Who We Are 2017-07-17T13:40:57+00:00
Mother Jadwiga Josepha Kulesza (1859-1931)

Mother Jadwiga Josepha Kulesza (1859-1931)

THE FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF ST. BENEDICT

Mother Jadwiga Josepha Kulesza was born in 1859 in Karabelowka, in Hajsyn region, in Kiev province. She was one of the five children of Michalina and Joseph Kulesza. According to her brother Sigmund’s account, she received a diligent catholic upbringing “under the supervision of wise and noble parents. As a young child, she was characterized by a great liveliness of spirit and kindness of heart”. Frequent guests at the Kulesza estate were famous painters and writers, such as Ignace Kraszewski, who dedicated his work “An Old Fairy Tale”, to Josepha’s sister, Jadwiga. After their father’s death and the liquidation of the family estate, the mother and the children moved to Kiev. Josepha probably finished a private boarding school there and learned foreign languages. According to her sisters’ narratives, she could speak French, Russian and English; she could play the piano and was well versed both in the history of her native country and in ancient mythology.

It is very likely that between 1889 and 1890, she spent time in the United States of America at her brother Theophile’s, who had migrated to the US with his wife Maria Anastasia under a changed last name Zitz. There, she likely became a godmother to Teophile’s oldest daughter, Michalina. Among the family memorabilia, there was Josepha’s picture which she dedicated to her goddaughter, and a letter dated 11.03.1903 which her sister, Jadwiga Kwiecinska wrote to their niece in the US. In it, we read, “Aunt Josie told us about how different your customs are from ours, and even your cities are built differently”. It remains a mystery though, when exactly Mother Kulesza visited the United States and when she returned to her motherland.

When she was 35 years old, she entered the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Catherine in Vilnius (today’s Lithuania). It was the time of severe repressions of the tsar’s government towards the Catholic Church. Numerous convents were closed down along with their novitiates and the numbers of the religious congregations’ members were being consistently limited. That was the fate of the convent in Vilnius, whose novitiate was closed down in 1865 and the remaining sisters were relocated to face certain death. In spite of the repressions, Josepha remained in Vilnius for several years where she finished her novitiate and on 3.07.1902 took her religious vows under Mother Anna Gabriela Houvalt.

After taking her religious vows, Josepha, now Sr. Jadwiga was sent to Przemysl (today’s Poland) where she spent about a year. In a letter of Jadwiga (Mother Kulesza’s sister) to a relative dated 1.21.1903, we read, “Aunt Josie is a nun in a Benedictine convent in Przemysl (then Galicia). You cannot write to her, but if you are in the area, pay her a visit”. After the authorities discovered her presence in the Holy Trinity Benedictine Convent in Przemysl in 1903, she left for Lvov (today’s Ukraine) and took shelter in the All Saints Convent. She returned to Vilnius later, but because of government surveillance she could not live in the convent where she had taken her religious vows. Bishop Edward Ropp ordered her to go to the Sisters of St. Brigit in Grodno (today’s Bielarus).

It is unknown how in 1907-1910 Sr. Jadwiga came to contact with Mother Columba Gabriel, the Foundress of the Benedictine Sisters of Charity (Suore Benedettine di Carità) and the former Abbess of the convent in Lvov. It seems Jadwiga joined Mother Columba in her religious undertakings in Rome. From there, she was sent back many times to her native Podolia (part of today’s Ukraine) to raise funds but also to scout the possibility of establishing a local affiliate convent of the Italian congregation.

One of the people who lent Sr. Jadwiga his support was her relative, Fr. John Wüstenberg. He suggested contacting Mrs. Jadwiga Aleksandrowicz, the wife of Kazimierz Aleksandrowicz, the manager of the Branice Estates (today’s Poland). Mrs. Aleksandrowicz was famous for her kind heart and she accepted the opportunity of cooperation with Sr. Jadwiga. While in Rome in 1911, she asked Mother Columba to send her Sisters to work on the Polish Republic’s Eastern Frontier. Sr. Jadwiga Kulesza and novice Helena Cybulska arrived there in 1912. They started their activity without revealing they were religious sisters. It was still a difficult time for religious congregations and no new convents could be founded. Their work had to remain secret.

In 1913, Sr. Jadwiga once again went to Vilnius to raise funds. There, she came across Josepha Izmajlowicz, soon to become the first candidate. Josepha Izmajlowicz used to work as a housekeeper for the relatives of Bishop Ropp’s chaplain. They went together to Derebczynka (today’s Ukraine) where Mrs. Jadwiga Aleksandrowicz needed help with the newly opened home for young girls. In the meantime, due to exhausting work, fears of uncertainty and constant government surveillance, Sr. Jadwiga’s companion, Sr. Helena Cybulska came down with a psychiatric illness and passed away. The home for the girls had to be relocated often due to safety concerns. It was moved between Fastov, Derebchynka and Boguslav, until it was finally settled in Bila Tserkva (all in today’s Ukraine) in 1916, where a house with a garden was purchased at 27 Zlotopolska Street.

