March 2009 - Vol. 28

Joan McGreal Has 
Hung Up Her Boots!

A tribute to a missionary 
of the poor 

by Martin Steinbereithner

It must have been in 2002 when I first bumped into Joan McGreal at an Antioch community prayer meeting in London, UK. She was 63 then. After running a medium-security correctional facility for young people she had had a deeper conversion, which prompted her to sell all her possessions (with the exception of her flat, thanks to advice from Trevor Perry, senior coordinator of Antioch Community). She was then ready for radical things: her parish priest had asked her to go out to Mozambique, and she was just completing preparations to go. I knew nothing of all this; I was simply desperate to add a woman to a mission team to serve in Lisbon in a few weeks’ time. Somehow it occurred to me to ask her, and she agreed at the drop of a hat. 

On day two or three of our time in Lisbon, she and I had a chance to sit and share in the home of Joao Perloiro, one of the coordinators of A Boa Nova Community in Lisbon. The more I heard of her testimony the more I realized that I was in the presence of an exceptional woman. She quickly won the hearts of the Portuguese brothers and sisters in A Boa Nova, who invited her back to spend some time in their community to study the language before setting out for Maputo in Mozambique.

Mission Team Weekend - Joan is in the front center 

Eventually Joan got to Mozambique and served for several months in circumstances which would have been daunting for people half her age. After coming back to London, she became an encourager of radical ventures, be it in the Philippines, Detroit or London. She joined us on a Sword of the Spirit Mission Team Weekend (see photograph) and was immediately adopted as our mom: somehow she combined a radical edge with a warm, kind heart.

For the last few years she worked with the poor in many different places, including London’s Wormwood Scrubbs prison. Community was not always an easy place for her, especially when it seemed to lack commitment to the poor. But she remained close friends with many of us in the Sword of the Spirit communities, always sporting her yellow Timberland boots..

After complications following pneumonia Joan passed to her reward on Sunday 25th January. That is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul in some of our liturgical calendars: a fitting “coincidence” for a woman who got knocked off her horse some ten years ago and who since then continued to walk in the footsteps of Christ as closely as she knew how.

May her example inspire many of us to radical discipleship and a love for the poor! 

[Dr. Martin A. Steinbereithner is a member of the Servants of the Word, an international ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the Lord, and the Director for Mission Development for the Sword of the Spirit in Europe, Middle East & Africa. He currently lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland..]

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