Meet the Sisters – Sr. Joan Grumbach

Meet the Sisters – Sr. Joan Grumbach

Sr. Joan Grumbach spent over forty years in East Africa, and it is her experiences there that have reshaped and moulded her personality. But her origins are on the other side of the world.

Sr. Joan was born in Connecticut, USA, and she has one older sister. The family had lived in the same area for a long time, in fact, Joan went to the same Sisters of Mercy School that her parents had attended many years before. As a young child she thought about her future and decided that teaching was not for her. She wanted to be a nurse! She had aunts who were nurses, and they encouraged her to get a college education as they could foresee that nursing education was heading for university level. So, to help defray the expenses involved, Joan worked part time and with summer jobs, to see her through her nursing degree at Boston University.

After qualifying, Joan worked as a Visiting Nurse in Arlington, MA, a neighbouring town to Winchester where MMM lived at that time. A friend indicated “a great bunch of Sisters” lived there, as they were driving past one day. Curiosity aroused, Joan found an opportunity to visit and was warmly welcomed by the community and the novices. Although attracted to their life, Joan had set other plans in motion! She had signed up for the Naval Nurse Corp. and drove across the country to San Diego, California. But MMM did not let go so easily. There were MMMs in California at that time too, so connections were made, correspondence continued and finally Joan drove back East to join the Sisters in Winchester in 1975.

After her initial religious formation, Joan went to a new mission in Clinchco, Virginia. The area was a poor coal mining region with not many Catholics. The Lutheran pastor and his wife were very helpful and the sisters and priests formed a support group that met on a monthly basis. After a few months, she got a job in a clinic in the next town. But this assignment did not last long. Joan was asked to go to Ireland and study midwifery, preparing her for her future ministry in Africa. She enjoyed Ireland, meeting so many more MMMs and hearing their stories.

In 1981, Joan arrived in Tanzania, which was to be her home for the next thirty something years. Her work was mostly in Maternal and Child Health and it took her to some remote places, where resilience and adaptability were required. She worked in Namanyere in the southwest, in Loolera among the Maasai nomads, and in Nangwa in the centre north. For two years she actually went to “the big city”, Nairobi, Kenya, where she worked in a slum area. She only returned to the USA last year, 2021. Joan is a likeable, sociable person, an introvert by nature. People notice her kindness, her willingness to go the extra mile, to be helpful. She certainly is a woman of faith. One of her hobbies (when she gives herself time) is reading mystery stories. Life in Africa brought its challenges, learning languages, understanding other cultures. But Joan says it has broadened her world view and taught her tolerance. She loves new challenges and certainly adapting back to life in the USA will be a new one. Joan, we wish you well in the years ahead.