With the appearance of first candidates a decision had to be made whether they were to be sent to Rome for the religious formation or they were to remain locally. The latter would require obtaining the consent of the local bishop to establish a new convent house along with the novitiate. The outbreak of the World War I made it impossible to stay in touch with Rome and, as the year of 1917 was approaching, the first signs of the Great October Bolshevik Revolution were unfolding. Sr. Jadwiga Kulesza decided to stay in Ukraine.

In May of 1917, Sr. Jadwiga and Jadwiga Aleksandrowicz went to Zhytomyr (Ukraine) to meet with Bishop Ignace Dub-Dubowski in order to obtain his consent to establish the new convent. The Bishop approved the establishment of the convent wholeheartedly. The investiture of the first seven candidates took place on St. John the Baptist Feast, the patron saint of the Bila Tserkva’s parish, June 24th, 1917. The statutes for the new religious community were compiled by a Jesuit priest from Kiev, Fr. Ignace Miszkiewicz.

The Bishop himself presided over the investiture ceremony. He also visited Sacred Heart of Jesus home for the young girls, which was also the first convent home of the newly formed congregation. He appointed Fr. Anthony Jaglowski, a young graduate from the Petersburg Academy, as its chaplain. These events marked the first three-year period in the history of the active Benedictine nuns. During that time, over a dozen candidates entered the community, a few investiture ceremonies took place, and eight sisters took their religious vows. At that time, the Sisters had over a dozen young girls under their care.

Mother Jadwiga Kulesza was both the mistress and the teacher for the Sisters, but above all she was their demanding and loving mother. The spirituality of the community was based on the Rule of St. Benedict. She considered it to be the best guide on the road to holiness. She thought the Benedictine PAX (peace) was the unifying spirit of all Benedictine communities: “It is the corner stone of the whole structure of the community life in Benedictine convents. Each Benedictine monk or nun rests his or her religious life on the peace with God, neighbor and himself/herself. They last in it their entire lives and after death they attain the eternal peace in heaven.” The devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was also nourished in the community from its beginning: “The spirit of peace in our congregation is to manifest itself by the two virtues of the Heart of Jesus: quietude and humility.” Jadwiga Aleksandrowicz herself was most likely a big advocate of the devotion to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, as she was brought up by the Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart) Sisters in Pressbaum, near Vienna. She hung her Divine Heart painting in the convent’s first chapel in Bila Tserkva and placed a plaque over the entrance to the young girls’ home: “The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Home for Children.”

After the 1920 Polish-Russian War, Bila Tserkva became a Russian territory. After the Aleksandrowicz couple left, the Sisters and the children found themselves without means to live. The persecutions grew in strength. Mother Kulesza wrote about that time: “We survived the war and the horrible revolution. We witnessed gruesome things. Then the Bolsheviks came, took away everything we had and dispersed us. We had to save our lives.” Due to these events, a few Sisters along with Mother Kulesza left Bila Tserkva in 1920 and arrived in Volyn. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Maciejov (Ukraine) gave them shelter for a short time. Their Superior, Sr. Marta Wolowska wrote in a letter dated.27 June 1920: “Three Benedictine Sisters came to us from Bila Tserkva a week ago. They ran away from the Bolsheviks after surviving some horrible times in the past years. Their Superior, very nice and kind Mother Kulesza, was not able to withstand that persecution any longer and six of them boarded an evacuation train leaving behind seven Sisters dressed as lay women along with twenty children from the home in Bila Tserkva. (…) The poor Sisters are exhausted and starved. We gave them our religious veil so we could wash theirs and we dressed them in our shirts… After getting some sleep, they held a three-day retreat.“

Fr. Marcel Gizycki extended a helping hand to the Benedictine Sisters in Kovel, Ukraine. He suggested to them to take over a home for children in Turzysk (Ukraine) but even there, the Sisters had to run away from the Bolsheviks. They wandered through Kovel, Warsaw, Ostrowiec, near Czestochowa, Dzikow, Rytwiany and Plock (all in today’s Poland, except for Kovel), where they met Fr. Anthony Jaglowski. The extremely difficult economic situation and dispersion led to the loss of hope and doubt if this religious undertaking was to last. It seems even Fr. Jaglowski doubted it, writing in a letter to the Sisters: “There is nothing left for you but to give up religious habits and return to the world.” The Sisters, gathered in Warsaw in the home of Jadwiga Aleksandrowicz, did not accept to give up. After a while, one of the Sisters, Sr. Gerarda, went to Dzikow to meet with Mother Kulesza and together they decided to continue the search for the new location both for the convent and the home for the children. Their fruitless efforts brought them back to Kovel on 11 November 1920. Due to Fr. Gizycki’s initiative, the Sisters started helping in the soup kitchen. They were helping feed 300 people, mainly children. They also got involved with the home for children and a nursery for about sixty children. They all lived in a big old dilapidated house at 5 Apteczna Street. This house was a gift from Mrs. Frydrychs.

