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Award-winning filmmaker Sr. Judy Zielinski captures compelling stories—and finds God along the way.
“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”
This popular quote attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi certainly resonates with Sister Judy Zielinski, OSF, a storyteller who uses words, images, and sounds. Her stories are about faith, and her medium is film.
"I see this as a ministry of sharing the good news," she said. “Every project I work on, whether large or small, allows me to find God in the lives and stories of my subjects. They usually inspire me and touch me with their courage, their honesty, their dedication, their own faith.”
Sister Judy’s 2009 documentary, Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism, an extraordinary story of faith under oppressive circumstances, moved viewers and earned her a Gabriel Award, which is akin to a Catholic Emmy. When the Sisters of Charity Mission Foundation wanted to tell the story of the Catholic sisters of New Orleans and how they were affected by Hurricane Katrina, they sought out Sister Judy.
The result is We Shall Not Be Moved: The Catholic Sisters of New Orleans, which Sister Judy wrote and produced. The film tells the compelling story of six congregations of nuns—the Ursulines, Sisters of the Holy Family, the Marianites, Sisters of St. Joseph, Ordono's Teresians, and the Sisters of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel—who all have deep roots in New Orleans.
The work of these sisters touches every segment of the population—children, families, the homeless, the elderly. Like much of the city, the sisters’ established structures of service, including parishes, convents, schools, nursing homes, medical facilities, were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. While Sister Judy’s film documents the destruction, she focuses on the sisters’ individual and collective response, specifically their discernment process about how to face the physical, financial, and spiritual challenge of rebuilding.
“The Sisters I met and interviewed in New Orleans are powerful spiritual women. Most people I profile in my programs never see themselves as ‘extraordinary,’ but they are. It often takes an outsider to see their holiness and humility,” she said. “I am privileged to be that outsider, a witness, to hear their stories and put them onscreen.”
As the film shows, the sisters “did not concentrate on what they lacked, but rather on the needs surrounding them.” And viewers noticed. They’ve since responded with letters, emails, and calls expressing gratitude for the film and its stories of courage and commitment.
“Many viewers—including many other Catholic Sisters who understood their plight, as well as their commitment—were moved to tears by their ministry and service,” she said. “The Sisters could have walked away and gone elsewhere, but their histories with the city of New Orleans and their belief in the people they were serving wouldn't allow that.”
We Shall Not Be Moved recently earned Sister Judy a second Gabriel Award. The film is now available on DVD. Sister Judy is the director of Faith and Family Values Programming for NewGroup Media in South Bend, Indiana. Her documentaries have taken her across international borders, including the Holy Land, Turkey, Greece, Italy, the Philippines, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Lithuania and Peru.