50 Years in Service

WMA celebrates Sister Joellen McDonnell’s Golden Jubilee

In April, the Waldron Mercy Academy faculty and staff gathered together to commemorate a special member of our team. Sister Joellen McDonnell celebrated her Jubilee, marking 50 years in service as a Sister of Mercy. For those who know her, it is hard to believe this energetic and dedicated Sister has been a force of good for now five decades.


Flash Back

Sr. Joellen entered with a group of 28 sisters in 1967 and made her religious profession in 1970. She had just graduated from St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Northeast Philadelphia, one of four daughters in a traditional Catholic household. “I met the Sisters of Mercy when I was at St. Hubert and was immediately drawn to the charism of mercy.” She also knew that she wanted to be a teacher.

Her first ministry was at St. John Baptist de la Salle in Shillington, PA where she taught first grade. Over the next 17 years, she would go on to work for six different schools serving as a teacher and administrator including in rural Pennsylvania and Sea Isle City, New Jersey. She also earned a master of education from Villanova University in 1984, taking classes in the summer for nearly a decade along with fellow Sisters.

Then, in 1987, Sr. Joellen’s career took an important turn. While serving as a teacher at Merion Mercy Academy, she was asked to serve as vice principal and play a lead role in the merging of Merion Mercy’s lower school and Waldron Academy for Boys. “We were so young. We’d never done something like this before and it was real leap of faith,” Sr. Joellen shared. “And it was a miracle. We did it! We successfully merged two faculties, two schedules, two schools.” The success of the merger was a testament to the power of the mission because everyone was invested in a strong curriculum, expanding service work, and including the entire community. “We could do so much more as a combined school, serve more people, involve more parents, and really live out our mission.”

Sr. Joellen served as vice principal until 1991 when she was sent to St. Christopher School in Philadelphia to serve as principal. She also served as principal at St. Denis School in Havertown.

Waldron Mercy always held a special place in Sr. Joellen’s heart and she was thrilled to have the chance to return in 2006. Over the last decade, a lot of things have changed at WMA. New lay leadership. New programs. New website. New trends in enrollment. Sr. Joellen has kept up with it all and is for all families who visit and join the Waldron Mercy Academy family the graceful and conscientious heart of Waldron Mercy.

What is a Jubilee Anniversary

When a Sister of Mercy has reached her 50th year of profession, a special Golden Jubilee anniversary is announced. The celebration includes a special mass at which the Sister renew their vows. Sister Marie Michele Donnelly, member of the Waldron Mercy Academy Board of Trustees, describes the liturgy as “truly an experience of communion, we feel so connected to each other and to God. It’s beautiful.”

The Sisters of Mercy are the largest religious community in the United States and one of the largest in the world. This year, Sr. Joellen joins over 80 local Sisters celebrating Jubilee anniversaries throughout the Mid-Atlantic Community. Sr. Joellen is one of 16 of these Sisters commemorating 50 years.

Joellen McDonnell

Fun Memories

“I’ve always loved that Sr. Joellen and I have a special connection. In the spring of 1990, she called me in for a interview for a fourth grade teaching position. I was hired, but Joellen was headed off the following year to St. Christopher’s. Then in 2006, Sr. Pat, the principal at the time, asked me to interview Sr. Joellen for the director of admissions. I think both Sr. Joellen and I had to fight back giggles because our positions had flipped. All the same, I am glad we shared that moment and so many more over the years.” - Nell Stetser, principal

“As I began my role as middle school director, Sr. Joellen has been a constant mentor in every aspect of my position. She has guided me in decisions regarding curriculum, parents, students; I value her wisdom, because all decisions are steeped in mercy and based upon strong academic reasoning and experience.” - Theresa Gannon, middle school director

“I first met Sr. Joellen when she was teaching first grade at Merion Mercy for Girls and I was teaching first grade at Waldron Academy for Boys. We would meet and share ideas that we could both use with our first graders. As the merger of the two schools approached, we planned activities to bring the girls and boys together. It was at this time that I began to realize her many gifts and talents. After the merger, Sr. Joellen became the vice principal at Waldron Mercy Academy and talked me into leaving the first grade classroom to be the first director of admission. Working closely as an administrative team, I came to appreciate her leadership skills and the way she helped develop skills in others. While her thoughtfulness and generosity are legendary, I can’t forget her dedication to the mission of Mercy. Her welcoming presence, and the hospitality that she shows to every visitor, has brought countless students and families into the Circle of Mercy at WMA.” - Steve Stritch, executive director, Mercy Center, Bronx, NY

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