Sister Joan Harrington

How does a champion speed skater from Syracuse, New York end up changing the lives of so many people in the Deep South?

How did that speed skater get from Syracuse to Adamsville, Alabama where she left a long enduring mark on the parish of St. Patrick?

The saying goes, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” And He was certainly at work in the life of Sister Joan Harrington.

Joan Teresa Harrington was born on May 10, 1934, in Syracuse, NY. She was part of a speed skating family that participated in many events. The Syracuse Post-Standard from February 1952 states, “Joan Harrington Wins Skate Title at Saranac Meet”.

Sr. Joan

Sister Joan Harrington

Fr. Pat, Sr. Joan and Deacon Dan
The article mentions her sister, Cathy, as well. It was a speed skating family as noted by the Post-Standard headline from 1956: “Harringtons Dominate City Speed Skate Carnival”. By that time, Sister Joan had passed the ice-skating torch to her siblings as she had entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Troy, New York in 1955.

Joan knew speed skating was not her calling. Service to others was. She professed her final vows on August 6, 1962, with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. After receiving a degree in elementary education and a master’s in psychology, Sister Joan put her talents and education to use, serving as a teacher and principal in schools in New York and then in Georgia.

Eventually she found her way to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Adamsville to work alongside Father Pat Sullivan and Deacon Dan Whitaker. Under their leadership, the church exploded with many new programs of spiritual development and community outreach. Sister Joan’s mild and gentle nature was quite a contrast to Father Pat’s outgoing, boisterous personality. But the two learned from each other and continued to grow in their ministry. St. Patrick flourished under their leadership.

Sister Joan served as pastoral minister and director of religious education. Seeing a need for youth activities, she sought out leaders to start a youth ministry program. Starting with high school and then junior high, that program was given the name SPIRIT and lives on today.

But it wasn’t programs or activities that are the legacy of Sister Joan Harrington. While at St. Patrick, she not only became an integral part of the church family, but, for many, was considered a part of their own family. She was a woman known for her joy that radiated from her to warm those she met.

Sister Joan and Debbie Muro
Sister Joan and Debbie Muro
Donnie Schober and Sister Joan
Donnie Schober and Sister Joan
She often spent holidays with different members of the parish, feeling at home in houses filled with the hustle and bustle of large families, perhaps reminding her of her own childhood in the large Harrington family. Her gentle spirit and kind nature was welcomed by many who considered her a faithful friend until the day she died.

In late 2020, there was an outbreak of Covid in the provincial home for the Sisters of St. Joseph. Sister Joan passed away December 13, 2020. She was one of several sisters lost to the pandemic.

Even though she had departed St. Patrick many years prior, the news of her death brought great sadness to her former parish. Lisa Daugherty called her “a spiritual mentor and friend to me and my mother.” Ronnie Muro said, “Sister Joan had a profound influence on my spiritual life, and I will forever be grateful.” Others called her “a truly great lady” and “an absolute asset to St. Patrick, Adamsville, Alabama.”

Joan Harrington began her life racing. Her races were on ice and her objective was to skate faster than her competitors. For Sister Joan Harrington, the race was a different one altogether. It was not one of competition, but one of perseverance and faithfulness. And once again Sister Joan was a winner.
In loving memory of Sister Joan Harrington. May you Rest in Peace. You are missed, but your presence and impact remain.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” – 2 Timothy 4:7

This article was composed by Ronnie Muro. Additional sources from the following websites:;;
Sister Joan