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When she celebrated her 75th jubilee as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Sr. Jolanta Polak said that love of art and love of the Lord had been the hallmarks of her religious life.
A native of Cicero, IL, the youngest of seven children, she was baptized ‘Wladyslawa’ at St. Mary of the Angels and called ‘Lottie’ by her family. At home and in school, young Lottie’s artistic talent was nurtured. Lottie graduated from Morton High School in Cicero, and she and her mother enjoyed sharing lunch together during her high school years. When Lottie told her mother of her desire to enter the convent, her mother encouraged her to enjoy life for a time. Lottie got a job and began dating along with two of her sisters who were still at home.
The call to religious life was persistent, so Lottie joined the CSFNs in February 1940. In writing her life portrait in 2008, she said her life in the convent was her greatest joy. She appreciated the Community, her friends—even those who challenged her along the way, helping her come closer to Jesus, to love and be accepting and compassionate to all.
After professing her first vows, she began teaching in Chicago while attending De Paul University. Armed with her bachelor’s degree, she was assigned to Irving, TX, for several years. With 20 years’ experience in elementary schools, she was transferred to Holy Family Academy in Chicago, where she taught art for the next 27 years until the Academy closed in 1988. She was 67 and too young to retire, so she became an art teacher at Holy Family College in Philadelphia.
During her 11-year tenure, she became an assistant professor and Head of the Art Department. In 1992, she was delighted to take a porcelain-and-ceramics tour of Europe, returning to Holy Family to share her experience with her students.
After training to work with the elderly, Sr. Jolanta returned to the Chicago area, securing a spot teaching art as therapy to residents of Holy Family Health Center a few times a week for the next six years. Now she was 84 years old, and began another ministry — holding painting classes for sisters at Nazarethville Nursing Center, next door to the Des Plaines Provincialate, where she continued to reside.
In 2010, after a long life of teaching and ministering as an art therapist, she retired to Nazarethville in Des Plaines, where she continued to paint and to teach an art therapy class to the sisters and lay residents at the nursing home. After completing a series of 14 paintings in her “God’s Creation” series, having them framed and hung in the hallways, Sr. Jolanta began yet another ministry — bringing quiet joy to the lives of her fellow residents.
But by summer 2014, she stepped back from that ministry to focus even more of her time on her life of prayer. “I am never lonely,” she said at the time. “I would like to be remembered as loving God, others and myself and that I was a loving person in my weakness.” Shortly before her death, she told someone she wanted to be in heaven for Easter, and God granted this final wish.