Sister Jean Frances Levenstein died at Saint Joseph Villa on February 3, 2020, and was buried in the Villa cemetery. Jean grew up as a “Jewish-American princess” and felt privileged to claim her father’s Jewish and her mother’s Irish Catholic roots. Jean’s father, Abe, work at her family’s hotel in Chester, where he pursued Cecilia for eight years that finally culminated in their marriage. Abe and Cecilia had four daughters: Jean, Doris, Rosalie, and Barbara. While not a religious man himself, Jean’s father supported raising the children in the Catholic faith, but he insisted that they attend public schools, for he felt there they would receive a better education. Later in her life, Jean saw the value in being educated with people of all faiths. Nonetheless, this public school education meant the sisters had to attend CCD class. In this encounter, Jean first met the IHM sisters and later, at St. Robert’s in Chester, the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Like Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven,” Jean realized she was being pursued to follow the religious life.
Jean’s ministry in education began at St. Stephen’s School in Philadelphia. As S. Robert Cecilia, she began a life-long devotion to teaching, which she attributed to her father. While she loved her ministry, Jean questioned her own vocation with the loss of her mother at the age of 49. Should she relinquish her religious life and return to the needs of her family? However, with the support and guidance of her grandmother and sister, Jean continued her life as a Sister of Saint Joseph.
After 20 years in elementary school, Jean moved into teaching high school religion. She obtained her Masters’ Degree in Religious Studies and a Certificate in Secondary School Counseling. For over 35 years she served the high schools as both theology teacher and guidance counselor. Her time at Mount Saint Joseph Academy she described as “heaven on earth.” Her devotion to teaching was apparent in her demeanor when she felt she was “being herself” as an educator. Jean often queried – was she instructing the first American woman President?
In addition to her life as an educator, Jean had a love of travel, reading historical novels, and watching cooking shows. Before becoming a resident, Jean volunteered at the Villa from making beds to doing laundry – no task daunted her. As she deepened as a religious, Jean commented that her prayer time was the highlight of her day, and from her unique beginnings, this religious felt that her life had a prevalent spirit of mystery and surprise. As sickness became Jean’s companion, she developed a spirit of “holy indifference.” This attitude enabled her to complete her journey with a “happy ending.” Thank you, Jean, and know that the mystery of your life will now be solved in the halls of Heaven. Rest in your well-deserved peace.