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Inside look: the life and times of Ms. Joe

How the foreign language teacher learned to balance English and French - and keep the best of both worlds

Bonjour%3A+Long+time+Roncalli+teacher+Ms.+Joe+stands+in+front+of+her+%22Eiffel+Tower%22+in+her+classroom.+The+French+teacher+has+accumulated+numerous+French+memorabilia+over+the+years.
Bonjour: Long time Roncalli teacher Ms. Joe stands in front of her

Bonjour: Long time Roncalli teacher Ms. Joe stands in front of her "Eiffel Tower" in her classroom. The French teacher has accumulated numerous French memorabilia over the years.

Photo by Will Allen

Photo by Will Allen

Bonjour: Long time Roncalli teacher Ms. Joe stands in front of her "Eiffel Tower" in her classroom. The French teacher has accumulated numerous French memorabilia over the years.

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Denise Joseph, affectionately known as “Ms. Joe,” grew up in a much different environment than the average Roncalli teacher. Croissants and “la glace” (ice cream) ruled in favor over a soda, hamburger, and french fries. 1950’s America is often branded as the epitome of simplicity, but the bucolic countryside of Québec – where Ms. Joe was raised – is truly special and distinguished in its own right.

The story begins on October 22, when Ms. Joe was born to her parents (both of whom spoke different languages from the other). Her parents met at a family wedding, and despite the communication barrier, they made things work by slowly learning each other’s language.

My mom was born in Montréal, Québec, Canada,” Ms. Joe said. “She spoke only French when she married my dad. She learned English by watching cartoons on TV when they moved to Indianapolis for my dad’s job.”

Growing up, Ms. Joe never let language hinder a relationship – in fact, she has always considered herself  “international” and cites French as the catalyst that fostered her love for traveling and languages. She was raised in the cosmopolitan city of Montreal and grew up in a melting pot more profound than America.

It was fun growing up in the city [of Montréal],” Ms. Joe said. “We had friends from all nationalities. We enjoyed speaking French with family members, English with our English speaking friends, and Italian with our Italian friends.”

Ms. Joe is known for her valiant efforts as a teacher, and her persistence day in and day out started at quite a young age.

“I was a serious student and wasn’t afraid to work hard to succeed in all my classes,” Ms. Joe said. “My favorite class was of course, French, where I excelled and learned to expand my knowledge of this beautiful language and culture. My worst class was math. It was a real challenge. My Dad used to say, ‘When God passed out a talent for math, you refused in favor of languages!’”

Despite her self described inadequacy in math, she overcompensated with a surreal knowledge of several languages and a profound ability to speak fluently and confidently.

“God gives to each his own talents, and my passion is certainly languages,” Ms. Joe said. “I speak French, English, a bit of Spanish and a bit of Italian.”

In addition to a vast knowledge of multiple languages, Ms. Joe is a prolific guitarist, often accompanying her sister “JK” in Sunday Mass performances. Their music career dates back to duo’s college days, where they played variety and talent shows.

“I was in choir during my high school years and at Marian,” Ms. Joe said. “I played guitar with my [sister], JK, at Marian’s Homecoming variety shows, and we also played for Sunday Masses at St. John’s Church downtown, as well as for several weddings and receptions of friends and relatives.”

Apart from her lengthy list of accomplishments, Ms. Joe will most definitely be remembered for her endless energy, as well as her incessant kindness and ability to connect with her students. In fact, Ms. Joe’s legacy could be summed up with her own motto: “My student’s success is my success!”  

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Inside look: the life and times of Ms. Joe