The Kovel period of the congregation was marked by internal frictions regarding decisions about the shape of life in the new community. The main question centered around what should take precedence: prayer or the apostolate? Mother Kulesza’s desire was to relocate the congregation to Sandomierz Diocese (today’s Poland) farther away from the Eastern border threatened by communism. Due to numerous misunderstandings, Mother left the Congregation in May of 1921. She did not agree with the vision of the other sisters and the local Church authorities. Mother Kulesza commented on the situation a few years later in a letter to Mother Columba Gabriel: “The Bishop (Dub-Dubowski) declared that he did not wish for the congregation to remain subject to Rome but that he himself would decide on the shape of it. I’d rather leave than be separated from Rome and that is why I am alone now. I did not act out of my own will but I asked the Benedictine Fathers visiting Poland from Belgium for advice. They advised me to leave the congregation.” Mother Kulesza’s situation left a lot to be desired. She professed her religious vows in 1902 in a convent in Vilnius and she never had a formal approval of transfer to the Benedittine di Carita in Rome. These were the reasons why her fate was so uncertain and trying to establish a new convent tied to Rome was a failure. An exile of already an elderly nun became a difficult lesson in humility, sacrifice and trust in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

It seems Mother Kulesza wanted to return to Rome but first she went to Warsaw to meet with the Apostolic Nuncio, Fr. Achilles Ratti. The nuncio’s secretary counseled her against the trip to Rome and forwarded the entire matter to Bp. Krynicki, appointed by Rome as inspector of all the convents in Poland. He resided permanently in Czestochowa, Jasna Gora (Poland). He welcomed Mother Jadwiga very favorably. He had everything recorded in detail and promised to come to Kovel within two months.

From Sr. Superior Maria Wolowska’s letter dated 7 September 1921, we read: “Again, we welcome Mother Jadwiga, the Benedictine from Bila Tserkva. Because of her own Sisters’ plotting, she was stripped from her authority and demoted by Bp. Dub-Dubowski. Just like our own history (…). She is writing a report here and then going to Staniatka where she is welcomed. She and Fr. Canon are awaiting Bp. Krynicki to spend a night here on his way to Kovel. Mother Jadwiga mentioned to him she found a shelter here in Maciejow after she was exiled from Kovel.”

Unfortunately, we don’t know anything about Bp. Krynicki’s visit in Kovel. It is probable that the Mother spent some time in Staniatka as she was included in the Prayer Apostolate of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus 21 September 1921. She stayed in Vilnius in 1921-1924 where she ran a boarding school along with Fr. Karol Lubianiec. When this work was taken over by the Salesian Fathers, Mother Jadwiga decided to go to Zakopane (Poland) to stay with her blood sister, Jadwiga Kwiecinska. She lived by herself, though, in a rented room, surely not to add a financial burden to the economically struggling family and to spend more time in prayer. She was very much liked by her landlords. The pastor, Fr. John Tobolak, wrote about her in his report to the Cracow Bishop’s Curia: “Jadwiga’s behavior is exemplary nun. She is often seen in Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion. She is an elderly person.”

Mother Jadwiga was joined in Zakopane by Julia Jankiewicz, a cook in one of the guesthouses. They probably met initially in a local Jesuit church and then kept up with their spiritual meetings. Seeing the Mother’s poverty, she sometimes brought her meals. Julia, fulfilling her desire of a more perfect way of life, joined her in religious life, in spite of her advanced age of 45. She was to be the first candidate of the Polish convent of the Italian congregation, Suore Benedettine di Carità.

In the meantime, on 27 February1925, Mother Jadwiga and Mother Columba Gabriel rekindled their letter contact. In the letter dated 23 March1925 she wrote: “I trust that, in the goodness of your heart, Dear Mother, you won’t stop regarding me as a member of your congregation. I’ve always wanted to be a part of it in spite of leaving Rome. To prove that I never broke apart from it I started an affiliate convent in Ukraine. I haven’t kept up with writing to you, though, as all the letters sent to Rome were strictly surveilled by the Russian government. (…) I tried to make sure that everything there was like in Rome.”

In May of 1925, Mother Jadwiga and Julia Jankiewicz went to Julia’s home town, Ropczyce (Poland) to sell the piece of land Julia got as an inheritance. That money helped with their upkeep and travels geared towards establishing new affiliates of the Italian congregation in Bochnia, Bolczyce, and Stopnica (Poland). They got a suggestion of running a hospital in Stopnica (“So we could bring relief to the suffering and take care of their souls for the love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.”), but the Sisters of the Passion of Christ took it over instead. Fr. Francis Rayski asked Mother Kulesza to establish a home for children and a farm school for older girls but all her plans kept tumbling down. She lacked an official permission from the Mother from Rome to establish any affiliate convent in Poland. First of all she had to acquire an official document stating her membership in Suore Benedettine di Carità. She mailed to Rome the document of her religious vows taken in Vilnius and an official request “to be included into the ranks of spiritual daughters” of Mother Columba. Mother Kulesza complained in one of her letters from 17 May1925: “You won’t believe, Dear Mother, how painful it is to look at so many souls lost in Satan’s claws. The evil spreads and I sit idly. It is so sad that bad people don’t need an approval for evil doing and a nun has to wait for a bishop’s permission to do something good.”

