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Feature Articles

A Sister to All – Sister Jackie Kowalski

How would you describe your ministry and your role?
At Resurrection School in Price Hill (Cincinnati, Ohio), I meet weekly with children who have lost someone significant through death. My role is to facilitate the grieving process in children who don’t readily understand death nor do they have the coping skills to deal with it. The children experience this loss in their family in many different ways; some through natural death, but also through violence and addictions.

One girl in the group lost six family members in the last 18 months! She told me that she can’t talk about this at home because it makes her mother cry. Another phenomena which occurs is when children try to talk about death to their peers, the peers don’t know how to respond and frequently pull away. I provide a safe environment with discussions, rituals and games in which children can productively engage in the grieving process.

You are an SC. How would you characterize SC values?
Working with children and families has been my life’s work. In every ministry in which I have served the goal has been to strengthen family relationships. Resurrection School is a CISE School (Catholic Inner-city Schools Education) in which there is a high level of poverty with its concomitant problems – hunger, drug abuse, domestic violence, homelessness. As Sisters of Charity we dedicate our resources, both human and financial, to help those who are poor, the underserved. The ministry at Resurrection School certainly fits that criteria.

What does it feel like to experience joy?
In my first year of teaching I had a child in my fourth grade class named Bernie. We had huge classes, mine had 65 children. Bernie did not catch on to learning quickly. I was teaching long division and he struggled with it. He kept working at the board while I moved on to other subjects. After about 15 minutes he turned around and smiled and said, “I got it!” That “aha” moment became a touchstone for me, giving me great joy whenever it occurred, whether in teaching, counseling or facilitating groups. One student in my present grief group explained this type of “aha” moment this way: “I don’t have bad dreams anymore. Coming here has helped me not feel sad about [my uncle’s] death.”

What drew you to become a Sister? How did your family respond?
The call to a religious vocation is an enigma … it is hard for me to pinpoint the moment or the momentum of being called. I just knew that God was operating in my life! In fact, the call was so strong and my resistance so great, I prayed weekly at our Lady of Perpetual Help devotions my entire senior year that God would NOT keep calling. God didn’t listen and I am forever grateful! When I became a religious, there were not many roles for women in the church but I loved being Catholic and wanted to serve God’s people and becoming a Sister gave me that opportunity.

My family had mixed reactions. My father was OK with my decision, my mother not so comfortable. She believed I was throwing my life away. After I became a Novice, she quickly became an “expert” on religious life. She once told me that I was the only one of their four children that she did not have to worry about. When my father passed away we found a poem in his wallet titled “I Am the Daddy of a Nun” which expressed his pride in me.