Sister Jodene Zehren

Sister Jodene Zehren“I always wanted to be a teacher and felt called to religious life. I especially admired my eighth grade teacher, Sister Camillia.” Those sentiments are familiar, yet they sound fresh because of how Sister Jodene lives them. Her family lived near Holy Hill and belonged to the small mission (at the time) of St. Kilian Parish in Hartford.  Jodene entered St. Joseph Convent after eighth grade.

Sister Jodene found her teaching ministry to be fulfilling through seeing generations of students living their faith and leading productive lives.  Holy Apostles Parish, New Berlin, where she served almost half a century, recently produced a Marian-themed musical titled “Full of Grace.” When Sister looked at the roster of performers and staff, she realized she had taught a significant percentage of them. 

“It was especially important to me to introduce my students to our community’s Franciscan spirituality, including peacemaking, mercy and compassion,” Siser Jodene said. She connected her students with our international community through the Mission Advancement “Children Helping Children” project, and most recently with Assisi Special School in India. In this fund-raising endeavor, the children connected directly with the people to whom they were giving donations. Jodene introduced Sisters Elizabeth and Merlin, from India, to all the school classrooms and to the whole parish. The fund-raising project continues because this tradition of giving was so effective.

One might think Sister Jodene has an inside track to the Vatican. When our Holy Father was elected in 2013, she said to her students, “Wouldn’t it be great if the Pope chose the name ‘Francis’ and his patron would be St. Francis of Assisi?” The next day the boys and girls gave her “high fives” saying, “You nailed it, Sister! You predicted the Pope’s name!”

“I appreciate the spiritual formation I received in the past, and the spiritual growth opportunities our community continues to provide,” Sister Jodene said. “I appreciate the education our community provided, as well as opportunities for professional growth afforded to me as part of my teaching ministry.” Sister Jodene recounts with great gratitude the gift of music and of art, the Chapel, all of which was part of her early and her ongoing formation as a School Sister of St. Francis.

When asked what has sustained her through these years, Jodene responded, “Our class motto: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Then she added, “The support of the other members of the community has been very important to me.  Although much has changed in the Church and in religious life since I entered, I feel that there will always be a place in the Church for vowed religious life. I am grateful for the many associates who are also part of our community.  Together we will be able ‘to do all things…’”

As part of her Jubilee year, Sister Jodene is eagerly anticipating the retreat with her class at Siena Center in Racine, and she is looking forward to the community celebration this month at Alverno College.

Recently at Mass, Sister Jodene met a woman who has lost two daughters to fatal illnesses. Sister put her name on our Province Communication request for prayers, listened to her painful story, and assured her of God’s love and presence.  The woman said to her “I’m so glad I met you!”

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