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A Chicago native, Stephanie Wacek was one of five children of John and Antonia Wacek. She completed her grammar school education at the parish school, Holy Trinity, in six short years, skipping two grades. Stephanie often spent time helping the sisters and was frequently invited to join them in the chapel for Holy Hour the first Sunday of the month. So it was not surprising that she entered the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth on Aug. 12, 1927, soon after she graduated from 8th grade. Receiving the name "Gemma," she pronounced her temporary vows in 1931 and final vows on July 30, 1937.
Sr. Gemma taught first at St. Adalbert Elementary School, and later at Holy Family Academy, St. Michael High School, and St. Ann High, all in Chicago. In 1988, she joined the faculty of De Lourdes College, Des Plaines, IL, where she was known as a "Math Teacher Extraordinaire." Her love for mathematics enabled her to share both her knowledge and her passion for the subject. Because her ministry was enriched by her great love for God, she was able nurture the seeds of a religious vocation in the hearts of the young women she taught. Her spirit and enthusiasm were a living example of the deep love she had for her own religious vocation and for living the Nazareth charism.
When DeLourdes College closed, Sr. Gemma volunteered her services to Sr. Infanta Kruczek, archivist for the then Sacred Heart Province (Chicago). In 1996, Sr. Gemma became the province archivist, a ministry she loved. In 2007, when the five CSFN provinces in the U.S. merged, Sr. Gemma, now in her 90s, serve on the organization committee. Behind the scenes, she worked tirelessly to have the present archives and the additional archival space in Des Plaines ready to accept the hundreds of boxes shipped from Grand Prairie, TX; Monroe, CT, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PA. Sr. Gemma continued to work in the Province Archives until her retirement in 2009.
Her fellow sisters describe Sr. Gemma as a woman deeply in love with God and her community. She performed all her responsibilities with grace and joy. Community life was important; being an active participant in every aspect of it was part and parcel of who Sister Gemma was.
Her fellow sisters were shocked when they learned on Feb. 28 that Sr. Gemma suffered a heart attack and had been taken that morning to Lutheran General Hospital. Sr. Gemma had began her final excursion, which included a temporary transfer to Nazarethville. Although her life was a testimony to accepting all God prepared for her, she found it challenging to accept that her vigor and strength would not return. In her graciousness, she thanked everyone for the services they rendered to her. She made her final "Fiat" and died the afternoon of March 29.