A sad but inspirational story about Catholic nuns

By Christopher Harper

It’s wonderful to have a local newspaper that offers news that comforts the soul rather than slants the news.

Since moving to central Pennsylvania, I have become a fan of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, which operates a few miles from our home.

The Sun-Gazette has a staunchly conservative editorial policy, which I relish as a change from the claptrap of most news organizations that surrounded me in the Northeast Corridor. Moreover, the local reporting offers some great insights into the surrounding community. The newspaper is one of the oldest in the country. Once owned by a local family, the Sun-Gazette is part of Odgen Newspapers, a small media company based in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Recently, the newspaper focused on a virtually untold story about the deaths of many Catholic nuns throughout the region. See https://www.sungazette.com/news/religion/2021/04/how-many-of-us-will-be-left-catholic-nuns-face-loss-pain/

“These were women who held the hands of the dying and who raised the unwanted, who pushed chalk to slate to teach science and grammar and, through their own example, faith. And when the worst year was over, the toll on the Felician Sisters was almost too much to bear: 21 of their own, in four U.S. convents, who collectively served 1,413 years, all felled by the virus,” the story reported.

“On Good Friday [2020], Sister Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak became the sisters’ first casualty in Livonia, a blow that landed with stunning intensity for the women who’d known her for decades.

‘My heart just leaped,’ said Sister Nancy Marie Jamroz, 79, who had known Wawrzyniak since entering the convent and was one of her closest friends.’She was my little buddy.’

“Wawrzyniak’s teaching days were ended by multiple sclerosis, but she continued contributing any way she could, shuffling behind a wheelchair to work in the laundry room and remembering every birthday with a card.

“On Easter Sunday, it was Sister Celine Marie Lesinski, a teacher, organist, and librarian, and Sister Mary Estelle Printz, who put aside an early life working at Chrysler to take her vows. Then, Sister Thomas Marie Wadowski, who relished a game of canasta and telling of her second-grade class that won a contest to create a Campbell’s Soup commercial, and Sister Mary Patricia Pyszynski, who taught in 13 schools across Michigan in six decades as an educator….

“After the first week of the crisis claimed five sisters, the second week took five more.

“Sister Mary Clarence Borkoski, whose long ministry included work in a food pantry. Sister Rose Mary Wolak, whose two stints working in the Vatican brought brushes with St. John Paul II. Sister Mary Janice Zolkowski, who wrote a definitive 586-page history of the Felicians. Sister Mary Alice Ann Gradowski, who as a principal could be seen cheering, with fierce loyalty, in the bleachers at basketball games. And Sister Victoria Marie Indyk, who led mission trips to Haiti where she insisted students fill their luggage with clothes and medicine and toys going to the hemisphere’s neediest.

“The second wave haunted and taunted with erratic efficiency, and by the middle of November had robbed the Felicians of sisters in Buffalo, New York; Enfield, Connecticut; and here in Greensburg.

“Sister Mary Christinette Lojewski, the educator with a disarming smile. Sister Mary Seraphine Liskiewicz, whose faith persevered even as her health waned. Sister Mary Michele Mazur, the keen-eyed artist who gave succor to orphans. Sister Christine Marie Nizialek, who’d bounced back from losing an eye and receiving a new kidney but could not come back from this.”

The nuns mourned, consoled one another, and prayed. This disease had taken an enormous toll. But their faith persisted.

Thanks to the Sun-Gazette for a sad but inspirational story—a story that virtually no other media outlet has deigned to cover!

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