From February 1 through March 1, we invited our friends of Nazareth to share stories about Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (CSFN) who inspired them as teachers, healers, mentors, guides and friends. Many people wrote to us through our website, email and Facebook page telling us about the sisters who influenced their lives through the years.
For National Catholic Sisters Week (March 8 – 14), we share with you the stories they told us. Some are edited for clarity and space. As you read these stories, we invite you to honor in prayer all the Catholic sisters currently serving around the world and to remember in prayer all the sisters who have gone before us as founders of schools and hospitals, as artists and activists, as leaders and spiritual guides and as friends to many.
I have been very blessed with my lifelong friend and "sister" for 65 years. It all started in 1954 when Sr. Hilary opened the door for the incoming freshmen to Holy Family Academy [in Chicago] and welcomed us to the first day of high school. It was her special smile and spark I felt. I didn't realize then how that day would affect the rest of my life.
After high school and college, I became a teacher at Holy Family Academy, and as a faculty member, our friendship grew even stronger. At one point, I was considering joining the convent, but changed my mind. I told Sr. Hilary then that I would be there for her if she ever needed a ride or anything. I became a part of her family and she became a part of mine.
Sometimes I smile to myself thinking how little we had in common, and yet she understood me and always saw the good in me. “Special” is the word that describes her the best because of her unique zest for living. She was always ready to help so many others.
So, again I thank you my dear friend for making my world so much richer. I'm so glad you were such an important part of my life. You always reminded me how wonderful and forgiving our Lord is. And, when I look up to heaven, I will always think of you and smile.
I never understood the appeal of religious life, until I met Sr. Josephine and Sr. Faustina. They were the first sisters I met that made me feel like I wouldn’t run and hide if Jesus called me to be his bride. They make me want to be a better woman of God. They make me feel known. Ultimately, they're some of my favorite people in the world because not only are they funny and a total riot to be around, but also because they helped me to be open to hearing Jesus for the first time.
I had been an altar boy since third grade. When Sister Pearl came to our Lady of Hope, she was charged with the servers. About the end of sixth grade or so, she took me aside after a Mass and said, point blank: "Roll, you should be a priest!" I simply said, "Yes, Sister!" Forty-three years later, I am still a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The CSFNs have all the credit for my vocation. I was privileged to attend the Beatification of Sister Stella and Companions.
On Dec. 3, 1962, my mother had a nervous breakdown and dad couldn't care for the four of us so we were placed in St. Mary’s Villa [Ambler, PA] for various lengths of stay. Sr. Vera was in charge of the girls’ house, St.Thèrése of the Child Jesus. I was 10-years old and traumatized by the separation. Sr. Vera taught me things like using a mangle to iron sisters’ habits and to take pride in doing my daily chores (swept every step in the house leading to the second floor and the back staircase). She taught me how to pray in humility and selflessness.
My dear Aunt Regina, known to everyone else as Sr. Magdalen, was an inspiration my entire life. Her love of teaching was her love second to God. She had an immense devotion to our Lord that never wavered her entire religious life. Her love of people and family was to be admired. She always saw the best in everyone and was quick to forgive and never judge. She taught me to be grateful every day and taught me that just a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
Sister Hilarette was my aunt, my mother's sister. She entered the convent when she was a teenager and was still faithful to her vows when she died in her 90s. Although she was a teeny woman, she was fearless and assertive. She worked hard as a nurse anesthetist. She taught me to be proud of my work and to continue to be a woman of faith. She was influential in making me the person I am today. I miss her.
I was feeling apprehensive about trying to become closer to the Blessed Mother. I was feeling unworthy of Our Lady's guidance and love. I asked Sister Roberta Garczynski (Cioci [Aunt] Delores) for some advice. She asked, "Can you talk to your mother? Because talking to Mary is like talking to your mother."
"Of course I can talk to my mother. We’re very close," I said.
Sister Roberta went on to say, “Well, it’s the same thing!"
It was that simple, yet so pivotal in my spiritual growth.
I was a student at St. Joseph's School from kindergarten to eighth grade. I graduated on January 27, 1957. From the very beginning, all the sisters were a big influence in my life. I loved going to school and seeing them every day. They even had a hot lunch program in their convent which I attended when my mom was working. Aside from my religious training at home from my parents and grandparents, these Sisters nourished my growth in our Catholic faith.
When I was in Nativity BVM High School, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth taught there and lived in Pottsville, PA. They conveyed to us the spirit of serving families. They taught us to serve families by using the languages they were teaching us to visit the imprisoned, go caroling to homes, and enjoy cultural events related to the Spanish and French-speaking countries of which we studied. The service to the family attracted me and I am grateful to them forever.
Sr. Imelda was in charge of cleaning the Church after school. We would help her discard old flowers, clean, and do whatever needed to be done. Sister was the kindest, sweetest, most understanding nun for that time. A lot were very strict, but Sr. Imelda was very sweet. I now teach fifth grade religious education in my parish and remember you can teach the children and still have fun.
I would love to share my aunt’s story [Sister Lauretane]. Growing up, I thought everyone had an aunt who was a nun. She loved children and her family. She never forgot a birthday or anniversary and always sent a card with special words and thoughts. Many of my family vacations included moving her from one parish to another. Along with my cousin, we were blessed to be with her when she passed away.
