Sister Joan Pfeiffer

September 27, 1934February 19, 2015

Ten days after her birth Bernard and Mary Pfeiffer took their first born to Emmanuel Parish to be baptized. Emmanuel was Mary’s home parish. She grew up on Franklin Street, a neighbor of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur until the Sisters moved out to Villa Julienne. When asked what name they had chosen for their daughter, Bernard and Mary said, “Jo Ann.” The priest said, “No!” He would not baptize her Jo Ann because, he said, there was no “Saint Jo Ann.” Bernard and Mary decided to call her “Joan” and thus the first of their eleven children was baptized Joan Catherine Pfeiffer.

Joan’s father worked as manager of a retail store and the family grew up in St. Anthony Parish where Joan attended grade school. The pastor of St. Anthony’s described the Pfeiffers as “practical and exemplary members of St. Anthony Parish.” Joan’s parents both came from large Catholic German-Irish families and so the Pfeiffers took the size of their own family in stride. When Joan helped prepare a dinner for the family, she had to think in terms of larger numbers. She would later joke it took three large chickens, ten pounds of potatoes, three large apple pies, and a partridge in a pear tree to get the job done. Years later when someone would ask how the family could go anywhere with so many children Joan replied, “Oh, we would just pack everyone into the old Dodge, (which in reality was a former hearse), and away we would go.” When Joan decided to answer a call to religious life and enter the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, her parents packed everyone into the old Dodge and drove her down to Mt. Notre Dame. It was a journey the family faithfully repeated every visiting day to visit Joan who was then known as Sister Bernard Marie.

In 1957 Joan’s father died suddenly at the age of 47, leaving his widow with a number of very young children still at home. The Notre Dame Community grieved with the family and prayed for them. There was great concern that Sister Bernard Marie might have to leave Notre Dame and return home to help her mother and siblings. God and the Pfeiffer family encouraged Joan to stay right where she was. She was grateful that she was able to continue following her call to religious life which she felt was her way to respond to the great love of God and of her family. Joan rejoiced with her family when, in 1967, her mother married her widowed brother-in-law, Howard Pfeiffer.

Joan spent 18 years teaching 4th -8th grades at parish schools in Dayton and Columbus. In addition to excelling as a language arts and religion teacher, she supervised new teachers and coordinated parish CCD programs. Summers found Joan putting her experience cooking for large numbers to use as she cooked for both the Holy Family and the Villa Julienne communities. By 1970 the Church was in the midst of the renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council. With her Sisters, Joan took a serious look at where and how God might be calling her to serve. She knew she had been an effective teacher and an excellent religious educator. Joan took to heart the words of St. Julie, Foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, “We exist only for the poor, only for the poor, absolutely only for the poor.” She thought she might be more effective as a school secretary because she would interact more with parents and still have contact with the children. In 1974 she was missioned to St. Agnes School as secretary. That mission changed her life.

Already serving at St. Agnes was Sister Dolores “Dee” Lintner. Dee was working hard to establish an outreach program to the 21 nursing homes and group homes for former Dayton Mental Health Center patients within the parish boundaries. Joan started helping Dee in her spare time. The following year she joined Dee as part of the St. Agnes Outreach and Pastoral Team. Together they developed a much needed, effective and expansive apostolate that the parish embraced through financial support, volunteer service and presence. The Team stated their belief in “the gospel philosophy of the Good News being preached to the poor of heart, mind, body and spirit…it is our concern and desire to share the "good news" of St. Agnes Parish community located in the midst of Dayton View with all who live near and around us; those people with whom we come into contact in our everyday lives.”

Dee and Joan worked to share the “good news” in very practical ways. Each morning they visited a different home and led a prayer service. In the afternoon, they took residents on errands, visited shut-ins, and helped with the development of social programs. Wherever they went they took baked goods, fruit, vegetables from their garden, magazines—anything they thought the people would enjoy. They gave many in-service training programs to other parishes and were influential in getting them to adopt nursing home projects. Joan attended meetings of civic organizations to raise awareness of the needs of both the residents of the nursing homes and the former patients of the Dayton Mental Health Center. Dee said at Joan’s silver jubilee celebration that Joan had told her many times one thing made her happy: concern and care for others. She defined and lived CARE as compassion, availability, reverence and enthusiasm. She and Dee were available to the people they served around the clock. The Sisters they lived with supported their ministry, helping them on weekends and in summers, looking for ways they could expand the services being offered.