The next stop on her and Julia’s journey was Solec Zdroj (Poland) with its famous spa. She was hoping to find means of support among the rich clients and to find out if there was a need to start a school or a home for children. She took care of a group of little children there and prepared them for the First Holy Communion. She didn’t receive any news from Rome for a long time, which made her worry, especially because she no longer had a document confirming her religious vows.

In September of 1925, she was in Wereszczyn (Poland) where her cousin, Fr. John Wüstenberg, was a local pastor. He invited his relative to start a home for the children and a farm school. He wrote to Mother Columba in Sep, 1925: “As a pastor, I am working on my little flock with all my might and skill. There are many ways to uplift and sanctify my people and that is why I thank our Lord Jesus Christ that he sent me Sr. Jadwiga with her organizational skill and experience. I trust she will create God’s institution here. (…) This is why I am humbly petitioning you, Reverend Mother, that you graciously implore the Reverend Bishop according to Canon Law. We also kindly ask that you do not wait too long with your letter to the Bishop, as we are in haste here.” In response, Mother Columba asked of Sr. Jadwiga, who took her final religious vows as a cloister nun, to write a petition to the Congregation of Orders to let her transfer to Mother Columba’s congregation. That petition should be backed up by a local bishop who would declare to take her under his care and attest to her worthiness.

In the meantime, a proposition of establishing a convent and an orphanage came from Lubliniec (Poland). An advocate of this cause was Fr. Paul Dziubinski, who knew Mother Columba and her Congregation from Rome where he worked on his doctorate. It is thanks to his request to Bp. Leon Marian Fulman that Mother Kulesza’s documents and requests were backed by the Bishop’s approval and mailed to the Congregation in Rome.

New candidates joined. One of them brought in as a dowry an apartment on Szpitalna Street along with a seamstress school. Mother Kulesza lived there for a while with the postulants. She wrote on 09  July1926: “We lead a strict convent life here. I especially make sure that we observe silence and are mindful of the bell (announcing times of the day). We hope in God that the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus will let us establish our community here. We pray for it fervently.” Fr. Dziubinski helped the newly established community with his advice. As a locally known priest, he mediated for the Sisters with the Lublin municipality and the Bishop. It was not possible, however, to establish a formal convent home without a written permission of the Superior General, Mother Columba. Both Mother Kulesza and Fr. Wüstenberg petitioned for it time and again (10 July 1926), as well as Bp. Fulman (23 August 1926). Unfortunately, Mother Columba’s health was already weak as her earthly journey was nearing its end. She passed away on 24 September 1926. Mother Jadwiga was alone and without a compassionate Superior who cared for establishing a convent in Poland and understood its complex situation at this difficult junction in history. The new Superior didn’t know Polish and the only Polish sister in the congregation was a novice and, as such, she couldn’t have a meaningful influence on any decisions (she eventually left the community).

Mother Jadwiga’s letters are saved pieces of information about her experiences during her exile. We find in them her total trust in the Divine Will and obedience to the superiors. She doesn’t hide the fact that she suffered torments in her soul. And yet, even in the most difficult moments she didn’t part from the Source of Life, entrusting everything to God and His Most Sacred Heart. She strived to fulfill her religious duties anywhere she went, as if keeping the promise given to Mother Anna Gabriela Houvalt, to persevere in the Order of the Holy Father St. Benedict even in the face of the greatest adversities.

Mother Jadwiga and her faithful companion Julia Jankiewicz moved to the rectory by St. Paul Parish in Lublin where they were received by Fr. Dziubinski. An unexpected meeting of Mother Kulesza and the Sisters from her originally founded community took place there. Her Sisters came to the parish to raise funds for the orphanage being built in Luck (Ukraine). The pastor reproached them about exiling their Mother Foundress. After some time, they sent their superior, Mother Tekla, who apologized to Mother Kulesza and invited her to return to the Congregation along with Julia, who later became Sr. Michaela. They went back to Kovel in September of 1927.

