Mission and Values > Programs > Vincentian Mission Institute > Current VMI Cohort > JoAnne Zielinski

JoAnne Zielinski

I was born the youngest of five children.  My mother grew up on a farm in South Dakota, my dad in Aurora, IL.  They survived the Great Depression, met in the Navy and were WWII vets.  They instilled in us the importance of family, a Catholic education, work ethic, faith and involvement in a religious community.

Before I knew I would become an academic, theatrical/film producer and director, in my pre-teen years I organized events in the neighborhood.  Whether it was a funeral procession for a dead pet or holding mass in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary in my neighbor’s back yard, all events were dramatic and most included a religious element.  I continued to produce and direct plays in garages and playgrounds until I finally had the opportunity to perform in real plays on a real stage.  

I went on to receive a BS in Theatre from ISU and an MFA in Acting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers.  My mentors were all descendants of the Group Theatre, an ensemble of young idealists that transformed American theatre by producing plays with social significance.  In one sense, theatre became my religion. I began teaching graduate school and continued teaching to supplement my acting career.  When I realized I liked the “rehearsal process” more than “performance” I committed to teaching full-time at Barat College in Lake Forest, IL.

While at Barat, I was able to realize an artistic dream when I co-founded and produced an outdoor festival, Shakespeare on the Green, a professional theatre and educational outreach program.  Why Shakespeare?  It gave our students an opportunity to bring to life an intellectually challenging body of work that illuminates the entire range of the human experience.  Shakespeare on the Green went on to be  recognized and commended as an outstanding cultural event by the City of Lake Forest for its service to the community, for its educational opportunities, and for its staunch commitment to providing the event free of charge to the public. During my tenure, over 10,000 people of all ages attended the festival each season. My eleven-year commitment to Shakespeare on the Green was my indoctrination to truly understanding community engagement.  It prepared me for what was to come.

Why DePaul?

DePaul bought Barat College in 2001 and it was at that time I became a member of the Vincentian Family.  I accepted a joint appointment at The Theatre School and the College of Computer Science, Telecommunications and Information Systems (now known as the College of Computing and Digital Media) to teach theatre and film.  It was indoctrination by fire as I was called upon to produce an eight episode video series, “Inside 2012”.  The series highlighted the work being done by DePaul’s administration, faculty and staff to implement aspects of the strategic plan.  That series launched partnerships to produce and direct short documentaries for other members of the Vincentian Family, including: the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, leaders of Roman Catholic Colleges and The Dream Act, Catholic Charities, and the Daughters of Charity, Province of the West.  Each film showcases the distinctive Vinentian mission to serve and advocate on behalf of those that are poor, disenfranchised and marginalized.

It only took a few interviews to learn I was not just making a film, it was so much more.  Being witness to those living in the margins and helping to craft and tell those stories, is a very powerful, transformative experience, akin to what I experienced in the theatre.  I knew students needed that experience, so I worked with the Office of Mission and Values (OMV) and University Ministry (UM) to create a three pilot course: “Project Bluelight Los Angeles: Through a Vincentian Lens”.  The goal was to create a model to connect students to the Catholic and Vincentian Mission through engagement in service learning coupled with a cinematic experience.   During the winter intersession of 2012, the Daughters of Charity gratiously and generously opened their doors, hearts and minds to DePaul students, faculty and staff for two weeks.  Representatives from OMV and UM were present to create a space for students to reflect on the experience and face the paradox we encountered each day as we interviewed over 80 people at over 20 locations.  In that short time, I believe students learned the complexity and power of the documentary medium and it’s potential to affect real change.  Two of the films are currently being submitted into film festivals.  And there are still more stories to tell. I am deeply grateful for these experiences and they would not have happened at any institution other than DePaul.


In 2010, under the mentorship of Rev. Edward R. Udovic, I produced what is currently the definitive documentary on St. Vincent de Paul, “Vincent de Paul: Charity’s Saint”.  I knew very little about the history, mission and spirituality of St. Vincent when I took on the project.  So I began the process by steeping myself in research on the life and times of Vincent and Louise as well as the scholars I would be interviewing, and finally joined the group on the Vincentian Heritage Tour. The tour was a tour de force with Fr. Ed and Fr. Rybolt at the helm.  My cinematographer and I were able to capture all of the footage we needed for the film, and through osmosis, conceptualize and envision the story Fr. Ed wanted told.  The documentary aired on Catholic TV, was distributed in English, French, Spanish, and Korean and played in film festivals internationally.  VMI will provide me with another opportunity to walk in the “footsteps” of St. Vincent and to further my understanding of what it means to be Catholic and Vincentian and how that will influence my work and educating our students.

We live in an important time as we see the decline of those entering the religious life.  It is a call for lay people to rethink and reenvision what it means to be Catholic in the 21st century.  I am now an Associate Dean at CDM and grandmother of three; I want to be part of the conversation.  Through VMI, I hope to continue to expand my Vincentian Family affiliations and find future collaborators and find answers to the all important Vincentian question, “What must be done?”.