Who Is Joanna?

As we prepared the Buffalo house for the Franciscan sisters, we found some old documents in an attic. They were written in Polish and had belonged to Joe’s grandmother, Mary, who came to the United States from Poland during the great immigration and had lived with Joe and his family for a number of years before she died in 1965 at the age of 72.

One was the church marriage certificate of her and her husband, Jozef, who were married in Buffalo on July 7, 1914. She was 21 and he was 27. The other document was a shock to Joe.

It was a church baptismal certificate for someone named Joanna Mianowany and was dated on Christmas Eve of 1915.

  As long as Joe could remember, no one in his family had ever mentioned anyone named Joanna. Most people thought Mary and Jozef had only two children -- Joe’s father, Walter, who was born in 1920, and Joe’s uncle, Stanley, who was born a few years earlier and died in 1995.

  We did a bit of detective work and determined that Joanna was the first child of Mary and Jozef. She was born on Monday, Dec. 20, 1915, and named after her father.

 The fact that she was baptized four days later on Christmas Eve appeared a bit odd since that was traditionally a very important Polish holiday and did not seem a likely time for a religious couple to schedule a baptism. Also, in 1915, Christmas Eve was on a Friday and Christmas on Saturday. Baptisms often take place on a Sunday. Why would Joanna's parents not wait for two days? It is our theory that perhaps Joanna was already very ill and her parents feared she would not live that long – leading them to have her baptized then. 

That, of course, cannot be determined, but what is known is that she lived only 29 days and died on Jan. 17, 1916. As with so many other poor immigrant families of that era, the Mianowanys buried her in a section of unmarked child graves in Buffalo’s St. Stanislaus Cemetery two days later.                                                    

A hard-scrabble life then went on for Jozef and Mary who in later years gave birth to Stanley and then Walter. But Jozef died in 1931 at the age of 43, leaving Mary to raise two boys on her own, while working as a cleaning woman in a country where she couldn’t read or write or speak the language very well.

To the best of Joe’s knowledge his grandmother never spoke much of her daughter, Joanna. Joe’s father, who was born five years after Joanna, never mentioned to him that he had a sister who died. It is unclear how much, if anything, he knew of the story.

In any event, Joanna’s memory must have stayed close to her mother’s heart since she kept her baptismal certificate among her very few possessions.

What also is known is that after Joanna died, no one in the family was named after Jozef until Joe was born in 1955. Perhaps he was supposed to be the one to find her records.

   Working with St. Stanislaus Cemetery, we located Joanna’s grave in the old unmarked section and had a granite baby gravestone installed to recognize the  far too short of a time she spent on this Earth.

  She was born helpless, weak, and in an unfortunate situation. For many  decades she was also forgotten.

  But no longer. She is now the name of The Joanna Project.


Home     What Is It?     How Did It Start?     The Buffalo Model     Who Is Joanna?     Contact