Sister Joyce Ross, of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, died June 19 in St. Peter’s Nursing and Rehabilitation Center near her religious order’s motherhouse in Albany, New York. She had been a Sister of Mercy for 66 years.
Born in Albany, she was the daughter of the late Joseph V. Ross and Mildred Horick Ross.
Upon joining the Sisters of Mercy, for 19 years she served as a teacher in schools in the Albany Diocese.
In 1972 she responded to a call to serve in St. Patrick Church in Anchorage. Seven years later, she embraced what would become a 30-year adventure in service to the people of the parishes on the Kenai Peninsula.
Along with her long-time friend and partner in ministry, Sister Joan Barina of the Medical Mission Sister, who passed away in January, the two religious sisters served more than three decades at Our Lady of the Angels Church in Kenai before they departed Alaska in 2009.
“It’s been a privilege to serve the church here,” Sister Ross said at the time. “We’re the ones who have really been blessed by the people.”
Upon the sisters departure from Alaska, then Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz presented them with the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal, also known as the Cross of Honor, which comes from Rome and is given for distinguished service to the church.
“They have been a great example of how women have planted the seeds of our church, long before this diocese ever existed,” Archbishop Schwietz said at the time. “We are able to thank all of those women through the recognition of these two sisters.”
“We were never afraid to involve the people,” Sister Ross said just before she left Alaska. “You have to encourage people to use their gifts, and when they do, things flourish.”
Over more than three decades, Sister Ross and Sister Barina facilitated a wide range of ministries, from the development of the Clothes Quarters, a thrift-store started to raise funds to purchase food for the Kenai Peninsula’s hungry to youth missions to Bush communities, visits to Wildwood Pretrial Facility and an ecumenical partnership with Soldotna United Methodist Church to provide breakfast for students at Kenai Alternative High School.
In 1988, Sister Ross was appointed administrator of Our Lady of the Angels Church in Kenai, a parish with no priest on staff.
In the beginning a priest visited Kenai weekly to celebrate Mass. As time went on, those visits became less frequent, perhaps once or twice a month. In between, Sister Ross led Communion Services on Sunday and offered countless other services to the parishioners, from infants to the elderly to programs to the poor, the homebound and the imprisoned. She also coordinated religious education, offered Scripture study and opportunities for common prayer. She also accompanied teen volunteers on mission trips not only within Alaska but also to Mexico.
After retiring in 2009 Sister Ross served in the Albany area, tending to the spiritual needs of the hospitalized, homebound and nursing home residents.