But then they experienced the Paschal Mystery in a very painful way. Joan wrote: “One of the most significant experiences of my religious life happened more than 25 years ago. On the night of September 17, 1977, just a few days after a joyous celebration of my silver jubilee, an event took place during which my life was spared, while that of a 33-year-old Sister (Donna Blaul) was tragically taken by a gunshot from the hands of a man who was severely mentally ill. ‘Why?’ we ask. While no answers are forthcoming, it was in that experience that I truly felt an overwhelming sense of the presence of God. The support and prayers of our entire Notre Dame congregation, as well as the countless unknown persons around the world, helped us through the many difficult days to follow. Later, I came to know that my life had meaning and purpose in a new and profound way. It seemed that my life was spared for some reason. I didn't have to understand the reason; just live each day following the Way of the Lord.”

Joan took a year off from parish ministry during which her participation in a renewal program re-enforced her desire to serve. She answered the call to serve at St. Agnes, Bond Hill where she was the first person, who was not a clergyman, to serve full time on the Pastoral Staff. Through her work with the Christ Renews His Parish, her contact of the elderly and her work with Longview patients and residents of Group homes, parishioners came to appreciate the special gifts that Joan’s caring nature brought to them. Joan started a New Parishioners Welcome program, was part of the Adult Catechetical Team, helped with lay leadership development, the resettlement of a refugee family from Vietnam and many other programs.

Joan participated in Clinical Pastoral Education to continue developing her pastoral identity and skills in preparation for moving into hospital chaplaincy. At both St. Elizabeth’s and Chandler Regional hospital she ministered to the spiritual care needs of patients, families and staff. CARE was still her joy – in this setting it was caring for persons and families in critical times of life journeys as they dealt with illness. Besides her own work with patients she coordinated volunteer Pastoral Visitors' programs, served on Ethics Committees, Patient Continuum of Care Committees, Review Boards that studied the use of experimental drugs and as a member of Pain Management Teams. Joan found a special grace in being able to minister in meaningful ways to persons diagnosed with AIDS, especially those who were Catholic and felt alienated from the Church. Joan loved hospital chaplaincy ministry, so much so that after “retiring” from St. Elizabeth’s and moving to Arizona to work with Notre Dame Associates and Newer Members, she returned to chaplaincy work in addition to her other responsibilities.

Joan always found time to do more than her full time ministry. While in Dayton she supervised Urban Plunge students from the University of Notre Dame, volunteered as an Emergency Room receptionist at Good Samaritan Hospital and served on both the Boarding Home Task Force of the Mental Health Association and Northwest Clergy Association. In Cincinnati she volunteered at Dominican Community Services and at Longview State Hospital. In Arizona she served on the Board of the Salvation Army. At various times she was a member of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, Arizona Chaplains’ Association and the American Academy of Bereavement. When failing health brought Joan and Dee back to Dayton, both continued giving volunteer service to the elderly until they could no longer do so.

In community as well as in ministry Joan was known and loved for her gentle and calm manner, for her humility and for her devotion to the "poor in the most neglected places." She said, “Community is built or happens because of the people, not the structures.” Joan worked to build Notre Dame community in the communities where she lived, with Dee through all the years they lived together and in area SND communities in Arizona and Dayton. She was trusted to help form Notre Dame Associates and to mentor new vowed members. Joan participated in theological reflection and ministry reflection groups with her Sisters and with other religious in areas where she lived. She shared life and faith as a member of the SND Compiegne Community in Dayton and with her Sisters at Mt. Notre Dame.

Joan enjoyed spending time with her beloved family, Sisters and good friends. To each Joan was a great listener and always supportive. She loved nature, reading, music and planning travel excursions. Joan appreciated the opportunity to live in the southwest and the way it enriched her by allowing her to become more familiar with the Hispanic and Native American cultures.

