Sister Joan Andert Honored with 2023 Annunciation Award

It’s been nearly four decades since Sister Joan Andert, SSND, ministered at Notre Dame Regional High School, but she admits, she may have left her heart in Cape Girardeau.

Sister Joan, now director of the ministry office for the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) Central Pacific Province in St. Louis, is a 2023 recipient of Notre Dame Regional High School’s (NDHS) prestigious Annunciation Award.

The honor was bestowed by the NDHS Education Fund Foundation Oct. 13 at the Acts of the Apostles Dinner at the Jackson Civic Center.

The award is presented annually to individuals who have devoted immeasurable time, talent or treasure to sustain Catholic secondary education in the community and whose presence, by word and deed, has enriched the lives of the students of Notre Dame and served as an example for all.

“I was so surprised,” she said, upon learning she would be honored. “To be included in that group – I was humbled and pleased. It affirms that I have never truly completely left Notre Dame. Notre Dame will always have a home for me.

“This award – I can’t even explain how meaningful it is to me,” Sister Joan said, recalling key Notre Dame faithful, including Bob Basler, John Holland and Sister Carol Weber, SSND, among the pillars who laid the groundwork for the Notre Dame Regional High School Foundation, ensuring the future success of the school. “This award represents the blood, sweat and tears of a lot of people.”

Alex Jackson, former NDHS development director, said, he remembers Sister Joan contacting him as a new Development Director at Notre Dame with some tips to make his solicitations look a little more personal.

“This made even more sense to me after speaking with so many alumni who have very fond memories of Sister Joan,” Jackson said. “There are also many past and current faculty members that can recount her dedication to the success of Notre Dame.  She is the real deal.  The love for her students and her faith has filled the halls and memories of the Notre Dame Family far beyond her physical presence as a staff member.”

The Andert Family

Sister Joan, who resides at the School Sisters of Notre Dame motherhouse in her native St. Louis, is the daughter of the late Tom and Delores Andert. As the only daughter among seven children, her brothers have affectionately named her the “family matriarch” and “family social director”. As such, she’s the go-to resource for family genealogy and genetic questions, and the conveyor of family news.

“We were post-World War II Boomers,” Sister Joan said. “If we were poor, we didn’t know it.”

She and her six brothers – Tom, Gerry, Bob, John, Steve and Mark — were raised “in a very happy family” about a mile south of the St. Louis Zoo.

Sister Joan recalls her mother telling her, “You’ll have to find your own sisters. I’ve done all I can.”

Sister Joan’s Calling

Sister Joan heeded that advice. After being taught by the Dominicans during her grade school years and the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the School Sisters of Notre Dame during high school, she realized it was the School Sisters of Notre Dame who made a deep and lasting impression.

“I very much liked the sisters,” she said of her order. “I just really liked their optimism, and I was drawn by their can-do spirit to get things done.”

Sister Joan made her first profession with the School Sisters of Notre Dame on June 18, 1972. She was fortunate the sisters were in her “backyard” in St. Louis; she didn’t need to venture far.

Career as Educator Begins

Following her profession, she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1973 from the former Notre Dame College in St. Louis, then launched her journey as a lifelong educator.

“I loved math,” she said, which translated well into years of teaching various aspects of the discipline, mostly at the high school level. She began teaching at St. Joseph in East St. Louis, Illinois, where she learned sixth graders were not her forte.

Notre Dame Years Prove Meaningful

From there, she moved to Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau, where she taught from 1974 to 1984, an experience she remembers fondly, particularly colleagues, former students and friends with whom she remains connected.

At NDHS, she taught geometry, chemistry and pre-calculus, and was a member of the Mathematics Department along with Lenny Kuper and Brad Wittenborn. She later joined them as classmates as the three together pursued master’s degrees in mathematics during summer sessions at Southeast Missouri State University, graduating in 1984.

In addition to mathematics, Sister Joan taught two junior-level theology courses – “Morality” and “Church History.”

“History is nowhere near my expertise, but I enjoyed that,” she said.

Sister Joan, along with Wittenborn, also are credited with introducing technology at NDHS and pioneering NDHS’ technology program.

“Personal computers were just coming out,” she said. “This was going to change things.”

In about 1978, she and Wittenborn drove to an Apple computer store in St. Louis, where the two purchased Notre Dame’s first computer (without a monitor) for about $1,200.

“It was cutting edge at the time,” Sister Joan said.

