"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

Visionary Women: Addressing Needs and Responding

By S. Georgia Kitt

In honor of Women’s History Month, we begin a new series featuring Sisters of Charity who have responded to the current needs of the times. Each of these women shared the gifts they had for an emerging ministry, sought support and built on their earlier ministry experiences. It was the ‘right time’ for the founding to occur when it did. Each woman was spurred on by her Sisters, parish members, community members and neighborhoods. Each passed the ministry on, being aware of the ‘right time’ for others to carry forward the ministry, discontinue or recognize that the need was now being met by other agencies, programs, etc.

S. Jackie Kowalski established Seton Family Center in 1989.

Most all SC ‘founders’ continue connections today with past ministry members with whom they served and have an awareness of the current services available. Beautiful relationships have resulted. Persons are experiencing healthy self-esteem, hope, quality education and are able to contribute to family, church and society. Areas of ministry that were addressed included homelessness, absence of medical care, breaking the cycle of poverty and oppression, lack of educational and mental health services, non-existent prisoner release programs, and standing with women and children. We begin this series with S. Jackie Kowalski and the Seton Family Center.

There seemed to be a natural flow from one teaching ministry to another early in S. Jackie Kowalski’s educational experiences. This would engender courage and confidence for later. She loved teaching elementary students and felt drawn to those children who had a difficult time learning. This offered a natural bridge to special education, leading her to serve for 10 years at Springer School, first as teacher and then as principal. Springer, a well-established Cincinnati school, was dedicated to empowering students with learning disabilities. As part of their diagnosis clinic, S. Jackie felt that the testing of the child was not providing the whole picture; she saw home environment and family genetics playing a part as well. Encouraged by her Sisters in community and SC leadership, she became a full-time student at the University of Cincinnati, intent on the need to work with the whole family, and earning her PH.D. as a psychologist in 1980. With her dual doctorate in special education and psychology she was invited by the College of Mount St. Joseph to set up a diagnostic clinic as part of a community outreach program; she served as its director for 11 years. Besides teaching in the education department, she was able to help develop Project Excel, an important learning disability program for college-age students and to work with children in the Mount’s Child Care Center. 

Seton Family Center was located in East Price Hill (Cincinnati) and became well known on Cincinnati’s west side for its clinical services and ability to serve the mental health needs of the community.

In 1989, equipped with these valued learning experiences, S. Jackie felt empowered to pursue her desire to establish a center dedicated to the belief that families are inherently well. Seton Family Center was born with a mission to enable families to learn effective techniques for solving problems through family counseling, play therapy for children, parenting skills and diagnostic services, all taking place in a home-like setting. She found the ideal location in East Price Hill (Cincinnati) where they could serve the mental health needs of people in the community. This was accomplished as a small but vibrant organization with an enthusiastic board and staff.

Seton Family Center became well known on Cincinnati’s west side for its excellent clinical services as well as fundraisers and community outreach. The center served more than 1,000 families in its 20-year history, especially those with limited financial resources. Painting, pottery, puppetry, drawing and building were often activities that allowed the children the freedom to express their feelings, letting go of anger and pent-up emotions. S. Jackie’s artistic gifts were often called upon, engaging families in a variety of healthy, inclusive activities as a family unit.

S.Jackie chose to retire in 2009, feeling it was time to pass the center on while it remained a recognized, viable need for west side families. With the help of the Seton Family Center board and transition personnel, a new director was chosen and services were moved to a new location; the clinical and support staff were expanded, connecting with St. Aloysius Orphanage. They remained true to the original mission and served more families than ever. By 2014 Seton Family Center and St. Aloysius were looking to a new partnership, consolidating and growing outpatient services at the main Reading Road campus. Greater attention was being given to comprehensive services available for children and families across the region. In late 2021 St. Aloysius partnered with Children Home of Cincinnati to create Best Point Education and Behavioral Health to serve more than 18,000 children and families in the Greater Cincinnati area. They plan to expand services in the year ahead.

Play therapy, family counseling, parenting skills and diagnostic services were all important services provided at Seton Family Center.

S. Jackie would say that she was blessed to be allowed into the lives of the children and families with whom she worked. She gained different perspectives on being a parent and came to understand what a difficult, yet rewarding role it is. She appreciated seeing the trust that grew among family members as they worked together on their struggles or problems. She came to realize a fitting mantra for families/parents was “You are good enough.” She also came to value her own God-given gifts and how they can continue to bless and enrich her own and others’ lives, even in retirement.

As a committed, active member of the Sisters of Charity, S. Jackie has a fondness for those SCs who called forth her love for children with learning needs and gave her courage – Sisters Elizabeth Mary Fields, Martha Jean O’Connor, Charlotte Marie McMahon, Jean Patrice Harrington, Redempta Wittberg, Dee Sizler and her Santa Maria living community in the 1980s.

S. Jackie remains in touch with many families she served, now contributing adults in the community and parents themselves. Mark is a Kroger bagger who greets her each time he sees her in the store. Another is a former parent and board member with whom she still shares family joys and sorrows. She remembers many, saying prayers for their lives now, and being grateful that their paths crossed when a need surfaced for mental health services.

Most important when passing the ministry on for S. Jackie was that mental services for families were still available and affordable, supportive of Christian values, with attention given to the whole family. S. Jackie would say that the gifts she recognized and most valued while directing Seton Family Center were a love for children, flexibility, willingness to fully engage in the mission, her ability to communicate and her creative spirit. She valued the gifts that others brought to assist her in their areas of expertise.

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