For Sister Joan McGinty, dedicating her life to God also meant dedicating her life to the vulnerable, whether in her role as an elementary teacher and school principal or directing a ministry that helped women regain their lives after escaping torture.

McGinty, whose curious mind and compassionate heart inspired and comforted many, died on Oct. 25 of complications from vascular dementia. She was 87.

Born and raised in north Minneapolis, McGinty was the oldest of six children, with five younger brothers. When she was barely in her teens, her father Charles died from tuberculosis and she took on a more maternal role at home, helping her mother Kathryn raise the boys. As she neared the end of high school, McGinty felt called to join the convent, but she worried about abandoning her mother.

"She had a hard time deciding to leave her mother alone to raise the boys," said Mary Frances McKay, her cousin. "But, of course, her mother was so proud of her decision."

She entered the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1948. Three years later she was given her first vocational assignment as a Catholic elementary schoolteacher. For more than a decade, McGinty taught fourth through eighth grades. She earned her bachelor's degree in sociology and education from the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in 1959 and followed with a master's degree in education from the College of St. Thomas (now the University of St. Thomas). In 1964, she was assigned principal of St. Mary of the Lake School in White Bear Lake, the first of four principal posts. It was in that position where Sister Jean Wincek, principal of a different area Catholic school, first got to know McGinty.

"She is a bit older than me. So many of us looked to her as a mentor," Wincek said. "She was smart, creative, organized and she was collaborative in her leadership. Those were the qualities that us newbies wanted to emulate."

During this period, McGinty would host her large family's Christmas gathering at the school, which became legendary among her nieces and nephews. She was always athletic, McKay said, and would be out on the gymnasium floor playing sports with the kids.

She retired from education in 1993 and dabbled in a variety of other activities and ministries until 1999, when "she started doing one of the things that was closest to her heart," Wincek said. She became director of Sarah's ... an Oasis for Women, which takes in women from around the world escaping war, violence, trauma and torture. Women typically stay 12 to 18 months and are given the resources they need to restart their lives.

A few years ago, her cousin recalls, McGinty was hospitalized with a broken femur, and when she was admitted, one of the women receiving her asked, "Is this Sister Joan of Sarah's?" When the family told her yes, the hospital worker dropped her head to her chest and clutched her hands to her heart, saying, "This is my Joan. I will take very good care of her." She was one of the women McGinty helped at Sarah's.

Friends and family describe her as curious, nonjudgmental, accepting, funny and full of integrity.

"She had a confidence that was comforting but, just like her intelligence, it wasn't overpowering," McKay said.

In 2002, she entered full retirement and spent much of her time volunteering on committees for the nonprofit Earthjustice and sustainability issues, Wincek said; "the wellness of the Earth" was her focus during retirement.

She is survived by her brothers Don, Tom, John, Tim and Charlie McGinty, as well as many nieces, nephews, cousins and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Services have been held.