Nun was a missionary to Brazil
By Denise Baran-Unland For the Herald-News August 12, 2012 9:50PM
Sr. Johanna Didier
Updated: September 14, 2012 6:06AM
Whether she was making and selling popcorn balls as a girl to support the adoption of abandoned Chinese babies or initiating a Brazilian ministry at the age of 43, Sr. Johanna Didier, until her death on March 6 at the age of 94, was “always attuned to ‘the more’ that needed to be done.”
“A model of faith, hope, love, generosity, availability, wisdom, compassion and creativity, Sr. Johanna proved herself to be an amazing innovator and an entrepreneur for the sake of the kingdom,” said Sr. Marion Voelker, archivist for the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate in Joliet. “As she served the people of God, she did so with zeal, joyfulness and unbounded energy.”
Didier exhibited those qualities even in childhood. As one of 15 children growing up in rural Illinois, Didier often helped her father with cabbage planting and other fieldwork. While still in elementary school, Didier, as did three of her sisters, felt drawn to religious life, but Didier clung to her desire for missionary work.
“Our pastor told her to enter the congregation closest to home,” said Didier’s sister, Sr. Mary Peter of Joliet, “and that if it was God’s will, he would find a way.”
As a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, Didier embarked on a teaching ministry that lasted several decades. She was serving as principal at an Ohio high school when the congregation added a missionary component to its order.
Didier immediately asked for permission to go to Brazil, which was denied due to her age. She persevered in her request until she finally received it. After 10 years of service, Didier became a permanent core member of the Region of Brazil.
Then, in 1984, the city council of Santa Helena named her an honorary citizen, the first woman ever to receive that honor in Santa Helena. For all her accomplishments, Didier did endure some good-natured teasing from her family.
“It was very primitive at first. There was no running water or outhouses,” Peter said. “One of our brothers, when he visited her, joked that she had gotten her master’s to dig toilets.”
Whenever a need arose, Didier created a course so people could meet it: She offered classes in literacy, cattle vaccination, electrical installation, soil conservation, tractor repairing, automobile mechanics, brick-laying, painting, plumbing, hygiene, soybean cookery, typing, sewing, crocheting, knitting, embroidery, textile painting, pottery, glazing and doll making.
Didier organized playgrounds, a home for the elderly, a “Golden Pioneers” social club for seniors, a convention for midwives to teach the basics of sanitation, priestless parish and an initiative — Pastoral of the Child — which encouraged breastfeeding, vaccination and improved nutrition for children up to 6 years of age. Didier never felt she wasted her previous training or schooling.
“I believe a well-educated person is one who can fit into any situation and work at any problem,” Didier once wrote, “even if it is not directly related to the content of the course one has pursued.”