by Sr. Trina Marie Ulrich, CSFN
Editor’s note: Sr. Barbara Ann Nowosielski passed away on December 18 in the 64th year of her religious life as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Sr. Trina Marie Ulrich lived in community with Sr. Barbara Ann.
The Irish say, “If you want to know me, come live with me.” That is what I did by chance or by divine providence on June 29, 2014. Little did I know that five years later, we would be burying Sr. Barbara Ann Nowosielski two days before Christmas. My life has been blessed by the years I lived with Barb, as I came to call her. While being one of the “young” sisters, relatively speaking, and she being a “senior” sister, we were a bit of an odd couple. What I observed and learned while we formed a Nazareth community was formative to me, and in my gratitude, I wanted to share what I learned from Sr. Barb.
Most importantly, she lived our charism’s incarnational quality by letting the love of God come through the simplest of human encounters of the senses. She loved good food, a touching movie, and companionship. She was determined at holiday time to make cakes, cookies and enjoy a well-prepared meal, which kept her in touch with her humanity and connected her to people around her. Something we certainly shared in common!
Her connection with food, especially sharing it, was “eucharistic.” As Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, our foundress, Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, taught us that we should love Jesus most especially in the Blessed Sacrament. Sr. Barb never let Jesus in the tabernacle be without his flowers and candles. In that same way, she shared food with others, living an ordinary life in the spirit of the Eucharist as expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium 47, “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace.”
Instinctively, this was expressed by a former student turned friend who altered an image of the Last Supper, placing Sr. Barb next to Jesus and replacing the bread with Sour Patch candy that she gave to the student every year for his birthday.
Her rum cake was legendary. When a young woman at Sr. Barbara Ann’s funeral dinner held the cake pan that made these rum cakes, she remarked, “I feel it is too holy to hold.” What is significant here is that Sr. Barbara Ann used food as a way to share her life with those around her and let others know she appreciated and cared for them.
She was present to people and remembered them. Whether it was remembering special occasions with cards, staying up waiting for me when I came home late, or going for a long liturgy at St. Emily’s because a young person she knew was being honored, she was there. Young people today desperately need people to be physically present to them, and Sr. Barb was an attentive presence to them. They knew of her acceptance and this is why I believe that more teenagers were crying at her coffin than adults, and with heartfelt tears. My niece, Isobel, who met Sr. Barb once, a year earlier, when asked if she remembered Sr. Barb, said with clear recollection, “Yes, she gave me an angel.”
Lastly, I would like to articulate how Sr. Barbara Ann was a good community person to live with. As anyone can imagine, getting a group of unrelated adult women to live together in happiness is something only accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit! As St. Paul writes, “Let love be sincere…anticipate one another in showing honor…be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Rom 12:9-11). Sr. Barb would anticipate what you needed before you even needed to ask. She was thoughtful in that way. She tried never to be a burden, but contributed what she could. She was careful with her words, especially not to speak badly of anyone. She had a humble respect for authority in the congregation and was true to her friends.
It is inspiring to witness a religious sister still engaged in loving, caring, and serving people up until the end at 81 years of age. Sr. Barbara Ann had developed a responsible sense of autonomy, which empowered her to stay connected to life and live the charism as her own expression. It was not her job as a teacher that defined Sr. Barb in her last years. Rather, it was her willingness to engage in life and reach out to people and continue to be present to the world around her that most defined Barb’s ministry into old age. And, that is a noble thing.
Sr. Trina entered the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in 1995 and will celebrate her 25th Jubilee this year. She currently serves as a theology instructor at Aurora Central Catholic High School near Chicago. To read Sr. Trina’s ministry profile, written while she was serving at the now closed Queen of Peace High School in Burbank, IL, please visit our Sisters’ Stories page.
Photo: Sr. Barbara Ann (left) with Sr. Trina (center) and Sr. Elizabeth Jean Ronkowski on St. Patrick’s Day at an Irish restaurant in 2017.