In the Spring of 2014 Joan was one of four Sisters interviewed for an article the Cincinnati Enquirer published on life, loss and the meaning of Easter. In reflecting on death she said she knew she would see her family when she passed on; and that she would be “welcomed with joy.” She was called to eternal life very suddenly, and we know she was joyfully welcomed by her family, Sisters and friends who have gone before her and most especially by her God who is so very good. Those of us that are left behind thank our good God for the gift of Joan’s life. We ask Joan’s prayers for us that we can live our belief in the Gospel as practically as she did and that we may make our prayer the words from Godspell that closed the homily at Joan’s silver jubilee celebration: “Three things I pray: to see you more clearly, to love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day.”

Bio Data Born September 27, 1934 in Dayton, Ohio Parents: Bernard Aloysius Pfeiffer (born in Dayton, Ohio) and Mary Elizabeth Ryan (born in Dayton, Ohio) Sisters: Nora Rolfes, Martha Frisby, Evelyn Miller, Mary Beth Ennis, Sharon Baker & Becky Meyer Brothers: Dan Pfeiffer, Fred Pfeiffer, Frank Pfeiffer and Bernard Pfeiffer

Baptized October 7, 1934 at Emmanuel Church, Dayton Ohio Confirmed November 22, 1942 at St. Anthony Church, Dayton, Ohio

Entered September 8, 1952 at Mt. Notre Dame First Profession: March 12, 1955 Final Profession: August 13, 1960

St. Anthony Parish School, Dayton, Ohio Julienne High School, Dayton, Ohio Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio Post-Vatican II Theology Certificate from Mundelein University, Chicago, Illinois, 1972

Assignments Included: 1955-1963 St. Helen School, Dayton, Ohio 1963-11/1966 Holy Family School, Dayton, Ohio 11/1966-1968 St. Augustine School, Columbus, Ohio 1968-1970 Our Lady of the Rosary School, Dayton, Ohio 1970-1972 St. Aloysius School, Columbus, Ohio 1972-1973 Immaculate Conception School, Dayton, Ohio 1973-1974 Secretary, St. Agnes School, Dayton, Ohio 1974-1978 Parish Outreach and Pastoral Team, St. Agnes Parish, Dayton, Ohio 1978-1979 Participant, Active Spirituality Program, Mt. St. Joseph College, Mt. St. Joseph, Ohio 1979-1986 Pastoral Ministry, St. Agnes Parish, Cincinnati, Ohio 1986-1987 Clinical Pastoral Education Program, Good Samaritan Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio 1987-1996 Associate Chaplain, St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Covington, Kentucky 1/6/1997-5/1/1998 Associate Minister/New Member Welcomer, SNDdeN Convent, Mesa, Arizona 1997-2002 Chaplain/Pastoral Care Minister, Chandler Regional Hospital, Phoenix, Arizona 2002-2003 Sabbatical, Mesa, Arizona 2003-2005 Retired, Mesa, Arizona 2005-2008 Volunteer Pastoral Ministry, Maria Joseph Center, Dayton, Ohio 2008-2013 Retired, Trotwood, Ohio 2013- 2015: Community Service/Ministry of Prayer, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio

Died February 19, 2015

Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN February 20, 2015


  • Visitation

    Tuesday, February 24, 2015

  • Mass of Christian Burial

    Tuesday, February 24, 2015


Sister Joan Pfeiffer

have a memory or condolence to add?


March 3, 2015

My condolences to the family, expecially Nora. I remember trips I took with the family in their car and Joan would sit in the back seat and was very quiet and just smile. My prayers are with you all. Betty Geis Knowles

February 24, 2015

My condolences to the Pfeiffer family, especially Nora who was a classmate at Julienne. Of all the Sisters I knew and lived with, Joan was the sweetest. Back in the 60's we both attended summer session at U.D while living at Holy Family. I was the driver and Joan helped me with Spanish vocabulary using flash cards. we'd be traveling down 5th Street and she would say the English and I tried to remember the Spanish.
so many memories.
my thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Molly Simpkins

February 23, 2015

I will carry on Aunt Joan's care and compassion to honor her memory! She is loved and will be missed!

Mary Weaver

February 23, 2015

So sorry to hear of Joan's passing. Wow what a reunion going on in heaven. Love to this beautiful family. Mary (Ryan) Weaver

Dwayne Bickham,Sr.

February 23, 2015

In God's care rest in peace