ROCHESTER — As part of the rules of being a Sister of St. Joseph in 1958, Sister Barbara Orczyk was only allowed to go home once a year, even though she lived and worked at her home parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka only three blocks from her parent’s house, her brother, Thomas Orczyk, recalled.
Sister Orczyk, formerly Sister Paulissa, soon found a way to keep in touch.
“Sisters were allowed to walk if they had someone joining them to walk down the street, so we got to see her that way,” her brother said.
Orczyk also was able to see his sister in the classroom. She taught sixth grade at the parish school while he was in eighth grade. He recalled one of his teachers getting exasperated with him and sending him to his sister.
“My sister was horrified that her brother would get in trouble,” he said.
Orczyk was reminiscing as part of a celebration of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester’s 110-year service to St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish. An Aug. 18 reception and Mass — with Bishop Matthew H. Clark serving as principal celebrant and Father Adam Ogorzaly, St. Stanislaus’s pastor, and Jesuit Father John Podsiadlo concelebrating — marked the closing of the sisters’ convent at the parish. The last four sisters to live in the convent were Sisters Sheila Luber, Marie Dominic Bennett, Brian Madigan and Francella Quinn.
Speaking during his homily, Bishop Clark said the sisters made a lasting impression on countless lives.
“It’s wonderful for us to gather today to remember the gift the sisters have been to us,” Bishop Clark said.
During the Mass, Father Ogorzaly highlighted the work that the sisters had done over the years, such as Sister Bennett, who served the parish for 37 years. Five other sisters served the parish longer, including Sister Flaviana Okoniewski, who served it for 64 years.
“They taught hundreds of our children — many of them are here today and many of them are children no longer,” Father Ogorzaly said.
According to a history by Kathy Urbanic, the Sisters of St. Joseph’s archivist, the congregation’s involvement in the parish dates back to 1891, when Bishop Bernard McQuaid sent Father Fridolin Pascalar of St. Michael Church to recruit young German and Polish women for the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Twenty-one young women returned with him to enter the Sisters of St. Joseph, and some of the Polish sisters began working at St. Stanislaus. Over the years at the parish, the sisters tutored newly arrived immigrant children in English, served as pastoral assistants, trained altar servers, instructed faith-formation classes, cleaned the church and directed the choir, among other duties.
The school opened on May 3, 1897, with four sisters assigned to the school and 160 students. Though it was at the end of a school year, the school’s opening coincided with Poland’s Constitution Day, which marked the signing of Poland’s democratic constitution. The school stayed open until 1992.
During the Aug. 18 reception, Sister Mary Louise Mitchell, congregational president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, said despite the convent’s closing, sisters would continue to be involved in the parish. She also noted that the closing of the convent was necessary because the sisters needed other living arrangements for a variety of reasons, including age, and there were no other sisters to take their place at the facility.
Sister Mitchell said it’s impossible to know what the future might hold for the building, and she did not rule out its use for a ministry in the future.
“Some sister might see a need in the area,” she said.
Several of the sisters who will be moving from the convent reminisced during the reception about their days teaching at the school and volunteering with the parish.
Sister Bennett, 88, recalled days when classes included 45 students. She said she would get her large classes focused by having them start their seatwork before the last bell had rung. She taught first and second grades, and she said she loved the children’s innocence.
“You always knew what they were thinking,” Sister Bennett said.
Sister Marie Stanislaus Hwalek, who was formerly know as Mary Chwalek, said the example the sisters at the school set made her want to pursue a religious vocation. She remembers vying for time with the sisters.
“We would always stay after school to help clean and (use) extra time to help the sisters,” said Sister Hwalek, who taught at the school from 1942 to 1964.
She recalled that there were at least 22 sisters at the convent when she began teaching. Her first class was of 49 eighth-graders.
“You’d be surprised how well students behaved,” said her brother Joe Hwalek. “Not only that, we learned everything in Polish.”
Sister Quinn, known formerly as Sister Margaret Helen, came to the convent in 1980, and she worked at several area schools.
“For me, it’s very emotional to leave here, because it’s a warm, welcoming parish,” said Sister Quinn, noting she will continue as a lector at St. Stanislaus and continue in ministry there.
Sister Madigan, who taught at the school from 1976 to 1981, said the move was bittersweet.
“The people are wonderful, and we are so grateful to them for all they have done for us, and as Bishop Clark said, times change,” said Sister Madigan, now the director for faith formation for St. Mary Church in Rochester. “This is something that has to happen.”
Judi Kolupski, music coordinator for St. Stanislaus’ choir, said she has one of the sisters at the school to thank for her lifelong love of music.
“There was great camaraderie and a wonderful education,” she said.
She wasn’t alone in saying she owed a debt to the sisters.
“Some of the nuns were such a big inspiration in my life,” said Gloria Pieniaszek, a 1942 graduate of the school. “They brought me closer to God and gave me a respect for all the sisters who lived here.”