Cojourners in the Spotlight

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David Brunner
Joan Cordes 

David Brunner

David Brunner

David grew up on a farm in the hilly Pennsylvania Dutch country of eastern Pennsylvania, learned a little of that dialect and was fully formed in the culture of that region. He is of German and Swiss ancestry and is Mennonite. He had an older brother, now deceased, and a younger brother. All three boys were very close. Given the fact that his mother had five babies that died before he was born, he felt a lot of pressure to live up to the miraculousness of his survival. His job on the farm was to care for the chickens: collecting eggs, cleaning and grading them; feeding the chickens, chasing them and finally killing them for food.

David went to public school until tenth grade when the local churches opened a Mennonite high school, which he attended during his last two years of high school. He says he knew from the age of about five that he was going to be a minister, even earning him some nicknames in school because "religious ministry was all I was interested in." That Mennonite high school still exists, serving 350 to 400 students. It has an excellent academic reputation, as well as fine music and good athletics.

His church taught of peace and nonresistance. So David was a conscientious objector during wartime, as were his two brothers. They had simple worship in their church with no instruments, not even an organ or piano, so he learned 4-part singing from childhood. His parents were good musicians, "so music got into my ears early on." When he went to college, he got a degree in sociology which opened doors for him. David learned to think as a sociologist and anthropologist, which helped him to work with interfaith groups, especially refugees and immigrants. "I built on that foundation and each experience gave me a new direction and understanding." In college he took some Bible courses such as Introductory Greek. After graduation he went to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, (near Notre Dame), and became more involved in peace and justice issues. He got married while in seminary and then took two years off to fulfill his Community Service as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War era. He worked in the Church office, processing applicants for volunteer service.

After those two years, David completed his theological training and began serving as pastor of a new, small congregation. At the same time, he worked as a community social worker for County Child Welfare as a case worker for dependent, neglected and abused children. "That was where my theology was refined." During this time, he was confronted with new career challenges: should he become a fulltime social worker or remain in church ministry? He finally decided to pursue further ministry training and attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and took Clinical Pastoral Education, working as Chaplain in hospital and also taking psychiatric training in a community mental health center in Philadelphia. He then returned to Akron, Ohio, where he remained for three years, starting a chaplaincy program in Akron General Hospital and pastoring his congregation. During these years he and his wife had two daughters. They later entered a volunteer program of the Mennonite church in the coal country of Appalachia, in Kentucky. He was put in charge of the Letcher County Family Services. His wife worked in public health. There David learned about the Appalachian culture and what it was like to be in the thrall of big coal, "King Coal." There were two main choices for the people -- to work in the coal mines or to be on welfare.

David and his wife added to their family by adopting a son who was four and a half. While in Appalachia, David grew to love bluegrass music. But he struggled internally when he saw what was happening to the people in that area. With the counsel of a friend in the Mennonite Church, he returned to pastoral ministry, taking a charge in rural Nairn, near London, Ontario, Canada. After serving that parish for eight years, he and his family returned to Elkhart, Indiana, where he accepted a position as Chaplain in Greencroft, a Mennonite retirement community in Goshen, Indiana. Meanwhile, his wife asked to leave the marriage and he lived alone for five years. He said, "While living alone, I discovered my spirituality in a new and dynamic way. I learned to know God in a personal way. That was revolutionary for me." He also completed his Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Counseling through the Graduate Theological Foundation, South Bend, Indiana. David left Greencroft after 13 years, served an interim year as Hospital Chaplain in Plymouth, Indiana, and worked another 18 months for the Area Agency on Aging. He also attended The Beginning Experience weekend retreat, a program for recovery from divorce. His healing continued. In that context, he met Jo Ann, whom he later married, and together they have a joyful, happy marriage of 26 years.

In 2001, David received a call from the Rochester Mennonite Church in Rochester, Minnesota. At that time the church congregation met for worship in the Tek Lounge at Assisi Heights. He became interested and involved with the Peace and Justice activities of this Franciscan Community. He also worked for the Diversity Council's Becoming the Solution Program for several years, leading diversity and inclusion programs for community, academic organizations and businesses. In September of 2005, David made his Covenant as a Cojourner and has been involved with the Assisi Community ever since. He currently is on the Rochester Franciscan Life Team.

Since 2013, he has been retired and is really enjoying doing what he wants to do! Music has been important to him throughout his life. In every community in which he has lived, in he sang in a community chorale. He currently sings with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale.

David feels a strong connection with the Sisters, especially in their stance on Non-Violence, Peace and Discipleship. "Though we may have differences in theology, we can honor each other by working together as Peacemakers."

Joan Cordes

Joan Cordes

I think it is fitting that we visit Joan as she completes her sixth year on the Cojourner Advisory Council. Thank you, Joan!

Joan grew up in Fairmont, Minnesota, and was taught by the Rochester Franciscans through eighth grade. Sister Sean Clinch was her teacher in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades, and Sister Fidelis was the principal when Joan was in 7th and 8th grades. Joan started coming to Assisi Heights to visit them in 1958, and then visited other Sisters as well. She started her freshman year at the College of St. Teresa in Winona, but for financial reasons and because she was needed at home, she was unable to continue. Joan had one brother with Down Syndrome and she helped care for him until he passed at age 62.

Joan met her husband in Winona, while he was attending St. Mary's College, and they married in 1961. They lived in Chicago for a couple of years, then he was transferred to New York. In 1972, they moved to Texas with the space program. Every year, Joan would come home to Minnesota and would make a day trip to Rochester to see the Sisters at Assisi Heights. Though she no longer has relatives in Minnesota, Jean and twelve of her grade school classmates gather in Fairmont every year. She combines this with her annual Assisi Heights visit.

Joan has three children - two sons and one daughter. One son lives in Kansas City and her daughter lives in Connecticut. Her son and three grandchildren live in the Houston area. Joan is very proud that her daughter recently received a Humanitarian Award from Southwestern University.

In 1991, at the suggestion of Sister Fidelis, Joan became a Cojourner. Cojourning became so much more than just her relationship with Sister Fidelis. She wishes that she were more able to be a part of the wonderful offerings at the Heights, but tries to live her Franciscanism where she is. She says "You don't have to be physically present to take part on committees, make phone calls, write letters, sign petitions or participate in the activities." Joan is currently part of the Immigration Task Force. She found that she was very active in environmental issues and she began to educate herself when she embarked upon a career in the marina industry. Although now retired, she remains involved in the Galveston Bay and Estuary concerns. She has been president of the Marina Association of Texas and a board member with the Galveston Bay Foundation. She was the first woman to take over these duties in a male-dominated world!

Joan "continues to grow where she is planted." At the request of her pastor, she and a friend started an English as Second Language program in their parish a few years ago. She was part of a Woman's Spirituality Board for a number of years and was also involved in "Second Family," whereby they visited the homebound on a regular basis.

Joan states that the Sisters have had a great influence on her life; she is Franciscan through and through. The Franciscan values carried her throughout her career. She appreciates the Sisters' stands on justice and peace issues. "No matter how varied our backgrounds, it is comforting to know that there are over 100 other men and women that profess the same commitment to carry on the legacy, not only of Francis and Clare, but for all the Sisters of Saint Francis in the Rochester Franciscan Community."  

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