A Nurturing Spirit
By S. Joan Elizabeth Cook
S. Jacqueline Kowalski has always loved people: nurturing, educating, affirming. She was born in Mount Clemens, Michigan, the third of six children of her mother, Mary, from Mount Clemens and her father, Gregory, who was born in Le Mar, Iowa. Her two older sisters Ellyn Kowalski and Sheila Gillard and her younger brother Lawrence are deceased; her younger sisters Catherine Kujawski and Therese Houghton, live in Michigan.
S. Jackie’s childhood parish, St. Louis in Mount Clemens, was integral to her growing up. She attended St. Louis in first and second grades; then her father, an Air Force officer, was transferred to Wendover, Utah. She attended school in Utah in third grade; Dickinson Public School, Mount Clemens, in fourth grade; then attended St. Louis School through high school. The friendliness and caring of the Sisters of Charity, especially S. John Francis Burns, inspired her to enter the Sisters of Charity after high school. She muses, “My vocation is still a mystery – but there has always been a compelling desire to serve God as a religious.”
Her first teaching assignments were at St. Saviour (Rossmoyne, Ohio) then St. Andrew (Milford, Ohio) where she taught grades 4-8. She was particularly fond of teaching the children who struggled to learn, and she always wondered how she could make it easier for them. One day she was called from class to answer a phone call. It was Mother Mary Omer Downing, asking her to serve at Springer School. S. Jackie replied that she would be happy to do so if she could have the opportunity to study special education. It was arranged that she would finish her bachelor’s degree on a fast track at the College of Mount St. Joseph while serving at Springer. For the next 10 years she was a teacher of students with special needs, supervisor, and diagnostician while studying for master’s and doctoral degrees in special education and psychology at the University of Cincinnati. During her doctoral studies she served at the Cincinnati Center for Developmental Disorders as a trainee in psychology, learning disabilities and mental retardation. After earning her doctorate she joined the faculty and directed the diagnostic clinic at the College of Mount St. Joseph from 1980 to 1991. During that time she also served as psychologist in the Lockland City Elementary Schools and at St. Joseph Infant Home.
These experiences led her to found and direct Seton Family Center in Cincinnati, in order to affirm the basic healthiness of families. She assisted families in focusing on wellness, and changing those areas of relationship that were not functioning smoothly. The center developed a play therapy component to aid children who experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Another significant component of the center’s work was to assist families who experienced the stresses related to having a child with special needs.
After directing the center for 20 years, she retired in 2009. S. Jackie has shared her expertise in forensics with intern psychologists and educational specialists, training them to be good forensic examiners. She has been called upon to testify in court in cases of alleged abuse and custody hearings. She continues her nurturing spirit in her ministry as liaison to our Sisters. She finds it a blessing to walk with Sisters, especially those who are journeying to their final resting place.
Jackie has always loved to travel. After she retired from Seton Family Center, she and her housemate and friend S. Juliette Sabo decided to visit places where our Sisters serve in missionary settings. They traveled both as tourists and as assistants, helping out in whatever ways they were needed. In Dominica they assisted S. Mary Gallagher with organizing catechetical materials. In Lima, Peru, they folded clothes at the Comboni Fathers Postulancy. In El Paso, Texas, they organized clothing rooms and helped with cooking and answering the phone. They learned the importance of pacing themselves when they recognized that there was always more that could be done. With S. Sarah Mulligan in Guatemala they cooked and shopped, and sorted clothes in the clothing room. They soon learned that sizes XLL, 2X and 3X were not needed; the people wore sizes small and medium. In each of these experiences Sisters Jackie and Juliette were touched by the people’s gratitude. In the midst of their hunger, they could still smile, no matter what tragedies they had experienced.
Working with pottery is a favorite hobby of S. Jackie’s. She has shown her pottery and offered it for sale at various craft fairs. In recent years she was invited to offer pottery retreats. It is a special joy for her to see and celebrate the ways each retreatant works with their lump of clay. That lump gradually takes on a shape that expresses the personality of the potter. S. Jackie observes, “It is always a miracle to see how it unfolds.” And it is a gift to all of us that S. Jackie has shared her passion and her many talents in so many ways with so many people. We rejoice with her as she celebrates her 65th Jubilee this year.