By Sr. Frances Smalkowski, CSFN
It was sometime in March of 1984 when the Provincial Superior telephoned and asked that I join two other sisters to begin a new ministry at the Pope John Paul II Center for Health Care instead of returning to my previous ministry in our Sisters' Infirmary. The Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut was planning to open this 110-bed nursing home in the next few months, and the local bishop was seeking religious sisters to help with staffing.
Sister Victoria Czajkowski soon began her recreational therapy ministry while Sister Rita Ashwell and I started working in the nursing department that August. The facility officially opened on September 21st when the first resident was admitted, and in the years since, has flourished most especially because of the witness of so many of our sisters who volunteered their energy and time through their daily visits and religious programming. As Sisters Victoria, Rita, and I commuted daily, two volunteer CSFN sisters joined us. Some of these sisters included our pioneer, Sister Ursula as well as Sisters Gregoria, Donatilla, Martina, Theresa Wroblewska, Edward, Fidelia, Jude, Miriam Fides and Bernice Dudek.
After working as a staff nurse/head nurse and later psychiatric nurse clinical specialist while under diocesan ownership, my ministry has now evolved through these years into chaplaincy. Sister Rita Ashwell now also generously volunteers several hours of pastoral ministry each week after she, too, ministered in various positions for over 35 years. With family being the heart of our CSFN mission, there were and continues to be numerous opportunities to share our spirit of Nazareth with the families of our residents (now capacity for 141), staff, visitors, and volunteers. And now, this coming September of 2023, we are beginning our preparation for the 40th anniversary of the now St. John Paul II Center, which has changed hands multiple times. Though no longer owned by the Bridgeport Diocese, the pastoral care department is still funded by it.
Needless to say, these sisters—through their recognizing of God in the everyday and their faithful listening and loving relationships—affected not only the residents and their families, but also, and especially, the volunteers with whom they bonded. Many of these volunteers later became Holy Family Associates and there were close to twenty who committed as such, including my own Mom. One volunteer also joined Nazareth Spirituality for over 25 years (and ministered many years as a chaplain) before she was called home to God: Sister Doris Marie Deane.
Thank you, Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, Frances Siedliska, for having the courage to follow your vision! Your willingness to do so paved the way for my own journey, and I am so blessed.