Aphrodite Kotrotsios: Where were you born and raised?
Judge Ourania Papademetriou: My brothers Stylianos-John and the late Constantine and I were all born in Newburyport, Massachusetts. We grew up in the three parishes, where our parents, the late Rev. Spyridon Papademetriou and the late Presvetera Metaxia Papademetriou, served with great love and dedication: the Annunciation in Newburyport, Saint Spyridon’s in Newport, Rhode Island, and Saint Mathew’s in Reading, Pennsylvania.
AK: What is your educational background?
JOP: I earned my B.A in English cum laude from Salve Regina College and my J.D. from Temple Law School.
AK: Where are your roots in Greece?
JOP: My father was from the Evritanias region of central Greece; my mother was from the Peloponnesos region of southern Greece. I have family members from both sides that reside in Athens and also in various places throughout Greece.
AK: How are you involved with your Greek American community and why is it important to you?
JOP: The Greek Orthodox Church has been the center of life for me and my family. My commitment to helping others is the result of my upbringing in a Greek Orthodox family of priests and presveteras long respected in the North American Greek Orthodox Church. My grandfather, the Rev. Constantine Papademetriou, was a young teacher and priest in Greece in 1938 when Ecumenical Patriarch Benjamin sent him to minister the young and growing Greek Orthodox community in the United States. After enduring great hardship during World War II and the Greek civil war, my grandmother, my namesake Presvetera Ourania, and my aunt and uncles all came to join my grandfather here. My uncle, Rev. George Papademetriou and my aunt Presvetera Athanasia Papademetriou along with my parents continued in my grandparent’s tradition to serve the church. By watching my parents, grandparents and aunt and uncle minister to their parishioners, I learned firsthand from an early age the importance of relationships and of helping others.
AK: What do you think about the future of Hellenism in America?
JOP: I have two beautiful grandsons who are being raised in the historic Saint George Cathedral in Philadelphia. They were baptized there and attend its Sunday school. Like them, their mother and aunt were also baptized there and attended that same Sunday school. They currently serve as the directors of the Saint George Cathedral Sunday School with the hope of instilling a love for our church and keeping the Hellenic traditions strong and lasting for years to come.
AK: Where did you begin your journey as a lawyer and how did that help lay the foundation for where you are today?
JOP: After college, I was an English teacher at Thompson Junior High School, the junior high school that I and both my brothers attended in Newport, Rhode Island. From there I decided that I wanted to pursue a legal education. I believed that that education would provide me with a background and tools to be in a position to help others.
AK: You have been in public service for over 30 years, what motivates this dedication to your community?
JOP: I believe that when we work together to make a difference for those in need it improves the lives of all members in our community. My experience has given me a strong background to listen to and be fair to those that come before me, to show them respect, and to give them confidence in our courts.
AK: What inspired you to become a lawyer and now a Judge in the Court of Common Pleas?
JOP: I have dedicated my entire career as an attorney to promoting equal access of justice to the courts, helping give a voice to those who need legal assistance and have nowhere else to turn. Lawyers give confidence to those who come before the court that there is someone there to speak and advocate for them. I have seen first-hand how doing this can help turn people’s lives around for the better, thereby strengthening our communities and the lives of families throughout our great city. Also, I have learned the importance that a fair and impartial and compassionate judge can make in a person’s life and the life of a family. I believe that my experience in public service and my extensive work in the public interest has given me the foundation to listen to and be fair and compassionate to the people that come before me.
AK: What kind of cases and litigation do you preside over?
JOP: I serve in the Court of Common Pleas of the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. I preside over child custody, support, divorce and protection from abuse matters in the Domestic Relations Branch of the Family Division. The matters that come before me, day in and day out, concern helping children and families stay safe and secure. These matters are the most sensitive and personal issues that come before the court: people facing legal consequences that risk their stability of home, family, income, and safety.
AK: What is your greatest accomplishment?
JOP: Having a beautiful family. I am blessed with a life that includes a loving family and a fulfilling career. I met my husband, Jon Belisonzi in law school and we have been married for 36 years, living and working in Philadelphia where we raised our two daughters. They currently have fulfilling careers of their own, one a lawyer serving as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia and the other a federal tax accountant for Comcast. I have been active in the public service community in Philadelphia for over 30 years and have served as an assistant district attorney for the City of Philadelphia, as legal center director of Women Against Abuse, Inc., and as the managing attorney for the Philadelphia Volunteers for the Indigent Program which provides volunteer attorneys in civil matters in the Philadelphia courts to those who have nowhere else to turn.
AK: What advice do you have for young aspiring professionals?
JOP: Don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, take risks, work hard, and help others. Always remember that integrity matters, truth matters. There are times when you will feel that your career is not going the way you hoped. Things will work out and, in the meantime, you have learned a lot anyway. Don’t be afraid to try something new. There is much in store if you’re willing to give an opportunity a try. Stay in touch with the people you meet along the way. Always keep your family first.