Sister Joel Irene Zarotiadou, fmm
When Joel began drawing and painting, the local bishop, upon seeing her talent encouraged her to continue. Years later, she took lessons from Lobanov, a famous Russian painter.
Although Joel was born a Russian Orthodox, Joel felt the desire to enter the Catholic Church and did so at age fourteen. She already felt the desire to be a sister and missionary. Joel lived through many difficult and tragic circumstances: the war with the Japanese, the Russian invasions and finally in 1949, the Chinese Communists’ take-over of the convent that was attached to the orphanage and school at Harbin. The orphans were sent to Russia but Joel stayed on. With this take-over, traveling from place to place was not allowed. But her desire to enter the convent along with her characteristic persistence drove Joel to visit the police commissioner every day, asking him for permission to go to Peking to enter the convent. At last, like the judge in the Gospel who wanted to get rid of the annoying widow, he gave in and Joel entered in Peking (Beijing) in 1949. She remained there teaching regular classes, music and art at Sacred Heart International School until 1966 when, together with Mother Mary of the Cross and our other sisters, she was put out of China.
Joel then went to Rome and on to Berck Plage where she took care of the little girls’ unit. She also studied French there until 1969 when she was sent to Vietnam. Here, Joel says, she spent her “most beautiful mission time”. She took care of 46 girls in a hostel and while teaching English, learned Vietnamese. She also helped the American soldiers who would come to the convent, translating for them and for the sisters. It was during this time that Joel began to feel a keen attraction to America and its values. She left Vietnam in 1972 and spent six months in Strasbourg, France. In 1973, she was sent in mission to the United States where she was in St. Francis Community in Roslyn for a short time and then worked in the Admissions Office at Kennedy Memorial Hospital (now called Franciscan Hospital for Children) and in the convent sacristy. Joel attended the New England School of Art and Design for four years where she enjoyed many contacts with young people, after which she had more studies in modern art at Northeastern University She was a member of Trinity Community in Brighton and then of Lourdes Community in Providence from 1979 to 1983. She was part of the newly formed Emmaus Community in North Providence until it closed, and then of DeChappotin Community at Fruit Hill.
Joel has been doing paintings, which she exhibits and sells as well as giving classes in art. She was given space for a studio in the newly constructed Peace Barn. A free, unstructured person, Joel blends her art with her spirituality and prays in many creative ways. Her joyful nature uplifts those who may be feeling despondent or burdened in any way, which is another way through her teaching of art she shares her zest and joy of life.
Joel loves to go outdoors and paint. On a visit to her relatives in Greece, she went to Patmos and painted many scenes from the magnificent Greek seascape. She also likes all kinds of music and dancing and has the kind of life and spontaneity which lend joy to any kind of get-together. Other interests are sewing and putting on plays during the year for special occasions. She makes all the costumes, writes the dialogue and does all the stage setting.
Throughout these last years she has experienced health problems but has been able to bounce back to her usual activities. She is presently a member of Trinity Community at Fruit Hill.