Pastoral Care in “Priestless Parishes”

Providing pastoral care in “priestless parishes” is just one of the ways Medical Mission Sisters have been called to be a healing presence.

Medical Mission Sister Joan Barina and Mercy Sister Joyce Ross spent over 30 years together, first as religious education coordinators throughout the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, then as pastoral associates in Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Kenai. Appointed by the bishop to these positions, they are among a relatively small group of Church workers who have ministered to persons in parishes without resident priests.

The two Sisters recently published a book on their experience in Alaska entitled “Our Journey with the Real Church: Faith in the Last Frontier.” “Today, the entire Church is in need of ordained clergy,” they note in their book. “However, we have noticed that the Church in spite of fewer priests is the Church. The faith-filled laity (are) still practicing and are very aware that they are the Church.”

A Wisconsin native, Sister Joan entered the Medical Mission Sisters in 1961 and met Sister Joyce while working for the national hospital system in Alaska. During her three decades in the state, Sister Joan helped with sacramental preparation, RCIA programs, and catechetical work with adults and children. She also facilitated a Scripture study group and an outreach to prisoners. A graduate of Marquette University, in April 2012, Sister Joan received “A Person for Others Award” at Marquette’s Alumni National Awards Ceremony in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Both Sisters Joan and Joyce retired to Albany, New York, in 2009. While writing their book, they began serving as Eucharistic Ministers at Peter’s Hospital, a ministry they continue today, as well as “helping out” in the city’s Blessed Sacrament Parish.

“God is with us no matter what. We’re still praying to the same Jesus. He’s there even if ‘Father’ isn’t. I think people realize that,” the two Sisters reflect.

“Our Journey with the Real Church: Faith in the Last Frontier,” can be purchased from

December 1, 2012