Mother Jadwiga entered the life of the Congregation anew praying fervently and helping the Sisters as much as she was able to care for the children. Sr. Klara Staszczak reminisced about the Mother: “I had the privilege of meeting her in 1927, when our Mother Foundress came to Kovel to stay for a longer period of time. The living conditions were very modest. She lived in the refectory, next to the kitchen, in the made-up cell behind the wardrobe. She had no window, only a small table, a chair and a bed with one pillow and a mattress made of straw and a cover. Instead of a bathroom, she had a bowl, a pitcher and a bucket. The outhouse was about 40 meters from the house in the garden. Such conditions are very burdensome for an older person. Only the Blessed Sacrament was close behind the door. We had the Holly Mass every day in our humble chapel. In spite of such modest conditions, the Mother never complained. The food was also very simple but she never asked for exceptions. Her clothes were very humble and limited, too: one habit, a cape, a winter cotton wool lined coat, a wool vest, a pair of shoes and a pair of boots. She always walked with an umbrella as a cane. She was involved in community life and fully accepted the order of the daily activities. She was often seen in the chapel, especially when Postulant Jankiewicz left for Luck. The Mother used to come to the children, whom she loved very much and taught them about religion. She told them about the history of our country during the times of captivity. She told fairytales to the young ones and taught them short poems.

The Congregation suffered from the fact that the Foundress had such primitive living conditions and the Sisters tried at all cost to finish the first floor in the newly built mother house in Luck. She was moved there in the spring of 1928. The girls from Bila Tserkva said goodbye to their beloved Mother and Guardian with tears in their eyes. We were happy because she was going to have better living conditions in Luck and the company of the original Sisters from Bila Tserkva, especially the care of Sr. Michaela with whom she spent six years in exile.”

During the Mother’s stay in the house at Apteczna Street in Kovel, a situation described by Sr. Klara took place. She mentioned that the winter of 1927/1928 was especially cold and snowy. As the youngest Sister in the convent, both by age and religious profession, it was her task to wake up at 4:00 AM every day and shovel all the walkways around the house, and still make it to the morning prayers. Because of that she became gravely ill. Besides a terrible cold she got a big abscess on her throat. The doctor was helpless. Her temperature kept rising, her face swelled up and the pressure in her throat was increasing. She couldn’t even swallow a tablespoon of water. It seemed that suffocation was imminent. “Mother Foundress and Sr. Konsolata took turns to watch over me. After two weeks, when my condition was severe, the Mother gathered all the girls in the chapel at 9:00 PM. The children prayed the Rosary for my health, some fell prostrate in supplication. Sr. Konsolata sat beside me. A thought crossed my mind: perhaps a teaspoon of honey could help me and cause the abscess to break open. I signaled for the honey. After one hour the abscess broke and started draining onto the sheets. The children went to bed and the Mother returned to the chapel. At around 8:00 AM two doctors came to cut the abscess open and they happily stated that the danger had passed. Lord God listened to the prayer of the Mother, his Servant, and the orphans’ pleas. I was able to return to work in a short time.”

Sr. Klara considered it her privilege to live with and help Mother Jadwiga after she moved to the new house in Luck named “Teresinek”. They lived together in the room on the first floor. Through the window, they could see colorful flowerbeds in front of the house and the main road. Even here Mother Jadwiga gladly visited the children, narrated to them fairytales and educated them what was appropriate to their age. The children sang merrily and recited poems. In her spare time, Mother Kulesza listened to books read by Sr. Klara out loud. Sometimes she mentioned where she came from and Podolia. The Sisters often saw the Mother in the chapel or praying the rosary while taking a walk in the garden alleys. She didn’t meddle in the household issues, nor did she preach to the Sisters. She remained quiet and cheerful, grateful for every rendered service.

Her health started deteriorating and during the Holy Week of 1931 she collapsed. On Holy Thursday she became paralyzed on her left side. On Good Friday, she lost her consciousness and couldn’t talk, eat or drink. On Easter Sunday she quietly and peacefully breathed her last breath giving up her spirit to God. She was surrounded by her praying Sisters.

On Easter Tuesday a humble funeral took place. After the Holy Mass in the convent chapel, the casket with Mother Kulesza’s body was transported to the Polish cemetery. The procession, led by Fr. Michael Zukowski and Fr. Anthony Jaglowski, was comprised of the Sisters, all the children and friendly people. She was laid to rest next to Sr. Maria Izmajlowicz who passed away in 1929.The Sisters’ burial place was in the new cemetery, an extension of the old one, near the military cemetery.

In the spring of 1945, the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict were forced to leave Volyn (Ukraine) where all their homes were established. That land became a part of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The graves of Mother Kulesza and five other Sisters remained outside of the Polish borders. It was impossible to simply visit the gravesite, pray or leave flowers, not mentioning the transportation of the remains. In 1970s the abandoned Polish cemetery became in Luck became the place honoring the Russian heroes of the World War II. After Ukraine regained her independence, it became the honoring place for the Ukrainian soldiers. Living relatives of the ones buried there were allowed to move their remains to a different cemetery. Unfortunately such news didn’t reach Poland. Today the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict visit that place in prayer and meditation among the monuments no more honoring the Polish history. They still have hope that perhaps one day some newly found documents would reveal the place of rest of Mother Jadwiga Kulesza making it possible to move her remains to Poland.

