NOTIONS: Lessons on life, love and work from a sister CEO

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The crowd gathered early for the IPL 500 Festival Parade. Moms and dads, grandparents and kids, neighbors and friends came by the thousands to hear the oompah-pah of the bands, see Hollywood stars and cheer the 33 drivers competing in the next day’s Indianapolis 500.

Walking through the throng, I spied the street preachers. Each had staked out a strategic spot, capitalizing on the closed avenues to stand mid-intersection and deliver The Word.

One preacher waved a sign warning happy folks that they’d better repent-or else. Another foretold hellfire and damnation should we fail to heed God’s will. Yet another held his Bible aloft, shouting his sermon in a booming baritone.

But most parade-goers glanced away and passed by as they would homeless people rattling change in Styrofoam cups.

When the parade began and the motorcycle team slalomed toward us, the preachers packed their signs into a little red wagon and walked away, pulling their scary messages behind them.

A few days later, lost in reverie, I drove west on 30th Street, turned south on Cold Spring Road and pulled through the open gate of the Carmelite Monastery.

The usually empty drive was lined with cars. A volunteer directed me to an overflow lot in a nearby field. I parked, switched off the engine and walked beneath the tall trees toward the chapel.

Sister Jean Alice, the prioress, greeted me with a hug. Sister Terese smiled and waved. I took a seat in back, by the open door and fresh breeze, joining 150 nuns, priests, business people and friends who’d gathered to bid adieu to Sister Joanne, the former prioress whose kind and generous heart had touched ours before beating its last on May 25.

When the sacred ritual was complete-hymns sung, bread broken and wine drunk-Sister Betty stepped to the lectern.

Dressed in simple brown, she told of the departed friend who’d joined their order 30 years before.

“It is a common experience that when a new person joins a community, the entire group changes,” Sister Betty said. “There is a new laugh at recreation, new footsteps in the corridors; relationships shift a bit, and new ideas gradually emerge. It is a little like a low-point tremor, rearranging things in the group.”

“When Joanne joined the community,” she continued, “the changes that occurred eventually registered something like a .9 on the Richter Scale.”

Everyone laughed.

Sister Betty explained how the former nurse and hospital CEO had applied her master’s-degreed administrative skills to an order of contemplative nuns and the lay people who support them.

“She operated a little like the mother duck currently residing in our courtyard,” Sister Betty said. “A cluck here and a tender nudge there, and before you knew it you were on your way to something new.”

“We recognized the CEO in her long before she became prioress,” Sister Betty said. “Eventually she suggested that it might be a good idea for us to have some meetings to talk about the way we handled our finances. We did, and Joanne moved us from bookkeeping that had too much room for ‘miscellaneous’ to a budget where every cent is accounted for in a cost center, that is attached to a job description, about which we also had meetings.”

Ever the businesswoman, Sister Joanne also helped aging colleagues research and arrange nursing-home care when necessary, and helped fellow nuns and others navigate the maze of Social Security.

As prioress, when the shortage of nuns became acute and the Carmelites needed new means of financial support, Sister Joanne led a five-year plan that included vocation workshops, a development director, a Web site ( and an advisory board of community volunteers-radical shifts for a cloistered convent.

“She had much to share,” Sister Betty said, “and she did so gently and gradually.” On street corners at a parade, angry preachers used threats and shouting to invoke the fear of God. In a Westside monastery, Sister Joanne combined quiet clucks and gentle nudges-along with keen intellect, deep faith, rich friendships, lifelong learning, modern technology and generous humor-to instill the love of God. Shortly after 9/11, Sister Joanne offered the Prayer of St. Francis on It’s a fitting tribute to a woman of faith who gave and received quietly and lovingly. It reads, in part:

Good Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

“If each of us lived and valued this prayer, our world would be changed,” Sister Joanne wrote. Amen to that … and to her.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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