For some insights into Sr. Rose Marie O'Barski's ministry story - more than four decades in elementary education and 12 years in Province administration - it's helpful to turn to her vocation story.
Young Rose Marie O'Barski grew up on Chicago's close-knit South Side, attending her parish school and St. Michael's High School, with her senior year at Holy Family Academy in Chicago. One of her aunts was in religious life, a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Help, ministering in a two-room school house, heated by a pot-bellied stove in a poor community in the middle of the Ozarks. Every five years, her aunt visited the O'Barskis during her two-week home visit, and young Rosie was impressed by the austerity of her life. It seemed to be a harsh life, marked by privation, certainly not one she aspired to.
"I only saw the austere part" of religious life, Sr. Rose Marie recalls, and her own elementary school teachers reinforced that impression.
Then came high school, where she was taught by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. One day, her class visited an orphanage run by the Felician sisters. Those sisters seemed different from sisters she had known in elementary school. And the orphanage was self-sustaining - the children lived there, went to school there and learned trades there. It had a bakery, a sewing room and a print shop, and both the children and the sisters seemed productive and joyful.
"I thought, 'Now that is something I could really do.'" As she approached the end of her junior year, she mentioned her interest to one of her teachers, who told her, "Well, we have an orphanage." And that was the beginning of young Rose Marie's journey to Nazareth.
After she professed her vows, Sr. Rose Marie was sent to South Heart, ND, started teaching elementary school and fell in love with the children, the community, their simple life and their deep faith. "My whole life has been teaching and it is what still gives me joy," she notes. The sisters taught in the public school, then taught religion classes in the parish on Sundays after Mass, and on Saturdays, in Belfield, ND. Together the sisters "had a deep life of prayer, we shared our daily joys and sorrows, and we had the support of the people with whom and to whom we ministered." It was a quietly profound experience.
"When I saw kids who had a hard time grasping something and suddenly you saw their faces light up as they 'got it' -- those are experiences I cherish." Sr. Rose Marie continued to have such experiences for more than four decades as schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago, from the northwest suburbs to the South Side, and most recently, as a volunteer math teacher at St. Emily School in Mt. Prospect.
She has found that "kids are the same," but there are sharp differences in the challenges from school to school, from community to community. She comes back to that community in North Dakota, where the community was 100 percent Catholic, and the strong faith of the parents was embraced by their children. Praying the Rosary and other devotions were common activities; "they all had a strong desire to excel and they had a deep respect for nature."
One year drought gripped the area, and the crops were in danger of failing without rain. "The pastor brought us out with our Rosaries and the statue of the Blessed Virgin, and we prayed for rain." School was dismissed at noon that day, "and rain began to fall," Sr. Rose Marie recalls.
Over the years, there have been other challenges, particularly when she was called to serve as Provincial Secretary, first for Sacred Heart Province (Des Plaines) and then for the new Holy Family Province in 2007. "I'm not a writer," she says, so the secretarial post was particular challenge at first. "I learned that if you wait and trust, the grace will come. Those experiences left me with an appreciation for those in administration and for our sisters who offer their love and support."
Today, she is back in the ministry she loves - eaching math as a volunteer at St. Emily'. She enjoys reading, nature, and has taken up card-making, quilt-making and knitting. And most of all, she is enjoying spending more time in prayer, staying in close relationship with the Holy Family of Nazareth and offering her services to her sisters whenever she can.