Born on Christmas Day in Ashtabula, Ohio, Gloria Jeanne was the middle daughter of Niles and Stella Lazarski Nieminen. Her mother kept the household running smoothly while her father, a steward on an iron ore boat, sailed the Great Lakes for much of the year. Though no formal religion was practiced at home, the three girls were raised with a deep sense of justice, respect, and goodness. When the family moved to Ashtabula Harbor, a neighbor invited Gloria to accompany her to Mother of Sorrows Church. That visit brought an experience of God’s presence that changed her life.
She took instructions in the faith, was baptized, and received her First Communion in 1945. As she came to know the Sisters of Notre Dame at the parish, Gloria responded to God’s call to religious life. She became a postulant on February 2, 1947, and at investment received the name Sister Mary Jane Frances.
Sister Jeanne Mary earned a bachelor’s degree in education from St. John College, Cleveland, and a master’s degree from St. Xavier College in Chicago, Illinois. She taught primary grades for 45 years, a skilled and devoted teacher, ready to help her students learn math, phonics, and life-lessons. Her optimism and lively manner endeared her to the children, their families, and the community. Preparing the children for First Communion was her greatest joy. She ministered in 19 different schools, from the Cleveland area to Massillon, Lorain, and Canton, and in Washington DC, Virginia, and Florida.
In 1978, she worked with a team of Sisters to write the Christ Our Life religion series for Loyola Press. She co-authored the textbooks for grades 1-3, and was the author of the text for kindergarten. Her expertise and creativity were evident especially in the teacher manuals, student workbooks, and parent resources. In 1985, a summer program for newly-arrived Vietnamese refugees turned into years of volunteer work with adult literacy, meeting people from many countries and cultures in the Cleveland area. Upon her retirement from classroom teaching, Sister Jeanne Mary spent 14 years as a tutor at Notre Dame Skills Lab, finding “genuine joy and satisfaction in helping children who need a little additional support to succeed.”
In 2012, Sister Jeanne Mary became a resident of the Health Care Center in Chardon. The sisters, her family, and members of the staff will remember her gentle demeanor, prayerfulness, and loving spirit.