Celebrating the Life of Sr. Joan Polak, ND: A Testament to Faith, Service, and Love

Sr. Joan Polak, a cherished Notre Dame Sister, was born on November 2, 1929, in Surprise, Nebraska, the beloved daughter of Ivan and Frances Polak.  With gratitude for her life, we announce her peaceful passing on April 19, 2024, at the age of 94.

Sr. Joan was part of an extended kinship of religious Sisters in Nebraska including the Hanus, Polak, Rolenc, Havlovic, and Janousek families first and second cousins who all became Sisters as well. Sr. Joan attended Notre Dame Academy as a boarding student from 1943-47 and then received a Bachelor‘s degree in History and Education from Duchesne College after attending College of Saint Mary.

From 1950-1963 she taught the primary grades at St. Wenceslaus in Wahoo, Assumption in Omaha, St. Wenceslaus in Dodge, Nebraska, Our Lady of Lourdes in Porcupine, South Dakota, and St. Michael’s in Harlan, Iowa.

Sr. Joan had a missionary heart.  The community received a call from the Archbishop asking for Sisters to help establish a parish in Chile.  Sr. Joan generously responded.  In 1963, Sr. Joan embarked on a transformative journey to Chile, where she initially focused on educational endeavors, later extending her efforts to empower adult women through skills training in crafting, sewing, and cooking. After four impactful years, Sr. Joan returned to the United States.

Returning to Omaha, she spent time in ministry as a social worker with Douglas County Welfare Agency and Nebraska Department of Social Services.  During these years Sr. Joan’s deep commitment to encouraging and empowering others touched the lives of many facing desperate struggles in their lives.

In 1994 Sr. Joan’s missionary spirit called her to return to Latin America. Sr. Joan settled in Sulaco, Honduras, where she oversaw a sewing school teaching women skills to increase their economic independence. She also served as a translator for a local doctor. She tirelessly worked to uplift the impoverished communities, where access to basic necessities and medical care was limited.

Sr Joan had so much creativity and love for life.  She found nature a refreshing and strengthening spiritual inspiration and friend.  As she graciously shared her spirit with others, she brought them respect, affirmation, care, and hope.  She touched the lives of many with her joyful loving spirit.

Sr. Joan’s compassionate spirit endeared her to many, leaving behind a legacy of love, service, and unwavering faith. She is survived by her Notre Dame Sisters and sister, Rosemarie (Polak) Rosenberger (Dennis); sister-in-law, Liz Polak; nieces and nephews.

Preceding Sr. Joan in death were her beloved parents, Ivan and Frances (Sedlak); sisters Georgia (Polak) Siragusa (Phil); and Dolores (Polak)Cimino (Jim); brothers, Richard Polak (Rita); and Leo Polak; and nephew Michael Siragusa.

Sr. Joan’s final resting place is Calvary Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska. In lieu of flowers, it is requested that donations be made in Sr. Joan’s name to the Notre Dame Sisters of Omaha to continue their ministries.

As we bid farewell to Sr. Joan, let us hold dear the importance of humility, adaptability, solidarity with the poor, and genuine care for others. May her soul find eternal peace, and may her memory continue to inspire us all.

You’re invited to honor the memory of Sr. Joan Polak, ND, by watching a memorial video dedicated to her life and legacy: https://notredamesisters.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/November-2-1931-April-19-2024.mp4