Sister Joan a lot more than St. Francis’ No. 1 fan

As head of school, Sister Joan of Arc Souza was behind the creation of the St. Francis varsity football team three years ago. Nick Abramo / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
As head of school, Sister Joan of Arc Souza was behind the creation of the St. Francis varsity football team three years ago. Nick Abramo / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Quick, how many heads of school has St. Francis had since 1991?

One, you say? Wrong. The answer is Nun.

Funny or not, Sister Joan of Arc Souza is who we are talking about, and she’s been in the post for these last 25 years.

Three years ago, she was a big reason behind the start of St. Francis’ varsity football team, and she’s watching it grow.

“I love sports,” Souza said after the Saints’ 21-6 loss to Damien last Saturday at Roosevelt. “Kids who are into sports are not doing drugs. And that’s why it’s important that we offer sports like football, baseball, volleyball for boys and girls.”

Right now, it’s an uphill climb for the Saints football team, which is 0-2 in the ILH and 2-4 overall. But, they’re “fighters” according to first-year head coach Kip Akana, and have been competitive in the league despite the two losses — 29-18 to Pac-Five and 21-6 to Damien. Two more league games remain, and you can bet Akana — with Sister Joan watching intently from her post at the 50-yard line and on the sideline at practices — will have the players ready to give it their best shot.

A 1961 graduate of St. Francis, Souza grew up in Pauoa Valley, and she knew at a young age that she wanted to be a nun. Soon afterward, she joined the Sisters of St. Francis.

She also oversaw the school’s transition from girls only to coed, starting in 2006 and fully realized schoolwide in the 2012-13 school year.

“Football brings the whole school together,” she said. “The players, the cheerleaders, the students who watch. It focuses the school to come out and support each other. We’ve been getting very good attendance.

“Many (close to St. Francis) were thinking this was going to be our year. I actually think in one more year, we’ll have the full contingent at the varsity level — an equal number of sophomores, juniors and seniors.”

Souza feels the football team will continue to enjoy growth and more success, and part of her reasoning is the solid performances put in the last few years by the St. Francis intermediate team, which has not lost a game on the field since 2012. Under Akana before he was promoted to varsity, the Saints’ intermediate team went 13-1 (the loss was a forfeit) combined in 2013 and 2014. The team is also unbeaten so far this season.

Souza, a University of Hawaii fan whose favorite NFL team is the Chicago Bears, is proud that not one St. Francis athlete in the intermediate school and high school is academically ineligible this year.

“By being on the field, it teaches them many things that aren’t taught in the classroom,” she said.

According to former Honolulu Star-Bulletin sportswriter Pat Bigold, who is a media consultant for eight schools including St. Francis, Sister Joan of Arc Souza is not your ordinary nun.

“You will see her at every game, rain or shine, and she gets very emotionally involved,” Bigold wrote in an email to Hawaii Prep World. “She can yell with the loudest of them! She is dead serious when it comes to the game, and for her, the program is not a take-it-or-leave-it thing.

“She has organized football ‘tailgate’ parties in her cafeteria, projecting UH games and even the Super Bowl on to the wall, while attendees bring pot luck. Not the stereotypical Catholic nun from the old movies!”


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