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More than 200 friends, colleagues, elected officials, family members and other admirers came to a “Celebration of Sister Janet Corcoran's Contribution and Service to Humanity” at the Elwin Mussell Senior Center on Nov. 15. They learned a few things about her most of them didn’t know.

“The sister was the captain of her basketball team in high school and received the all-star award,” said State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who emceed the event. “What you may not know is that in high school someone wrote in her yearbook, ‘You are a swell chick.’ Who knew!”

The event, billed as a roast, was full of heartfelt and light-hearted comments from people who represented a broad spectrum of social, political, religious and cultural segments of our community -- many of whom are often on opposite sides of issues when they speak at governmental hearings, which Sister Janet often did.

“We’re here to honor this extraordinary, extraordinary woman,” Hannah-Beth said. “She’s been a source of inspiration, I believe, to everybody in this room.”

Both Hannah-Beth and Congresswoman Lois Capps mentioned how Sister Janet would call them at 9:30 at night.

“Larry Lavagnino … be careful, you might be next on her list of people to call,” Lois said.

“You kidding?” the former mayor responded from across the room.

“You already are?” Lois asked.

“Oh, God …” Larry lamented.

Calling her remarkable, Lois highlighted a few of Sister’s numerous accomplishments. Sister Janet started Peace Week, which was instrumental in Santa Maria being named an All-America City. She got a co-generation plant started that uses methane from the Santa Maria landfill to power Marian Regional Medical Center.

She lobbied for a neonatal care unit, advocated for allergy-free parks, and has served since 1960 in the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity. She recently retired from Marian hospital after 30 years as the vice president of Mission Services, and she serves on the boards of Catholic Charities and St. Vincent’s in Santa Barbara.

Mayor Alice Patino said she met Sister when they were working on Peace Week: “And one thing, when you’re raised a Catholic you don’t say no to a nun …” Alice began as Hannah-Beth interjected: “You don’t have to be Catholic to never say no to a nun.”

Alice turned to Sister Janet, who sat in a Peace Chair created for Peace Week.

“So I look at this as a ‘time-out’ chair Sister, instead of a Peace Chair. Sometimes you need it.” She added that working with Sister Janet on Peace Week was wonderful, and Sister has always been an advocate for the less fortunate.

Larry had his turn at the microphone: “One thing I did know is do not let Sister Janet do the prayer at the beginning of the meeting because you’re going to be there for about 30 minutes before she ever gets to ‘amen.’

“I really appreciate you Sister. You’ve been great,” Larry added.

Sheriff Bill Brown said he liked seeing Sister at the Board of Supervisors meetings. “She would admonish the board, ‘give the sheriff everything he asks for and more,’ so I just want our supervisors who are here today to remember that legacy. And on behalf of all of us, Sister Janet, I just want to say thank you for blessing us with your presence in this community.”

Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said a newspaper writer asked him why Marian Hospital didn't try to stop Sister Janet from being so outspoken.

“I told him, you don’t understand, she worked for a different boss … whoever she might be.”

Steve turned to Sister Janet: “I think the testament of what you’ve been able to do is when you do look around this room. I’ve never been to an event, seriously, where you have Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson introducing Andy Caldwell and having Congresswoman Lois Capps speaks about Sister Janet Corcoran during a reception in Sister’s honor Nov. 15 at the Elwin Mussell Senior Center. And Joyce Howerton and Ken Hough here with the mayor, and myself, and (Councilman) Bob (Orach).”

Sister Janet got the last word:

“This is the day that the Lord has made. From my heart to yours, thank you for blessing me with your presence. The Sisters of St. Francis, it means a lot to me that you’re here. And also my relatives, the Corcoran clan in the back here. They’re all a bit Irish, and they love happy hours.

“I wish to thank all involved for making today a reality, a beautiful life-giving experience: Congresswoman Lois Capps, Sen. Hannah-Beth ‘O-Jackson,’ Mayor Alice Patino, Joyce Howerton and her committee and volunteers. And again it was sponsored by The Fund for Santa Barbara, so we thank them and all involved in this program. From my heart to yours, thank you.”

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Jeanne Sparks is a writer, photographer and graphic artist. Send story ideas to jeanne@jeannesparks.com.

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