In Your Midst

The Pew Next to You

Sept. 2009

We remember Joan McDonell, Linda Condes, and Deacon Joe Curtis

Back in 1996, when Father Ryan first got the idea of publishing a journal for St. James Cathedral parish, he didn’t know what it would be called, how often it would come out, or what would be in it.  But he did know who would take charge of the project:  it couldn’t be anybody but Joan McDonell.

If anybody knew about writing and publishing, it was Joan.  Her first newspaper job was as a “copy boy” (they call them “newsroom aides” these days) at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer while she was still a student at Holy Names Academy.  After graduation, she moved to the Seattle Times, where she worked as “a receptionist, library assistant, switchboard operator and news-photo clerk” all while pursuing a degree in journalism at the University of Washington.

As a young reporter, Joan Conner would cover interesting and sometimes oddball stories for the “Society” section: a story about Kiwanis wives and their recipe for fish pudding; an article about Miss Betty Warhanik and her work in the village of Hossana in Ethiopia; an interview with Mrs. Spencer Tracy and her advocacy of deaf children; a piece on Mrs. Frederick Dent Hammons and the miniature French apartment she created for a Hobby Fair in Chicago.

In 1953, Joan married attorney Lawrence McDonell.  They had eight children—four daughters, Cynthia, Celeste, Mimi, and Sara; and four sons, Colin, Christopher, Angus, and Kinnon.  While Joan took time off to care for the children, she always returned to the Times, working in a variety of newsroom departments, including real estate, radio and television, as well as the Dorothy Neighbors food and fashion sections.

“I am proud to say that my mother was a feminist before that phrase was coined,” daughter Mimi says, “as well as after it was used as a pejorative label.”

In 1974 Joan was honored by Washington Press Women for her writing.  She continued at the Times until 1999.  “Joan had a great positive spirit and was very encouraging to her fellow workers,” says Sharon Lane, the paper’s newsroom office manager.

“After her retirement ten years ago,” Father Ryan remembered in his homily for Joan’s funeral Mass, “she volunteered full-time in the parish office—sometimes doing the most menial of tasks, other times doing the kinds of tasks that only a bright, gifted writer and editor like her could do.  She served on the RCIA team, she served as a Eucharistic Minister, she served as a reader, and she was the founding editor of our parish journal, In Your Midst.  For years she helped young people prepare for marriage and, with her down-to-earth wisdom and compassion, she also helped hurting people heal their broken marriages.  Joan touched a whole lot of lives in this place, including the lives of each of the Cathedral staff members who invariably stopped by her desk in the parish office for a warm word: a word of encouragement, a word of wisdom.”

Mimi says:  “ Joan was a humanist. She refused to judge people because of their race, age (young or old), personal choices, religion or gender.”
Joan’s grandson Conner sums her up this way:  “Joan was distinct in appearance, always sporting a cashmere sweater and buttoned shirt. Proper, but never rigid. In her living room were stacks of New Yorkers and the pantry of her kitchen shelved Milano cookies. The combination of which indicated she was well read and enjoyed life’s simple pleasures.”
In recent years, Joan dealt with a long series of illnesses and setbacks.  To say she was courageous and uncomplaining would be an understatement.  Father Ryan says, “Joan was a giver.  She put others first.  With Joan it was never about her; it was always about you, always about someone else. She was a giver and she gave freely and generously.”  Joan’s son-in-law Michael Garrison, who helped to take care of her in her last weeks, writes, “Joan was all about the potential in people.  Engaging.  Quietly challenging so that you might discover something about yourself that she saw and you were blind to.”

Through it all, Joan was a person of faith.  Mimi says:  “Her faith in God was unwavering. She did not preach it, she lived it every day. All of us are witnesses to that.  Beyond that, though, was her faith in humanity, her faith in all of us. It didn’t matter if you were entering graduate school at age 23 or 53, raising millions of dollars for a cathedral renovation or memorizing lines to be the lead in your grade school play, she knew we could do it. Any hare-brained athletic endeavor we could come up with—running around Magnolia, running around Scotland, skiing down mountains, rowing across lakes, hiking or bicycling up mountains, mom would nod her head and smile, certain that we would finish (and then go back to reading the Seattle Times).”

Joan died on Sunday, June 21, at the home of her daughter Celeste, surrounded by her children.  “She died at the ‘family time,’ the McDonell family time,” Father Ryan said in his homily for Joan’s funeral Mass.  “The gang was all there and thanks to Celeste and Michael, the table was set.  It was then that Joan quietly—and with no more fuss and bother than she ever caused—made her passage from the earthly table to the heavenly table.  We who had been with her at table countless times before were wonderfully privileged to be with her at that painful but strangely beautiful passage.”

Maria Laughlin

On Wednesday, June 17, Linda Condes, a parishioner at St. James Cathedral for more than twenty years, and longtime coordinator of our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, passed away at Swedish Hospital.  Though Linda had struggled with chronic illness for many years, her death at the young age of 63 came as a shock to her family, and to the large parish family she had made her own.

