Joel Irinie Zarotiadou, FMM




Joel was born in Siberia to a Greek father and a Russian mother. At age three, her family 
immigrated to China, settling in Harbin, Manchuria. Six years later, when her mother died, the 
future reli- gious was sent to study with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, who operated a 
school and hospital in that city. “I was very young, sad and alone,” she recalled, adding that she 
joined a group of girls from Orthodox families who were being educated at the con- vent school.“ 
The missionary sisters from Poland, France, Ireland, Canada, Belgium and Italy, became the young 
student’s extended family, offering love, support and inspiration. When Joel began drawing and 
painting, the local bishop, upon seeing her talent en- couraged her to continue. Years later, she 
took lessons from Lobanov, a famous Russian painter.
God’s Call
“When Joel was 14, she realized her vocation,” which she attribut- ed to the Sisters that she 
observed working with the poor and the sick.  She asked to become a Catholic against the wishes of 
her father. 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,
school and orphanage  in 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 local 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, the police gave in, and Sr. Joel was able to enter the novitiate of the Franciscan 
Missionaries of Mary in Peking, now known as Beijing, in 1949.
Missionary Life
Sister Joel , spent the next 16 years teaching art and music at a
school established for the children of international diplomats.
In 1966, she was expelled with other Catholic missionaries during
the Red Guard Uprising.  After beatings, a public trial and humiliation, the eight FMM  were 
brought to Hong Kong, where they were
expelled from China.  Joel spent the next three years in France and then was sent to Vietnam, where 
she worked with young women
and translated for the American Soldiers.    Joel said that she was intrigued by the stories told 
by American soldiers about life in the
United States, which motivated her to ask to be sent to the United
States.  Because of her international experiences, she was fluent in
Russian, French and English. She also spoke Chinese and Greek. In 1978, Joel was sent to the United 
States.  She graduated from the New England School of Art and Design in Boston. She also studied modern art at Northeastern 
University. Joel worked  in a variety of mediums: oils, acrylics, watercolors and pastels. For themes, she chose landscapes, 
seascapes, Chinese silk paintings and portraits. She developed a number of   murals. Her paintings are
played in St. Francis Hospital, Roslyn, NY and in  Franciscan Hospital for Children, Brighton, 
MA. While in the fmm community in Brighton, Joel served as sacristan and did some office work.
She was then missioned to our Lady of Lourdes Community   in
Providence RI, then to Homewood Avenue, de Chappotin and Trinity Communities in North Providence. 
 During this time, Joel began
her extensive ministry of teaching art.   At the end of the ‘90’s, the
Peace Barn was built on the property at Fruit Hill.  Half of the up- stairs Barn became Joel’s 
Studio.  Here, many of her paintings are
on display, and here she taught class.
A truly free person, Joel blended her art with her spirituality and prayed in many creative ways. 
Her joyful nature uplifted those who were feeling despondent or burdened.  Through her teaching of 
art, Joel shared her zest and joy of life.
She enjoyed all kinds of music and dancing. Her spontaneity lent joy to all gatherings. Joel’s 
imagination was at its best for the Christmas Crib she prepared every year and her Christmas Play 
and Party. She made the costumes and directed all the action, including play- wright and stage 
design! Dynamic and Loving, Gifted and Challeng- ing  with an imagination that swiftly translated 
into some form, Joel was truly one of God’s Beloved Originals—and we, her Sisters, miss her greatly.