Joan Carr reads to students at St. Gerard School in north Edmonton. Photo courtesy Edmonton Catholic School Division

Her commitment was ‘second to none’

By  Kyle Greenham, Canadian Catholic News
  • February 23, 2020

EDMONTON -- Joan Carr’s Catholic faith was her compass. It guided her in everything she did.

Carr devoted herself to many aspects of Catholic life — as a teacher, principal, administrator and later superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, as a volunteer and as a board member for a variety of Catholic initiatives and causes. Her loss is being felt across the Catholic community.

Carr died of cancer on Feb. 9. She was 67. Her funeral was held Feb. 15 at St. Joseph’s Basilica, where she was a parishioner, with Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith presiding.

“Her faith was vibrant. It was at the centre of who she was,” said Sr. Zoe Bernatsky, a professor of theology at Newman Theological College, who knew Carr through the college and Alberta’s Ukrainian Catholic community.

“Joan’s work came out of a sense of vocation — that she was called to do this. She was called to share her gifts from God. She was a great exemplar of virtue and commitment in many ways. I feel like I’ve lost a mentor and a friend.”

That sense of vocation was always a part of Carr’s life, even in her final moments. Carr sent an e-mail to Bernatsky in December and mentioned that her cancer was worsening. But in her message, Carr also revealed her unwavering trust in God.

“Even with the challenges she was facing from a lack of energy and feeling fatigued, she expressed how thankful she was to the Lord and to those who were praying for her,” Bernatsky recalled. “She said she missed her life of service, but she recognized that the Lord was making way for a different service for her.

“You can see her life was imbued with faith,” Bernatsky added. “She would have had every excuse not to take the time to e-mail me back, but she still did. She lived life with a sense of purpose, to reach out to others and fulfill her duties, no matter the hardship she was going through.”

Carr was born on Oct. 11, 1952, in Lamont, 70 kilometres east of Edmonton. She married her husband Kevin, a former president of Newman Theological College, in 1991 and they raised three children — Sue, Jim and Patrick.

In her 45 years with Edmonton Catholic Schools, Carr served as kindergarten teacher, principal, consultant for special education services and human resources administrator before being appointed superintendent in 2006. By 2019, she was overseeing more than 4,200 staff and 44,000 students in 95 schools.

“Her commitment to the goals and ideals of Catholic education was second to none. It was everything to her,” said Dean Sarnecki, executive director of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association.

“She gave her heart and soul to that school division. It’s hard to imagine Edmonton Catholic without her there, and I imagine it will be very hard to replace her.”

As superintendent, Carr helped expand services in early learning, post-high school academics and Indigenous learning. In 2016, the Canadian Association of School System Administrators named her Canadian Superintendent of the Year.

“Joan was never tired. I honestly don’t know where she got her energy from,” said Corine Gannon, an assistant superintendent with ECS.

“She made sure we prayed together and she walked the faith by her leadership. She would often say, ‘That’s not good enough’ or ‘That’s not going to do.’ We would have to go back and rework it, and suddenly we’d get an e-mail late at night or an early-morning phone call with a new idea she had.

“She must have been healed by many angels, because she was relentless in her pursuit of excellence and doing everything she could to support our kids.”

In her personal life, Carr chaired the Sign of Hope Campaign for Catholic Social Services in 2007 and served on the board of directors of the Friars’ Ball fundraiser. Her community work included service on the Mayor’s Task Force to End Poverty, the Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta’s Board of Directors and the TELUS World of Science Foundation. At her downtown parish, she served as a eucharistic minister.

Although she was a private person, Carr would always make time for others. That outreach was felt in the Indigenous community in particular. Carr established the Council of Elders at Edmonton Catholic Schools and promoted a Cree bilingual program and enculturation efforts in schools.She attended the annual Ben Calf Robe Pow Wow each year and was recently honoured with her own Cree name — Asiniy Iskwew, meaning “Strong Woman.”

(Grandin Media)

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