It’s not uncommon to meet a Sister who has a sister … who is also a Sister.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, families often proudly had two or more of their children elect to go into the convent or seminary and eventually take vows in their chosen communities.
Such is the case with the Sisters Paluszak. Sister Aloise Paluszak, christened Evelyn, was drawn to Sylvania Franciscans by circumstance, faith and the kindness of her teachers and she entered the convent after eighth grade.
Her own transformation drew her little sister, Geraldine, to follow in her footsteps. This is the story of Sister Geraldine - although many of her students might remember her as Sister Mark.
Sister Geraldine Paluszak remembers her days at Nativity School of Toledo fondly.
“We loved our teachers so much!” Sister Geraldine says. “We would hear children who went to other schools talk about their teachers and we couldn’t relate to what they were saying at all. After school we would always see our teachers taking walks in the neighborhood and visiting with everyone. We would glimpse their habits coming and we always ran right over to them because they were so wonderful to be around.”
Her older sister Evelyn (Sister Aloise) decided to enter the Convent in eighth grade. When they went to visit the first time, little Geraldine, a sixth grader with adorable blond pigtails, was astonished at how much her sister’s demeanor had already changed.
“I saw the goodness and kindness of my sister and was so impressed that I told my mother that I, too, was going to become a Sylvania Franciscan Sister. I wanted to be as holy as Evelyn,” Sister Geraldine recounts.
She remembers visiting and meeting Mother Adelaide as well.
“Mother Adelaide was so welcoming. Her smile and her voice were full of warmth. I remember I first met her when I was visiting Evelyn and I was so excited when she took the time to stop and talk with us, even though we were just little kids.”
Her parents were very supportive and the entire family visited the girls regularly, bringing large baskets filled with ginger ale, chicken and even those delightful Chruściki that left trails of powdered sugar on the girl’s habits. The Paluszak family visits were enjoyed by many of the postulants because the family always brought extra to share with girls whose homes were not nearby.
When the girls were in High School at St. Clare Academy (which later evolved into Lourdes University), their father passed away. Within the year their sister and Mother were also dead.
It was a massive blow to the family, and these youngest family members were more certain than ever that it had been God’s plan all along for them to join the Sylvania Franciscan Community.
Now she looks back on her life and laughs happily. “Sometimes the Sisters and I sit around and ask ourselves: How did we DO all that?”
Since Sister Geraldine entered the convent in 1943 and made her first profession in 1948, much has changed in the Church and in the customs that govern the Sylvania Franciscan Community. In the early days, the Leadership Team took a much stronger role in deciding the future of each Sister, from assigning them new Religious names at first profession (Sister Geraldine was given the name Sister M. Mark) to choosing where the Sister’s talents would be best used in the community.
Sister Geraldine’s inaugural mission was to teach first grade at Immaculate Conception School in Minneapolis. When she arrived at her new school she discovered that her pupils didn’t have an official classroom. Instead, for the first few months she taught the first graders in the auditorium up on the stage. When the space was required for other things, she would pack the little ones off to find another temporary classroom.
“I’d make a game of it and the children and I were able to keep learning and have fun wherever we were.”
In 1954 a new parish opened in Cincinnati, St. Ann’s, named in honor of Mother Adelaide. The school requested the Sylvania Franciscans send them teachers, and Sister Geraldine was one of group of Sisters who quickly became known as the ‘Angels from Sylvania.’
Sister Geraldine taught several grade levels during her 12 years at St. Ann’s, which was located in a healthy and growing parish. She remembers one year having 75 first-graders all morning and 75 different first-graders all afternoon, all with the assistance of one teacher’s aide (a novel concept at the time.)
It was during her years in Cincinnati that she began working toward a science degree and then a Masters that would eventually take her back to Toledo, where she taught science at Regina Coeli School and later Microbiology at Central Catholic High School.
“I loved the kids,” Sister Geraldine enthuses.
She loved them so much, in fact, that she asked her best friend, confirmed sports fan Sister Cabrini Warpeha, to teach her football.
“I had all of these high school kids coming into to my microbiology class and all they wanted to talk about was football!” Sister Geraldine remembers. “I needed to be able to speak their language so I could teach them mine.”
Sisters Geraldine and Cabrini ended up going to every football game and plenty of the baseball games.
“We just wanted to be with the kids and the games were always a lot of fun” she explains.
In 1988, Sister Geraldine Paluszak began a new career at the age of 59. Leadership needed someone to consolidate two of their hospitals in Brenham, TX. Sister Geraldine had spent several years consolidating two Catholic schools in Rossford, so she had some experience in navigating the minefield created by implementing major changes to both personnel and policy. Although she was an excellent choice, Sister Geraldine had another idea. She wanted to return to Minnesota.
She prayed. And then she prayed some more. Sister Geraldine decided that she definitely wanted to go back to Minnesota. Leadership agreed, but with the caveat that she agree to go to Texas for just one week and just see how it felt.
In the end, she served as the Director of Mission Integration at Trinity Medical Center in Texas for 20 years.
“I really enjoyed the process of bringing personnel together and teaching our Franciscan values of Reverence, Service and Stewardship. Then, we’d put it into practice and figure out how we live and work with each other, how we treat each other and how we treat the patients. It sometimes took years, but it was worth it to watch how people learned to respond positively to each other and the difference it made for everyone.”
Now, in her Third Age Ministry she makes her home in Our Lady of Grace Hall with her sister living just down the hall. Sister Geraldine keeps busy with volunteer work around campus, serving as a member on the Advisory Council for our Associates, a member of the Refugee Committee and a companion to Maureen who is a candidate for the Associate Relationship.
What does the little girl with big blond ponytails say to herself as she celebrates her 70th year as a Sylvania Franciscan?
“How did I DO all of that?”
The answer, she insists, is by the grace of God. Her spiritual experience is much different today than it was when she began with her girlish enthusiasm to be ‘holy’ like her Sister.
“When you are taught these values and rules from grade school, your focus is on trying to live up to the letter of the law. As you experience life and have a chance to live these Franciscan values you get to live the spirit of the law and you are continually developing your spirituality and your ability to be in tune with God at all time.
I have been so blessed. Even at times where I was reluctant to accept a new role, and there were times that I had to pray very hard about it, each and every ministry brought me and continues to bring me abundant blessings and so much happiness,” she says.
She ends our conversation by sharing a quote she heard from Michael Young: “God is an encounter in your own life with your own story, because that is where your holy ground is.”