100 YEARS OF EXISTENCE

During its 100 years (1917-2017) of existence, the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict lived through many obstacles caused by the totalitarian systems but also received many of God’s graces through good people. Only three years after the establishment of the Congregation in Bila Tserkva near Kiev, the Sisters, together with the orphans which they were caring for, were thrown out of the house where resided. They were evicted by the Bolshevik Army during the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920. Through this whole ordeal, they did not give up. After a few months of living separately, they started looking for new ways to fulfill their calling.

In 1921 they went to Kovel where they started from the beginning. Even though the conditions were difficult, they were able to organize their main home, the Congregation’s administration and care for the orphan children. Setting up the Congregation, child care and education from the basics once again was not easy; they were in need of trained professionals but also an appropriate location. “Sisters of St. Benedict did not lose hope, they continued their begging prayers and God’s mercy helped their difficulties” proclaimed the Bishop of Polish descent, Piotr Pawel Rhode (1871-1945), ordinary bishop of Green Bay (Wisconsin, USA), during his visit to Poland in 1921 after receiving an invitation from the Bishop of Lodz, Ignacy Dub-Dubowski.

Bishop Rhode visited the Eastern Borderlands of the Second Republic of Poland and at that time he met with the Missionary Sisters of Benedict in Kovel. He felt mercy after seeing their hard life and work conditions and the orphan children they cared for. He donated to build new homes for orphans and the Sisters. He promised his support and invited them to visit him overseas for fundraising. This event poured renewed hope into their hearts, to grow the Order and its work. The Sisters quickly gained courage and took the opportunity to travel.

After all the paperwork was completed, with reference letters from their Bishops, they traveled to the USA a few times during the time between the World Wars for fundraising with the purpose of collecting funds for God’s given purpose in the country. At first, this difficult quest overseas was undertaken by sea, consecutively by the Mother General, alone or in company of a Sister. The first trip was by Mother General Apolonia Sokolowska; the next by Mother Malgorzata Wladyslawa Szyndler. This trip probably ended when funds to construct all the buildings to house the orphan boys and girls in Luck and Kovel, and the General House of the Order in Luck, were collected. Through God’s almighty hand and against the backdrop of life curves, there was a pleasant surprise for the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict.

During her second fundraising trip overseas, Mother Malgorzata (together with Sister Witolda Maria Warchol since 1938), during the fifth general chapter of the Congregation on June 29, 1939 in Lucko, was chosen again as Mother General. She was called back to the country. This became impossible because the delegate of the Holy See in New York prohibited Sisters from returning to Poland during war-time and ordered them to stay permanently in the USA. Two Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict stayed in America because of necessity. First they stayed with the Felician Sisters in New York, and the Pastor of the Polish Parish of Saint Stanislaw Kostka in this city, Prelate Father Feliks Burant (1893-1964), as chaplain of Polish – National Association in Brooklyn, he made sure that the Association (on their request) gave a donation on February 12, 1940 a 14 acre property with a wooden house in the Town of Huntington on Long Island, State of New York. This property originally was given to the veterans, but they did not use this chance and they lost the property.

The time during World War II was a very difficult time for Mother Malgorzata and Sister Witolda because of the isolation from occupied Poland (by the Nazis and Bolsheviks). During this unrest in Poland, they were unable to obtain any news and information from their homeland. Only corresponding with Bishop Ignacy Dub-Dubowski, who was in Rome, were they able to learn about the new dangers to the Church and the Sisters at the Eastern Borderlands of the Second Republic of Poland. Together with the assignment of the property and the house on Long Island to the Sisters of St. Benedict certain tasks existed: caring for Polish Children during the summer vacation, and then having a summer house for adults. The Sisters had difficulty fulfilling this task due to the old age and bad living conditions. Although they had small funds for their use, as soon as the War was over they thought of helping the sisters, who, due to the Nazi and Bolshevik violence, had to leave the eastern borders of the former Republic of Poland in 1945 and after a long wandering they settled in the Recovered Territories in Kwidzyn, where they once again formed the Congregation’s Mother House and the novitiate.

Both Benedictine sisters succeeded even after the war, in 1946, as soon as maritime communication resumed to arrive for a few months in Poland. Mother Malgorzata was still – since June 1939 – the legal superior of the Congregation, therefore with a motherly care she tried her best to provide material and spiritual help to the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict injured by War in the Eastern Borderlands, who arrived at the invitation of Fr. Dr. Szczepan Smarzych, the pastor of the Holy Trinity Church in Kwidzyn. Sisters in Huntington could not earn their own support and support for the Congregation in Poland, so they went around to collect money for this purpose. During the three months stay in Poland, Mother Małgorzata, as Superior General, accompanied by Sister Witolda hurried with material and spiritual assistance to the Congregation. She strengthened the funds of the Mother House in Kwidzyn, visited almost all the houses of the Congregation, and brought them support.

