Sister Barbara Jeanne Howard died at Saint Joseph Villa on February 9, 2021. She was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1934. Her parents, Genevieve and George, provided a happy home life for both Barbara and her younger brother, Ronald. When Barbara was four years old, her father was drafted into the US Navy and this event marked the beginning of her strong prayer life. Likewise, she claims an early connection with the Community since her father was stationed in LePuy, France. Her early education consisted of elementary school at St. Joseph the Carpenter School in Roselle and high school at Holy Family Academy in Bayonne. During her train ride home from school, Barbara remembers the bus driver would save her two seats, one for her and one for her homework. She appreciated this treat on a daily basis.
Under the influence of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Barbara entered the community in 1952, immediately after her high school graduation. As S. Rose Eileen, she taught elementary schools in Maryland, New Jersey, and the Philadelphia area. During her time in Washington, DC, Martin Luther King was assassinated. Responding to the unrest and upheaval of the Civil Rights Movement, Barbara felt motivated to participate in the peaceful marches going on in most major cities. However, her “old fashioned superior” did not share Barbara’s vision, so she never “walked the walk” at that time.
Barbara’s ministry as the associate superintendent of schools in Newark archdiocese led her to instructing other teachers at Seton Hall University and developing curriculum for the schools. In 1991, Barbara left the classroom for parish work. To prepare herself for this transition to assume the position at St. Philomena Parish in Livingston, New Jersey, Barbara obtained a Master’s Degree in pastoral ministry. This led to a new chapter in her life. For the next 25 years, this dedicated SSJ worked tirelessly with the youth of the parish as well as other vital programs. She visited the sick, developed a food pantry, and coordinated parish outreach programs from the Sharing Office.
It has been noticed that Barbara “was consumed with the desire to help the poor and the needy.” Since St. Philomena is an affluent parish, Barbara encouraged the parishioners to get involved and “make a difference.” In doing so she assured the volunteers that they would “experience the fullness of God’s love.” Her efforts to serve the economically poor were described as imaginative, bold, and exciting. Indeed, Barbara involved the local merchants, the town council, and the school system. Her longtime friend, S. Ann Marie Sullivan, remarked, “Whether Barbara was teaching fifth graders how to deal with percentages, pointing out, to a student teacher, better techniques for assigning homework, or collecting turkeys and hams in St. Philomena’s parking lot, she did it with gusto and a love and concern for all.”
One of the Eucharistic letters reminds us that Jesus’ love is made visible in the bread and wine, so too is our love made visible as we continue to serve the “dear neighbor.” Barbara embraced and embodied these sentiments in the manner she lived her life. Barbara, may you now enter Paradise with that same “gusto.” Rest in peace.