Snippets of time, collected from the Sylvania Franciscan Sisters’ treasure box of memories…
Above: A thank you note arrived in 2019 from doctoral student Eric Gubelman for the work of historian and French scholar, Agnes-Josephine Pastwa, whose religious name is Sister M. Bernarda Pastwa, OSF.
In 1978, Sister Bernarda published her translation of the memoirs of France’s colonial prefect, Pierre Clement de Laussat, who was the middle-man during negotiations that led to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Many years before that, her own doctoral research led Sister Bernarda to France where she met de Laussat’s descendant, Antoine de Pre de Saint Maur, who invited her to read through the archived memoirs.
Sister Bernarda served in the ministry of education for many years before returning full-time to her work as a historian, eventually publishing two books, and making significant contributions to american history for the country’s Bicentennial.
Taking the Train to the Convent
It was a hot day in August of 1949 when Sister Jeanine Sokolowski road the rails into Sylvania, Ohio from her hometown of Minneapolis aboard the Lakeshore LS & MS freight train.
She had come to enter the convent and, one day, become a Sylvania Franciscan.
The trip from Minneapolis took most of the day and she remembers eating lunch ‘out of a shoebox’ while getting to know a younger girl named Angie who was also heading to the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania. They were warmly met at the station by Sister Clementine Rybinski and a few cheerful novices who arrived in a blue Pontiac.
The sight of young girls nervously stepping off the train was a familiar one in downtown Sylvania. At the time, the train depot, built in 1871, was located at the corner of S. Main and Convent Blvd, just 100 yards from the 89-acre Motherhouse campus, which was home to St. Clare Academy, and later, Lourdes College.
Sister Jeanine, at 18, was not nervous.
Sister Clementine drove the short drive from campus so that the girls wouldn’t need to carry their trunks in the hot sun. Sister Jeanine remembers that she brought them to the Motherhouse and settled them in the shade of St. Anthony Hall’s south porch. Soon, others came to welcome the girls and lead them to their new home in Carmel Hall.
“It was all very strange and unfamiliar to me,” remembers Sister Jeanine. She tilts her head and smiles a little as she adds, “But I wasn’t afraid.”
Neither trains nor convents were new to her. Her father was a railroad man who started as an ‘Ice Man’ and then worked his way up to foreman. A perk of the job included train passes that allowed the family to go to Chicago every summer. Back at her home parish of Holy Cross in Minneapolis, Sister Jeanine liked to spend Saturdays hanging out with the Sisters and helping them around the parish. Afterwards, she would go into the Convent with them for cookies and Kool-Aid and she felt very comfortable with them. “I always knew that I wanted to be a Nun,” she says.
What’s your favorite Christmas memory at the Motherhouse?
One of Sister Jeanette Zielinski’s favorite memories of Christmas at the convent was an annual Christmas Eve ritual of gathering at the life-sized manger and singing Christmas hymns. It was one of those things that happened once, probably shortly after the manger was first built in 1942, and the experience was so magical that it became tradition.
A Colorful Memory
Raking the leaves that drop each October from the thick canopy of trees on the Sylvania Franciscan campus was an annual tradition that at one time fell to the hands of the young Aspirants, Postulants and Novices living at the Motherhouse.
In the 1950’s and 60’s there were as many as 90 teenaged girls enrolled at St. Clare Academy in Sylvania each year. For the few hours each week that wasn’t scheduled with schoolwork, religious studies, prayers, mediation and daily chores, the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania had to find something for them to do.
“Raking leaves was certainly one good way to keep all of us busy for an afternoon,” Sister Shannon says smiling.
Even with so many girls, it would take all morning to clear the leaves. The park-like setting in front of St. Clare stretched to the road because there weren’t many parking lots back then. And on Convent Boulevard there were only walkways between St. Francis, St. Agnes and St. Assisi Halls instead of asphalt. In autumn the grounds would be transformed into a carpet of reds, golds, oranges and browns.
Saturday morning the girls would be sent outside into the brisk air and dozens of rakes would be passed out. Over the loud satisfying crunch of the leaves the girls would talk and laugh together as they pushed the leaves into tall piles.
Sister Verona remembers it well. “Oh, I just loved raking the leaves! They gave everyone a rake and we would work all morning together,” she says smiling. “Then, when we were all done, we would run and jump in them!”