After returning to the United States, Mother Małgorzata was helping the sisters in Poland however she could, by sending gifts to them. In 1950 the help from America was very limited by the Polish state authorities by imposing a high customs duty. That year, after World War II the first General Chapter of the Congregation took place, to which Mother Małgorzata Szyndler, although she was a general superior, could not come because she did not receive a visa. She therefore renounced this authority in a letter addressed to the sisters in the Chapter. In reply the Chapter thanked her for the past concern for the Congregation. She was given a life-long title of Mother, and the newly elected general superior, Mother Tekla Paulina Domańska sent her a decree to take over the Community in Huntington as a Superior. The situation of the place after the war became quite uncertain. On the one hand, the American church authorities required more professional preparation for the nursing work of the sisters; on the other, the Polish people’s authority made it difficult to endeavor the Polish sisters to leave to USA and there were no local vocations.

Under such conditions, the Superior General of the Congregation decided in 1957 to liquidate the Huntington facility and sell the property. Mother Malgorzata could not agree with this ordinance. More and more positive opinions of religious and diocesan priests of Polish origin, among whom was Fr. Dennis Babilewicz, OFM and Fr. Julian Zasowski, as well as Mother Margaret’s request made the general authority of the Congregation in 1957, to withdraw the decision to liquidate the home in Huntington. At that time, a green light appeared over the ocean for the Benedictine Sisters that gave a spark of hope for the development of the facility. In the years 1957-1959, however, the situation did not change much. Even the arrival of Polish sisters Anastazja Witkowska and Eleonora Michalec, who were not yet prepared to take care of elderly people in difficult conditions of the house, without the chapel and the daily Mass, did not help much. It was only necessary to make radical decisions of the Congregation’s general board, that is, to send a new group of sisters from Poland with the mandate of taking up the local board to organize this religious institution from the ground up legally, materially and spiritually.

The efforts of the Congregation’s board to send three sisters to USA: Boguslawa Marianna Kapusta (as superior), Waclawa Jozefa Kalinowska and Maura Kalina Moszynska, after two years of waiting and prayer were successful in 1962. In May 1962 the sisters received passports (and visas) to travel to America, and their farewell was held at the Mother House on June 19 that year. At the beginning of July same year the delegated sisters flew from Warsaw to the United States to Huntington, Long Island. It should also be noted that in 1962 a great event for Roman Catholic Christianity was the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, which changed the face of the Catholic Church. The renewed community of sisters with energetic superior took up the work, and there was a lot of work. This was in keeping with the law of canonical form of following up to establish the legal status of the religious institution in Rockville Center Diocese, Long Island, New York, to build a new home for the care of the elderly and, above all, to organize the religious life of the sisters in a foreign land.

Difficulties piled up at every step: lack of English, lack of professional preparation of sisters to undertake the work, and bad opinion of Poles in America coming from lower social strata, crossing the ocean to earn their bread, without any preparation for living and working in the American environment. It is not surprising that the Polish Missionary Sisters of Saint Benedict, deeply religious and marked by the culture of tradition, at first experienced a severe lack of acceptance by the American bishops. The material bases required by canon law (canon 496) to establish a religious institution in the case of the Benedictine Sisters from Huntington were not regulated. Sisters Małgorzata and Witolda were allowed to live in the Diocese of Brooklyn until the end of the war, but they still thought of helping their poor congregation in Poland, which had to leave their homes in 1945 and the eastern borders of the II Polish Republic.

Thanks to the generosity of the local community, the sisters expanded their Huntington estate by eight acres and built another small house, planted a vegetable garden and they were breeding chickens. With money saved they supported the Mother House and Novitiate in their homeland. The diocesan curia led by Bishop Kellenberg, organized a conference in 1959, highlighting the unregulated legal status of the material possessions of the emerging community of the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict. They were accused of not paying tax, and the way out of this difficult situation was indicated. In order to build a home for the elderly the sisters were required to set up a corporation, as required by the laws of New York State.

Corporation of the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict, which also included the members of curia and attorney, was approved on October 26, 1959. It defined its purpose, resources and tasks. However, the first year of its operation showed many errors and brought the sisters many existential hardships. Mother Malgorzata with the help of a trusted lawyer, Józef Płoński led the change of the character of the corporation from temporary to perpetual. The housing conditions of the Sisters in Huntington were very difficult. There was an immediate need to build a new residential home for sisters and their residents in a short period of time. The hope of realizing such an investment in the absence of funds and lack of knowledge of English bordered on a miracle.

This difficult task was undertaken only by a new team of sisters who arrived in the United States in 1962. Before this happened, the sisters received a permit in the diocesan curia to open a semi-public Chapel still in the old building. They did not expect so many challenges on the American ground, but did not give into fear because of the difficulties. Trusting the help of God they took St. Joseph to be their Patron Saint. They also found in the new environment many benefactors, friends and advisers among priests and bishops of Polish origin. One should note special kindness, pastoral care and practical help (especially in situations requiring good English) of Father Alfred Jan Markiewicz as professor of the seminary, then an auxiliary bishop of the Rockville Center Diocese, and finally the Ordinary Bishop of the diocese of Kalamazoo.

