October 23, 2015, Miami, Florida – Sister Joan Leo Kehn, OP, co-director of religious education at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Plantation, Florida, will receive the Lifetime Catechetical Leadership Award from the Archdiocese of Miami. The award presentation will take place after the 8:00 a.m. Mass opening the archdiocese’s Catechetical Conference, held October 24 at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The Lifetime Catechetical Leadership Award “recognizes Catechetical Leaders who exemplify the call to share the Faith in the spirit of Catechesi Tradendae” (On Catechesis of our Time), a 1979 encyclical by St. John Paul II.
“This award is presented to you in appreciation and recognition of the outstanding ministry, faithful service, joyful commitment and visionary leadership you have shared in the Catechetical Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami,” Peter J. Duchrám, Director of the Office of Catechesis, in a letter to Sister Joan.
At all of her ministry sites, Sister Joan said, she has been involved in teaching religious education to public school students – as well as teaching religion daily in Catholic schools. She has ministered at St. Gregory for 23 years, serving as director of religious education from 2004 to 2006. She is currently in her fifth or sixth year as co-director with director Antonio Vomvolakis, a former seminarian.
“In the religious education program, we have over 400 students – 100 more than any other year I’ve been here,” Sister Joan said. “It’s a big increase this year. It happens because the other schools closed down their registration. We never close ours down.”
Sister Joan has a lifetime of fond memories of her catechetical ministry – including a very recent memory. On the second day of this school year, the children were told that a visitor would be walking through the halls. They lined the walls to wait for the visitor and saw one of the associate pastors carrying the monstrance in procession with school administrators. “The students got on their knees when they saw the Blessed Sacrament,” she recalled. “They realized it was really Jesus.”
Even after many years in catechetical ministry, Sister Joan still takes great delight in teaching the faith to young students. The children – especially those who had never had religion before – are “full of questions and have such open minds and eat up every word you say,” she said. “That is what encourages me to go on.” In many homes, she said, the religious education children come home from class and pass on the faith to their parents.
Sister Joan also recently celebrated her 60-year Jubilee at St. Gregory Church during a special Jubilee Mass, attended by 13 Adrian Dominican Sisters. The highlight of the Mass was renewing her vows to Sister Mary Ann Caulfield, Chapter Prioress of the Florida Mission Chapter. In addition, the Adrian Dominican Sisters in attendance sang the traditional Dominican Blessing to the assembly.
A native of Toledo, Sister Joan attended Blessed Sacrament Elementary School and Notre Dame High School in her home town. Attracted by the Sisters’ joy, prayerful lives, teaching, and friendliness, she entered the Congregation on June 25, 1955, two weeks after her high school graduation. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Siena Heights College (now University) in Adrian and a master’s degree in elementary education from DePaul University in Chicago.
Before coming to St. Gregory, Sister Joan taught in three schools in Chicago and two others in Florida: St. Helen in Vero Beach and St. Ann in West Palm Beach.