It was not long after Father Ryan came to St. James Cathedral as pastor in 1988 that Linda, together with daughter Christina, was commissioned as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  Soon, she was not only distributing Holy Communion at Sunday Mass, she was helping Sister Claudette Conrad to train and coordinate the ministers (with a roster of nearly 100 volunteers to be scheduled at five weekend Masses, a dozen weekday Masses, plus special events, this was no small task!).  Linda’s gifts for organizing and guiding people served her well in this ministry.  As Father Ryan said in his homily for Linda’s funeral:  “Sunday after Sunday, with the skill of a liturgical drill sergeant, she had her ministers ever-so-carefully lined up, each of them armed with a hymnal and instructed to sing as they processed; each of them well aware of how to hold their hands, where they were to walk and where not; which way to go around the altar, whose station was which...   But none of this was in the service of lock-step liturgy; it was in the service of prayerful liturgy because Linda knew only too well that well prepared ministers could help others to pray and that poorly prepared ones got in the way of prayer.”

Linda’s ministry did not stop at the doors of the Cathedral.  For many years, until her health made it impossible, she brought the gift of Holy Communion to homebound seniors in their apartments and in nursing homes.  At First Hill Care Center, Linda would lead a weekly communion service, and then visit the rooms of those who were unable to come downstairs.  Perhaps it was because Linda herself was so frail, and had endured so many physical sufferings over the years, that she was so well able to understand and to connect with those who were chronically ill.  She would greet them by name, listen to their stories, and pray with them.

Linda stubbornly refused to allow her own suffering to get in the way of what she wanted to do.  “Linda could be painfully sick on a Sunday morning,” says Father Ryan, “but no amount of pain could keep her from being here to do her work.  The more observant, of course, could read the pain in her eyes but her ready smile was a courageous cover-up and, unless you really pushed her, you would never know there was anything wrong.”

As Linda’s friend and fellow Extraordinary Minister Teresita Guerrero puts it:  “for one so delicately fragile, Linda was EXTRAORDINARY!”
May she rest in peace!

Corinna Laughlin

The following paragraphs are taken from Father Ryan’s homily at the Funeral Mass for our longtime parish deacon and friend, Joe Curtis.

As nearly as I can recall, it was late in the winter of 1989 that I got a call from my friend, Joe Curtis, asking if there was a place for a deacon here at the Cathedral.  He’d been doing diaconal ministry in suburban parishes, he reminded me, but felt called to ministering in the heart of the city.

I had no trouble telling him yes.  I had known Joe for more than ten years—before and during his diaconal formation—and I knew that the streets of Seattle were his place.  He had walked them in this three-piece suit when he would leave his cushy, high-in-the-clouds office on the 48th floor of the Seafirst “black box” to go down to the Morrison Hotel for his weekly Bible Study with street people.  He had also walked those same streets late at night on Operation Nightwatch when he frequented seedy bars and taverns that would have caused his Board of Directors at Seafirst to blanch.  The streets of downtown Seattle were definitely Joe’s turf—which is another way of saying that St. James Cathedral was his turf.  So I told him, yes, we could use a deacon.  The rest is history.
Of course, ‘Deacon’ wasn’t Joe’s complete identity.  For 54 years he was Lois’ beloved husband, and for the past 9 years he was Martha’s.  He was also a loving father and grandfather.  And he was a very prominent banker in town, too, as well as a much sought-after board member, a gentleman farmer, a crack gardener, and a pretty fine poet. 

All his life long, Joe had to deal with physical limitations. The polio that took his young sister Mary left its mark on him, too, and as he got older, that became more and more apparent.  And it wasn’t something Joe found it easy to deal with, to say the least!  “How are you, Joe?” we would ask.  “Older,” he would answer.  That became something of a mantra these last years as he grew older, weaker, more frail, with thinner skin, diminished patience, growing frustration, a slightly addled mind, and a fading memory.  It was hard for us to see but even harder for Joe to experience.  In his better moments, I know he took comfort from St. Paul’s conviction that even though his “outer self” was wasting away, his “inner self” was daily being renewed, and that whatever affliction he had to endure was light in comparison with the eternal glory God had in store for him.

I don’t know how many of you are aware that as a young man, Joe had a desire to be a priest.  He actually spent some time in a seminary as a young fellow.  But God obviously had other plans.  Joe was to be a committed lay person in the Church and a family man; he was to have a very bright career in banking and serve the corporate and educational community as a leader; and then he was to cap it all off with nearly 30 years as an ordained deacon of the Church.  As one of the veteran deacons of the Archdiocese, Joe was to help define what deacon meant, reminding prospective deacons that service at the altar made sense only when it was grounded in service outside the safe confines of the sanctuary.  For Joe those less than safe confines were the streets of this parish, the messy, sometimes smelly, sometimes scary streets of our downtown and our skid road.  The streets of our downtown are better, thanks to him, and so are all the people Joe served and who came to know him, love him, and call him by name.

Now it’s time for God to call Joe by name.  It’s not difficult to hear that, is it?  “Come, Joe, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me…”

Joe, good friend, rest in peace.  I’m sure that you’re with the Lord now and that your welcoming committee was a whole bunch of the friends you made on the streets, or at Matt Talbot, or Lazarus Day Center, or Martin de Porres Shelter, or Operation Nightwatch. And I’m willing to bet, too, that when you met the Lord he looked suspiciously and surprisingly like those friends of yours from the streets, “the least of his brothers and sisters… for as often as you did it for one of these… you did it for me.”

Father Michael G. Ryan


Back to the September 2009 Issue of In Your Midst

Back To In Your Midst Page