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May 13, 2021 · OPINION

Courageous women making life better for others

Sister Paulanne continues to lead her parish’s efforts to help the needy and disadvantaged.
By Steve Wojcik

I’m sorry that Don Bachmann had a bad experience with Sister Roselma (as described in his May 7 column). I, too, was educated in Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago and the examples and self-sacrifice of several nuns, whose gift of their lives in service to others has strengthened my faith, come to mind.

Sister Rogeria, who taught special classes for me and others in first and second grade, is one. Though well into her 80s by the time I arrived at St. James School and suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis as I now realize, she was indefatigable in her dedication to teaching youngsters, despite her advanced age and disfigured hands.

Sister Mary Peter is another. As a young woman, she left her family and life in Minnesota to come to Chicago and teach me, my sisters, my brother and many others in first and third grade for many years.

When we moved to the suburbs in the early 1970s, Sister Marie and Sister Paulanne welcomed my family and helped us navigate our new environment. Sister Paulanne is still there, nearly 50 years later, helping not only parishioners but also leading Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish’s efforts to serve the poor and disadvantaged in the community and at sister parishes in Chicago. I was grateful for her making sure that everything was ready in the church for my mother’s funeral last summer.

Growing up in Chicago, we were privileged not only to have the examples of fine women like these, but we also tread the same ground as and regularly heard about people like St. Frances Cabrini. Mother Cabrini, as she is affectionately called, an immigrant herself and though small in stature (her personal effects, including the tiny shoes she wore, can be seen at the Cabrini Shrine in Chicago), was a formidable giant in Chicago and North America, setting up hospitals, schools and orphanages in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century for immigrants and the less fortunate. She died of malaria in Chicago in 1917, performing charitable works right up to the days before her death.

Due to her entrepreneurial spirit, her business acumen and the example she provided to other sisters in her congregation, many of these institutions survive to this day. We also regularly heard about the heroic sacrifice of the three nuns who died and one who was severely burned in the tragic Our Lady of the Angels school fire in 1958, the worst school fire in the history of our nation. Quick action by some of the nuns was credited toward saving countless lives. They gave their lives trying to save as many children as they could and staying with those who could not get out in time.

The stories of these courageous women are just a few of countless others who have inspired people by their example in giving their lives completely as gifts in service to others.

I will be forever grateful to them.
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