Sister Mary Anne Pawlikowski, now a retired Bernardine Sister, makes frequent visits to the Villa of St. Joseph, which is within walking distance of the Sacred Heart Convent in Mt. Alvernia in Reading, where she presently resides.
When I was a patient at the Villa, she came to visit me after returning from a three-week Workshop on Spirituality for Senior Sisters. She was always eager to learn something new and to share her experiences and information with others. Seriously and thoughtfully, she began by mentioning that at this workshop there were forty Sisters from twenty-four congregations, ranging from ages sixty-four to eighty-eight. She placed herself as second of the oldest.
Sister Mary Anne then continued that they were informed that they would soon explore their personal life journey. Many choices and ideas were presented to them on helpful topics by expert women religious.
A few of the following sources were mentioned:
- paper cutting
- bead work
Sister relates: “We were asked to recall and list significant events in our life. Large colorful beads were then selected for the important events, whether they were happy or sad. We had to complete a necklace that would be large enough to fit through our head. Feverishly and earnestly, everyone worked for three hours. It was interesting and one could even say that it was “an eye opener” because rarely does one stop to think or reminisce about the past for lack of time. Gradually, our findings portrayed to us in the Journey of My Life, how individually each one was led by God.
Reminiscing with a Retired Sister:
“Each Sister participating in the Women of Wisdom program of twenty days received a plague with the following message: “Sister Mary Anne, if you think back, You will see that your whole life is a story of God’s love, coming upon you in successive stages.”
Sister Mary Anne concludes – “It was a wonderful and precious experience in life that so closely unites us to God’s love.”
Reminiscing with a Retired Sister:
Looking back with trust, serving now with love, accepting the future with hope.
Sister Mary Anne Pawlikowski (Neomesia), is a fully retired Bernardine Sister who lives at the Sacred Heart Transitional Convent in Reading, PA. She was the fourth in a Catholic family of eight children with parents called Mountaineers, Gorale, who emigrated to the USA in 1905. They brought with them a strong faith in God and a love of freedom.
Sister is a happy member of the Bernardine Franciscan Community, having entered the order at age 17: seventy years ago. Her mission and ministry in religious life have provided her with many opportunities and challenges.
She received an excellent preparation for a life with and for Jesus by a two-year novitiate with a qualified mistress and saintly priest doctor. This intensive spiritual training gave her subsequent mission and ministry in education to focus on the character and achievement of students.
Early in her mission and ministry she was assigned to be a vocation director in the Scranton Diocese. This was Sister Mary Anne’s second vocation, namely, to help recognize and encourage young men and ladies to offer their lives to God as priest or religious.
Following her graduation with a B.A. degree from Catholic Sisters College, Washington, D.C., she began her teaching career, first with grades 7 and 8, then on a high school level.
In the forties, Sister was given a scholarship by the Polish Bishops of USA to earn an M.A. degree in social work in order to do post-war rehabilitation in Poland. Sister graduated from the Catholic University of America cum laude and was ready to serve overseas. But because Stalin won the war, this contract was not binding and Sister Mary Anne returned to serve in mission and ministry in teaching. Her assignments took her to Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Michigan where she taught math, science, and biology while fostering vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Her social work training gave her an additional avenue to reach the “hard-to-teach” underachievers in her classes.
This time of grace arrived in the seventies when she was employed by the Catholic school Agency in the Harrisburg Diocese. This was followed by a position of counseling students and parents in the Allentown Diocese. This post gave her much joy because she was serving the disadvantaged, following in the footsteps of Jesus. Also these experiences in social work gave Sister Mary Anne a practical foundation for teaching social work courses.
God was now opening another door. The college president and dean of students invited her to help develop and staff the Social Work Program at Alvernia College. She joyfully accepted this new assignment as God’s will, for it was not only her choice, but also the desire of her superiors.
Thanks to God’s ever-present help, the social work program grew steadily. Dedicated students continued to come to assist other humans with various human problems: educational, social, emotional, or spiritual.
After fifteen years in mission and ministry at Alvernia College, teaching and producing social workers with a Catholic moral and ethical stance, Sister Mary Anne was moved by the Holy Spirit to help the aging Bernardine Sisters at St. Joseph Villa. With a blessing from the newly elected general minister, Sister designed and organized a holistic program to help the retired Sisters stay reasonably well and spiritually alive by means of exercise, singing, trips, tours, and meaningful video cassettes.
Then came a time to “let go” due to physical diminishments in the normal process of aging. Sister accepted her new role as semi-retired and served as sacristan in the college chapel. She tried to radiate the spirit of Jesus on the college campus with her presence and smile to each student and faculty member.
After five years, Sister Mary Anne surrendered her beloved post as sacristan due to additional health changes.
Today, at age 87, Sister Mary Anne accepts her role as fully retired. Sister lives at Sacred Heart Transitional Convent. She lovingly sews for her companions, making new or altering old garments.
Written in part by Sr. Mary Anne Pawlikowski; interviewed by Sister M. Alodia Podczasy, February 19, 2001
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