The next day, they gave a faculty meeting presentation on the new computer’s capabilities, a demonstration that she recalls being met with “oohs” and “ahs” by her colleagues. The computer had no monitor, but was connected to a television, where the content was projected. She and Wittenborn would later develop a program for recording students’ grades on the machine. Eventually, four to five computers were added for student use in the math classroom, and an “Introduction to Computers” course consisting of simple programming and computer games was developed for freshmen.

Outside of the classroom, Sister Joan recalls other fond Notre Dame memories. Drawing on photography skills she learned in college, she helped develop film, and print black and white photos in a school dark room for the NDHS yearbook. She also took photos during dress rehearsals for the school’s annual spring musical, in addition to serving in other musical support roles, including supervising the set construction and makeup crews.

Sister Joan said she knew nothing about theatre, “but I knew three things. I knew how to collect money, how to enforce rules and how to call 911. Fortunately, I didn’t have to call 911.”

In recalling her duties with the makeup crew, she laughed, saying, “I don’t wear any makeup, so I would say ‘blend that more.’ I learned by doing.”

It was a rewarding experience that offered out-of-the classroom connections with students.

“You learn so much more about the kids, their circumstances, their personalities. They like that you like them. They like the attention. If they know you like them, they want to do well.”

She also coordinated student bus trips to Washington, D.C., to participate in the annual March for Life in the nation’s capital. It was a rewarding experience, she recalls.

“It was an opportunity to spend time with the kids. I was always impressed by the kids who would ante up the money” to participate in these trips. “Kids come from all over the country to have a voice. They were all people who know life is a gift not to be taken lightly,” she said.

Her collective memories of her years at Notre Dame are heartfelt.

“The whole southeast Missouri experience was an experience in Church. The sisters, priests, laity – there was a real understanding of the Church. Vatican II was just beginning to be understood. The people of God there working as a community were wonderful,” she said.

“Notre Dame was the center of our lives,” she said of her close faculty colleagues, adding she remains in touch with Kuper, Wittenborn, Betty Cox, Carol Glueck and Cindy King, all her fellow NDHS teachers.

“They are kind of like the kids you grew up with,” she said. After some time away, “you pick up with them right where you left off.”

Next Steps in Sister Joan’s Career

After departing Notre Dame, Sister Joan continued her role as an educator at the former St. Paul High School in Highland, Illinois; and Quincy Notre Dame High School in Quincy, Illinois. In 1987, she arrived at Rosati-Kain High School in St. Louis, teaching until 1989 and then serving as the school’s administrator and president until 2018.

Recruiting Brother David Migliorino to NDHS

During her tenure at Rosati-Kain, she served on committees in St. Louis in which Brother David Migliorino participated. During one of those meetings, Migliorino mentioned to her that he was interested in exploring a new opportunity in the Midwest after having served at the former Saint John the Baptist High School in St. Louis.

“He asked me to help him find a job,” she said, and she says she’s responsible for recruiting him to Notre Dame.

Upon learning of Sister Mary Ann’s (Fischer), SSND, plans to retire as Notre Dame principal, Sister Joan “pitched” the idea to Wittenborn of a Brother serving as principal, a concept that would diverge from a long line of School Sisters of Notre Dame serving as the school administrator. The rest is history as Migliorino, a member of the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, joined NDHS in 1998, serving as the school’s principal until 2019.

“I have so much respect for him,” Sister Joan said of Migliorino.

Director of Ministry, SSND Central Pacific Province

Since 2019, Sister Joan has served as the director of ministry with the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province in St. Louis. She supports the leaders of 16 ministries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas and Guam. These include a university; a Dallas, Texas, special needs school; high schools and grade schools in Guam, Texas, St. Louis and Burlington, Wisconsin; and social outreach ministries, including a residential program for homeless women, two programs in Minnesota that provide English instruction to immigrants, and literacy programs for young children.

She’s responsible for ensuring “the ideals of the School Sisters of Notre Dame permeate these ministries.”

The School Sisters also extend their charism in affiliated ministries, including Whole Kids Outreach in Ellington, Missouri, she said.

Reflections on 51 Years as a School Sister of Notre Dame

Sister Joan celebrated her 50th Jubilee in June 2022. Reflecting on her five decades of ministry, she pinpoints “people” as the highlight of her career — “just getting to know people as they invite you into their community. “Growing and loving them” have been the hallmarks, she says.

She counts the people she met along the way in southeast Missouri as pivotal to her journey.

“I am so grateful for my 10 years in Cape Girardeau and at Notre Dame. They were such a blessing,” she recalls. “They grounded me more than I ever really realized.”