Sister receives humanitarian award

Sister receives humanitarian award
Frank Froio, state third vice president from the Order Sons of Italy in America, poses with Sister Jean after he presented her with an award from Grand Lodge of New Jersey citing her devotion to humanity. Bottom photo: Sister Jean stands with cook Clyde “Pop” Jones. The two worked together for years at the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden. Top photo by James A. McBride

Frank Froio, state third vice president from the Order Sons of Italy in America, poses with Sister Jean after he presented her with an award from Grand Lodge of New Jersey citing her devotion to humanity. Bottom photo: Sister Jean stands with cook Clyde “Pop” Jones. The two worked together for years at the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden.
Top photo by James A. McBride

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Sister Jean Spena, a Dominican Sister of Hope, who spent her entire life helping other people, was honored last Saturday night by the Vita Nuova Lodge 2327 of Bellmawr and Mount Ephraim for her continuous dedication and service to humanity.

She received the lodge’s Premio Umanitario (Humanitarian Award) at a black tie dinner held at Lucien’s Manor in Berlin. Also honored at the dinner was Roger Doria of Barrington, the lodge’s 2015 Person of the Year.

Frank Froio, state third vice president from the Grand Lodge of New Jersey, Order Sons of Italy in America, also presented citations to both Sister Jean and Doria for their dedication.

During her busy schedule and many acts of charity, the 72-year-old nun takes Communion to shut-ins, and she takes care of nuns in her order who are unable get around, taking them to doctors and cooking for them. She also is a teacher’s aide for kindergarten at St. Rose of Lima School in Haddon Heights

From 2000 to 2010 Sister Jean worked at the Cathedral Kitchen in Camden with Mom and Pop. (Clyde and Theresa Jones, who were known as “Mom” and “Pop,” were the Cathedral Kitchen’s first cooking staff to serve the growing number of people coming there for meals.)

“Working at the Cathedral Kitchen gave me an education that was priceless in terms of understanding people from all walks of life,” she pointed out.

During her 10 years of volunteer work at the Cathedral Kitchen, Sister Jean was tagged with the moniker the “Energizer Bunny” because she never stopped and kept on going.

In addition to her boundless energy, she was known for being so fussy about cleanliness. “Not everyone thought keeping the place really clean was important,” Sister Jean said.

“Sister Jean was there every night and she made sure that every chair, every table was clean and spick and span for the next day,” says Karen Talarico, executive director of the Cathedral Kitchen, during her talk at the dinner.

Talarico pointed out that when Sister was not riding herd on the volunteers she was busy driving her little car to take care of important tasks. “Once we had a running battle over name tags, but Sister Jean claimed they did not need them (name tags) because she already knew all of their names,” Talarico recalled. “So I did not win that battle.”

Sister Jean was raised in South Philly until 1956 when her family moved to Somerdale. She has two siblings: Marie and Louis. She graduated from Haddon Heights High School in 1960. She then entered the Dominican Sisters in Newburgh, N.Y. in 1961. She received a degree in elementary education from Mount St. Mary, Newburgh, and obtained her physical education teaching certificate from Glassboro State College in 1977.

During her career Sister Jean taught at St. Joseph School, Passaic; Sacred Heart Cathedral, Raleigh, N.C.; St. Rose of Lima School, Haddon Heights and at St. Joseph School, Toms River, where she taught English and religion in the three sixth grades from 1971 to 2000.

During her first year in Toms River she started a food program in the school with her sixth grade students. “My classroom looked like a grocery store,” she recalled. Sister Jean then was approached by a married couple who had opened a food bank in the parish and asked if she would like to work with them and incorporate her food bank in with theirs. The students from grades 6 to 8 were still very much involved with the working of the program. “We worked together for about 10 years and then the couple moved to California so I was left to continue the program.”

The students helped to unload the food vans, stock shelves and bag groceries. “Several of the families being helped also gave of their time,” Sister Jean remembered.

Thomas A. Bergbauer Sr. is a retired journalist.

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