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Sr Jeanne – a rough diamond with a heart for the poor

The following is an edited version of the eulogy for Sr Jeanne Williams SJC who died June 30. It was submitted by the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny.

On Wednesday, June 30, Sr Jeanne bowed quietly off the stage of life. Her passing was met with sadness by all of us.

We had hoped she would resume her life in her Community of Our Lady of  Lourdes, at Arouca, when she returned from the hospital, but that was not in God’s plans. We thank God for her 90 years of life, and those years spent among us in our Cluny family.

Jeanne Williams was born on June 22, 1931, to Louis and Ellen Williams. She was the fourth of 10 children, 4 boys and 6 girls.  She attended Tranquility Girls’ Intermediate from 1937–1943, Bishop Anstey High School for two years and St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain from 1945–1949.

One of her close friends from Convent remembered Jeanne as a “hot ticket,” always open, forthcoming, bursting with energy and always willing to help.

At the age of 19, Jeanne decided to enter the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, and at the Novitiate received the name of Sister Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc).

After professing her first vows in 1952, Sr Jeanne began her training to be a teacher at the Catholic Women’s Training College where she graduated in 1953. Her assignment as a Qualified Assistant Teacher, took her to St Mary’s RC Primary School, Kingstown, St Vincent; St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain, Trinidad; St Joseph’s Convent, Castries, St Lucia; and finally, back to St Mary’s RC Primary where she retired,  January 31, 1984.

Thereafter, Sr Jeanne was free to undertake service-oriented bold missionary adventures.

Returning to her homeland, she was assigned first to the Community of Our Lady of Lourdes, Maraval, later to the Community of St Ann’s, Port of Spain, and finally the Community of Our Lady of Lourdes, Arouca.

Sr Jeanne was unique in many ways. She prided herself on being a person of common sense, which she emphasised was God’s gift to her.

Her love for gadgets was one way she used this common sense, and every Community was blessed with a useful gadget donated by her. What also made her stand out, in her younger days, was her ability to get around on her famous motorbike. She was also able to mix with anyone, rich and poor; no-one was a stranger to her. Everywhere was home.


Acute business sense

In Community, her personality would often clash with others especially when things were not seen from her perspective, but she would forgive and move on. Her weakness, however, was her strength.

She told you as it is and would often come across as a very abrupt and forceful kind of character. Yet, it was this forcefulness that gave her the boldness to fight for the needs of the poor.

She was one of those rough diamonds with a heart that was fundamentally good and kind; a heart that was passionately empathetic to all in distress.

Her ‘Cluny Project for The Needy’ took her as far as San Rafael, Talparo, Toco, Laventille, Guaico, Tamana and places in the deep south of the island, answering the cries of the poor, the unemployed and unemployable.

She helped many families by providing their children with schoolbooks and uniforms, transportation expenses and giving assistance even up to tertiary level education.

Recognising her “acute business sense”, Sr Jeanne was temporarily released from her Community in St Vincent, and assigned to assist at the St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain in the supervision, management, and re-organisation of a development project undertaken by the school.

Her keen business acumen and management ability were essential to the smooth execution of this undertaking.

Like Blessed Anne Marie Javouhey, the foundress of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, Sr Jeanne was a great collaborator.

In her Cluny project, she collected wholesome goods donated by warehouses, supermarkets, greengrocers, and bakeries. She also obtained financial help from the United Kingdom Women’s Club, the American Women’s Club, and the business community which also included her own family. She also collaborated with others in other Congregations in assisting them in their own Ministry to the poor.

Sr Jeanne was fearless like her patron saint, St Joan of Arc. She feared no one and was not easily intimidated by others. She did not take ‘no’ for an answer when it came to obtaining aid for others. She took a lot of risks, trusting that God would take care of her.

Road trips

A significant part of her mission to needy persons was done at nighttime, at times, accompanied by one or two Sisters, as it was convenient for her to meet the street dwellers at those times.

If she could not get anyone to accompany her, she would go alone. She was not afraid to go to remote or dangerous areas to assist the poor.

Besides helping the underprivileged, Sr Jeanne made herself available to assist her own Sisters in Community. Having lived in St Lucia and St Vincent in the early days, she knew the challenges that Sisters faced in procuring educational and household material.

She was the one to “export” needed goods by boat to the Sisters in all the other island Communities. She would inform the Sisters being helped of the boat’s departure, with a strong caution to be on time for the boat’s arrival.

Sr Jeanne knew by name each captain, the crew, and the secretary of each school on every island that was being helped. In return for the help the boatmen extended, she warned the Sisters that at Christmas time to make sure the boatmen received on time, their Christmas fruit cake, and a bottle of sorrel.

Sr Jeanne knew how to enjoy life and according to a Sister, “she was happiest seeing others happy.” She delighted in road trips, to and from the airport or taking Sisters, including novices and those on holiday from other islands for outings. During festivals, she would fill up her SUV with children and take them to see the lights of Christmas or Divali, to the malls or the brightly lit streets. What joy she brought to these little ones!

Sr Jeanne along with others preceding her, in faith, walked the path begun by Blessed Anne Marie, touching lives in unique ways.

These are the words that come to mind in the concluding chapter of her life here amongst us: “Whatsoever you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do unto me” (Mk 25: 40).

Sr Jeanne, you will be sorely missed. May you rest in peace.