Pope Francis honors Sister Joan Fitzgerald for her service

Sister Joan Fitzgerald has graced Xavier’s halls with her kind spirit, mellow sense of humor and heart of service for 60 years. She has accumulated many awards recognizing her impact on the Xavier community, but she was recently presented with one of the highest honors: the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal.

Pope Francis, who recognized Fitzgerald’s devotion and service to the Catholic Church through her work at Xavier, awarded her this medal. 

Fitzgerald was presented with this award at the Bishop’s Mass on Wednesday, March 16. This Mass was held by Xavier to welcome the new head of the Diocese of Phoenix, Bishop John Dolan, who had personally reached out to the Pope petitioning that Fitzgerald be bestowed with this honor. He just recently received word that the Pope had decided to honor her, and he took this Mass as an opportunity to share Fitzgerald’s accolade with the Xavier community.

This was news not only to many of the attendants at the Mass, but to Fitzgerald herself, who said she was “very surprised.”

Attending the Mass to take part in honoring Fitzgerald was former superintendent of the diocese Marybeth Mueller, who worked closely alongside Fitzgerald for many years. Mueller was the only Diocese of Phoenix recipient of this honor and was awarded it during her time as superintendent. 

Fitzgerald said it was “special to share” this moment with her former colleague, as they have maintained their relationship over the years. 

Also attending the Mass and beaming with pride for Fitzgerald was Sister Joanie Nuckols, Xavier’s principal, who was “absolutely ecstatic,” when Fitzgerald received the award. 

Nuckols said she admires Fitzgerald’s service, as she is an integral part of the Xavier community who “does so many things for people behind the scenes.”

She is “the epitome of an educator,” said Nuckols. She appreciates not only Fitzgerald’s astounding service, but also her kindness and sense of humor, which is a light at Xavier according to Nuckols.  

The entire Xavier community shares in Nuckols’s pride for Fitzgerald, and is fortunate to call such an impactful woman Xavier’s president.