Joyce Williams' prayer list was so long that she would wake up before dawn to get started on it.
The longtime teacher and mother of seven would spend the first hours of her day praying for her children, her students, anyone she knew who was sick or troubled.
"People say, 'Oh, I'll keep you in my prayers,' " said her daughter Judi Neeld. "But my mom really kept you in her prayers."
Joyce A. Williams, of Bustleton, died Christmas Day after a long battle with kidney cancer. She was 68.
Mrs. Williams was a nursery-school aide and Sunday school teacher at St. James' Parish in Elkins Park for more than 20 years. A devout Catholic, she strove to educate children in the faith and was passionately involved in a number of the church's causes, her family said.
She had seven children with her first husband, Joseph McLane, whom she met when he stopped his car on Rising Sun Avenue just to say hello.
"She tried to make every day fun for us," said her son Joe McLane Jr. His mother painted tic-tac-toe games on the concrete basement floor of the family home, covered the walls in alphabet letters and nursery rhymes, and hung swings from the rafters.
When her first marriage ended, she went to work in the nursery school at St. James.
"I think she just loved being around children - even when she had seven of her own," Joe Jr. said, laughing.
In her spare time, Mrs. Williams volunteered at nursing homes, wrote letters to the imprisoned, and drove elderly members of her parish to Mass.
Each year she traveled to Washington for the March for Life to protest the Roe v. Wade decision - usually carrying a sign with a photo of one of her 18 grandchildren - and volunteered at Cradle of Hope, a home for single mothers in financial distress.
She met her second husband, James Williams - her brother's business partner - in the early 1990s, while answering phones at the pair's cabinetry business.
In recent years, sidelined by stage four cancer, Mrs. Williams had been unable to participate in volunteer activities she loved. She was placed on hospice care in September, and her entire extended family piled into her small home in Bustleton on Christmas Eve, her favorite holiday.
They performed a nativity play, sang her favorite carols, and said the Rosary. On Christmas morning, Mrs. Williams passed away.
Mrs. Williams is survived by her husband, James; her children, Joseph McLane, Judith Neeld, Shawn McLane, Jennifer DiMascio, Jeffery McLane - an Inquirer sportswriter - Joyce Brady, and Scott McLane; her stepchildren, James Nolen, Kathleen Coler, Theresa McCarthy, and James Williams; and 18 grandchildren. She is also survived by siblings Jerome Bilbee, Janet Cline, Joan Waddell, James Bilbee, and John Bilbee and her first husband, Joseph.
A viewing will be Tuesday, Dec. 29, from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Galzerano Funeral Home at 9304 Bustleton Ave. in Philadelphia. A requiem Mass will be Wednesday, Dec. 30, at 11 a.m. at Maternity B.V.M. Church at Old Bustleton Avenue and Winchester Avenue in Philadelphia.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, 1341 Montgomery Avenue, Rosemont, Pa. 19010.