During my time with Holy Family Service Corps, I worked at Holy Family Manor where I met Sister Florence Therese Sarnowski. She welcomed me into her room and showed me all her trinkets and told me how she started the childcare center and about the other children she had worked with throughout her life. It was such a great honor to have been able to meet the person who started the ministry where I spent so much of my time.
Sister Maria Kruszewski was assigned to be my Sister Companion during my year of service with Holy Family Service Corps. She and I met several times and she taught me a lot about my Catholic faith. One of the best parts of our relationship was that she always called to talk to me about my day. Even now when I am no longer in the program, she still calls to listen and check on me. I value her guidance and counsel and have come to view her as a part of my family.
Sister Danielle Jacob was such a great principal at St. Emily's Parish! Her concern for the children was real and incredible! She could be a disciplinarian when necessary, but you could always see how much she cared for each student!
She also shared her voice and guitar talents with the choir, and still shares her faith with the parish on a daily basis! She and all the good Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth have a special place in the hearts of my family.
I was fortunate to have been taught by the Holy Family of Nazareth Sisters in St. Stanislaus' School in Philadelphia back in the 50s. Sister Domina taught me in second grade. She was a very holy, elderly sister who was loving and kind. I remember her teaching us cursive handwriting. In seventh grade, we were taught by a very young, energetic Sister Jeanette! She was a "modern" nun whom we all loved! Then, many years later, Sr. Michele Vincent Fisher came to our parish, St. Christopher in Northeast Philly! Sister Michele was and is still AMAZING!!! Our parish was truly blessed with Sister Michele!. And, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth community has been abundantly Blessed with Sister Michele Vincent Fisher! Thank you to all the sisters for their dedication and service!
One of my favorites was Sr. Evangelist in the third grade. She was about as tall as we were. She told us there was no Santa Claus, but there really was a Popeye! She said she was a nurse during the war and had to take care of him. She would also give us the answers to all of our exams without realizing it!
I had so many Sisters coming from St. John Cantius and Nazareth Academy in Philadelphia and knew several others - Sr. Winifred, Sr. Richard, Sr. Marceline, Sr. Barbara, Sr. Clementine, Sr. Camille, Sr. Charlotte, Sr. Alphonsa, Sr. Mary Jane, Sr. Mary Ann, Sr. Martin, Sr. Nancy, Sr. Dolorita, Sr. Angela, Sr. Clara, Sr. Clarissa, Sr. Regis, Sr. Eunice, Sr. Florence, Sr. Michaelann, Sr. Stephanie, Sr. Marcella, Sr. Celeste, Sr. Helen, Sr. Rosalita, Sr. Rosarita, Sr. Mary Joan, Sr. Carol, and Sr. Rosemarie. I have memories of more, but all of them helped form the woman I am today. I am grateful to the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. They were the best teachers, confidants, spiritual advisors, musicians, artists, and yes, even friends around. Thanks, Sisters!
I went to school at St. Joseph’s in Jamaica, NY. I was blessed with having Sr. Mary Ladislas for sixth and seventh grades. She was ahead of her time. Sr. Justine for first grade was great. There were 52 of us, one sister and no craziness. Also, Sr. Domicilla, Sr. Janice, and Sr. Grace are remembered. On the whole, I`m glad for the experience.
As an Associate of the Holy Family, I have to say that naming one of them would be difficult! Sister Michele Vincent Fisher has been someone to look up to, not only for me, but for my youngest daughter, Olivia, as well. Even with the recent health issues she has faced, she still is a champion in our eyes. Our Associate group mentor is Sister Dolorita Nachajska and we love her, too, for her kind and gentle ways. Sister Theresita Donach (Sister T) and Sister Mary Anthony, I owe a debt for helping to shape my daughter's identity as a modern Catholic woman when she attended CREW for the past few years. Thanks to all the sisters for your loving patience and kindness.
I am a graduate of Nazareth Academy in Philadelphia (class of 2000), and so the sisters had an enormous influence. But the sisters who have stuck with me are ones I never got to meet: I was one of the group of girls who got to sing at the Vatican in 2000 (I was President of our chorale at the time) for Sister Stella and her Ten Companions’s beatification. They were killed by the Nazis in Poland (now Belarus) during World War II. I went on to get my PhD in musicology with a minor in Central and Eastern European studies and a focus on Holocaust/Genocide studies. But it all goes back to that first experience of music and the Holocaust for me, singing for those sisters whose stories we learned and honored during that 1999-2000 school year. I think of them every day!
I knew the sisters from when I was an infant. My mom and busia [grandmother] would have Altar Sodality meetings on Sunday afternoons and the nuns would watch me. Sister Rosaria was the superior (1941). The sisters taught me at Sacred Heart of Mary (1946 till 1955). From there, I was at Nazareth Academy and then in the community [as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth] from 1955 till 1979. I have volumes of stories and memories. From 1980 till 1999, I taught with the sisters in my home parish, Sacred Heart of Mary in Baltimore. I will always be most grateful to Sister Stanislaus and Sister DeLourdes who helped me to take care of my mom who was very sick for seven years.