In 1965, the sisters through Fr. Charles Birmingham, a bishop’s delegate of the diocesan curia, received an approval from Bishop Walter Kellenberg for the construction of the convent house and the facility for the aged. Father Birmingham also took care of engaging architects to execute the construction plans. When in the following year in May these plans were already completed, their estimate done and approved by the superior general of the Congregation, the hope of a loan from the diocesan curia came to nothing. Without losing confidence in the help of St. Joseph, Sister Boguslawa went to the general secretary of the Polish-National Union, Józef Głowacki and there on November 28th 1966 received a loan of $150,000.00 at 5.5%, to be paid back within 20 years. Construction plans and related costs were also announced by the Sisters over the Polish Radio, asking for help from compatriots in America. Intensive construction works continued throughout the year.

The new investment was dedicated and put to use on May 20, 1967. The ceremony was presided over by bishop Kellenberg, and concelebrated by a few diocesan priests. The ceremony was attended by over a dozen of sisters from other religious congregations, several hundred laypeople; delegates from the Polish-National Union presided over by the Secretary General. There were also representatives of the town of Huntington and the Knights of Columbus. This celebration was widely echoed in the local press and made the presence and work of the Polish Benedictine Missionaries on Long Island well known. The investment costs totaled: $ 338,181.24. The debts had to be paid off. The matter was settled in October the same year of the dedication of the new buildings, as the bishop gained full confidence in the sisters after these great ceremonies and allowed them to go to several parishes in the diocese asking for financial support. After the loans have been paid off and the new building in which there was a convent and the facility turned out to be too small, the sisters took courage and decided to build.

Having obtained the approval of their religious authorities in Poland, they went to the bishop for permission. This time there were no major problems, only one condition: to provide a place for a lifelong stay for a few retired priests. Sister received loans from the diocese amounting to $ 140,000.00 at 4%. At the same time sister superior tried to get more sisters from Poland to work at the facility. The plans for the extension and its cost estimate ($ 730,000.00) were ready in March of 1972. It was designed for 40 rooms for residents, a kitchen, two dining rooms, a refectory for sisters and other rooms. So the new addition came to be twice as big as the existing building. It was blessed and dedicated on September 29, 1973. The expenses were covered by donations of testamentary deceased residents, from collections and from their own funds. This time the diocesan bishop came with even greater joy to preside over the thanksgiving liturgy among their priests- friends, but also to thank the Benedictine Sisters for their generous work. There were over 450 guests participating in the ceremony. A year later, with the preparation of the necessary documentation and the land, the Sisters set up the private cemetery on their property, which was consecrated by Bishop John McGann in the year 1974.

BENEDICTINE SPIRITUALITY AT ST. JOSEPH’S HOME

In a special way, sisters live the Benedictine spirituality by praying daily and working to help the elderly residents of Saint Joseph’s Home for the Aged. The philosophy of the care program at St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged is to provide residents with an environment that nurtures their social, intellectual, rehabilitative, emotional, and spiritual development in a home-like atmosphere. The Sisters provide a religious and spiritual haven for their residents, helping them to live in peace and tranquility, and treating them with utmost dignity and compassion . . .

What We Do   

THE APOSTOLATE IN HUNTINGTON

The Missionary Sisters of Saint Benedict is an international congregation with communities in five countries (Poland, Ukraine, Brazil, Ecuador, and the USA). The congregation counts about 300 Sisters who serve in more than forty different communities throughout the world and thrive to embody the spirituality and the vision of Saint Benedict of Nursia whose motto was, “Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work). Their lives are a daily glorification of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and an effort to manifest His loving touch throughout the world. In the USA, they have communities in Chicago, IL, Ephrata, PA, and St. Joseph’s Home in Huntington, NY. Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict in Huntington presently counts 23 sisters who are always open to serving the people of God and leading them to His kingdom.

Where We Work   

FORMATION STAGES

POSTULANCY

FORMATION STAGE 1

A period from 6 months to two years for the purpose of making the transition from life in the world to the religious life. Learn more on our Vocations page.

NOVITIATE

FORMATION STAGE 2

The following two years of novitiate help young women grow in their love for Christ as they learn about the nature of the vows and religious life.

VOWS

FORMATION STAGE 3

The sisters profess their vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience to God for one year. They renew the vows for five years or longer, depending on their readiness for perpetual vows.

FINAL VOWS

FORMATION STAGE 4

The Sisters dedicate themselves to God and to the Congregation for their entire life. Learn more on our Vocations page.

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“Those who love me I also love, and those who seek me find me.”

PROVERBS • 8:17

“With all my heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you.”

PSALM • 119:10-11

“Come,” says my heart, “seek his face”; your face, LORD, do I seek!”

PSALM • 27:8