Wednesday Lunch Bunch consisted of S. Joyce, Kathy, Irene as well as a few other Associates and employees at the Motherhouse. Our lives and hearts intertwined all because of S. Joyce Brehm’s big heart and keen assessment of our gifts and talents, and her willingness, as a Sister of Charity, to reach out and invite us to become Associates of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. I thank God for my unique friend.
I met S. Joyce Brehm as a kindergartener in 1954 at Carson School. We continued to be in the same class throughout grade school at St. William and Seton High School until we graduated in 1967. We lost touch until we rekindled our friendship to work together on the 45th and 50th class reunions of St. William and Seton. As we worked together, she found out that I had retired from Cincinnati Public Schools as a school librarian. At the time S. Irene Luther needed help in the Resource Center at the Motherhouse, but insisted that anyone that helped have library experience. S. Joyce immediately thought of me and asked if I would be willing to help out.
I worked with S. Irene for about two years before her health declined. I told S. Joyce that I would continue working in the library if she could get me some help. She had become reacquainted with our former classmates from St. William and Seton, Kathy Vogelpohl and Patty Broughton. When S. Joyce suggested Kathy and Patty to me, I said I would love to work with them and would teach them about the library.
We began to meet every Wednesday with S. Joyce to have lunch together. They talked about being Associates of the Sisters of Charity, and I asked how I could become one. In the spring of 2015, I too became an Associate. S. Joyce, Kathy and Patty are all very dear friends of mine, and had S. Joyce not reached out to me, my life would not have taken a new turn. It is through our conversations and my observation of the way they lived their lives, that I have become so much closer to God and realize how I should live my own life. I am so grateful and proud to know S. Joyce, and to be counted as one of her friends.
How much do I love you, let me count the ways! I’ve known S. Joyce since first grade at St. William School and continuing through Seton High School, Class of 1967. After high school we went our separate ways. At one of our Seton reunions, I responded to a request to write to her. I can’t remember where she was at the time but I did write a couple of times.
As God would have it we reunited a few years later as a result of an invitation to have lunch at the Motherhouse. It was great seeing her and periodically we would meet catching up on our lives. At one of our luncheons, S. Joyce invited me to become an Associate. I didn’t even know what that meant. I politely declined as I had taken a break from various involvements and commitments at St. Antoninus. I wanted to spend time with my grandchildren.
Again, at another luncheon, then Director of Associates Mary Jo Mersmann joined us bringing pamphlets about the Associate program. It took me over a year to commit. S. Joyce stuck by me through it all as I learned about the charism and grew in love with Mother Seton. It wasn’t easy learning my place among the Sisters but eventually with S. Joyce’s companioning I grew comfortable and made friends with many.
S. Joyce brought two more of our classmates into the program – Patty Broughton and Irene Diesel. She was looking for someone to help S. Irene in the Resource Center. Irene was a librarian and volunteered to help S. Irene. What a job it was! There was a lot of work to be done so I told Irene Diesel if she was willing to teach me I would help. Patty joined us soon after. It turned out to be such a rewarding ministry. I learned the ins and outs of a library and met so many inspirational Sisters. Due to the plethora of books I read, I grew spiritually.
From our work in the library S. Joyce would join us for lunch. Eventually others joined as well. We were the Wednesday Lunch Bunch. We got to know many of the dining room employees as well as the maintenance workers. S. Joyce has a gift for inclusion. She can tell a mean joke! She is the epitome of selflessness and love. She gives me clarity when I’m confused and acceptance when I don’t think I’m enough.