Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 12, 2000
Sr. Connie Piska's 50 years of enthusiasm
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The day before she entered the first grade, Connie Piska and her mother went to her school, St. Edmund, and met her teacher.
"She's still that same little girl," said Sister Gabrielle Tellier, Piska's Grade 1 teacher. "She was always bubbly and full of enthusiasm.
"She's always been that way."
Sister Connie Piska's exuberance and lust for life has not diminished over the years. Now in her 50th year as an Ursuline of Jesus, she has lost none of her spunk.
When asked to pose for a photo, she suggested taking one next to the blooming apple blossom tree in her backyard. She enthusiastically hopped onto a plastic lawn chair in front of the tree for a better shot.
There seems to be no end to her smile or her energy.
"She's a lively character," said Sister Maureen Riley, who was once a housemate with Piska. "She was greatly entertaining and she loved inviting people over. She was very good at cooking.
"She taught me how to make fillet mignon roast."
Piska will celebrate her 50th anniversary as an Ursuline at Good Shepherd Church June 16.
"The vows I made are public vows and I'm a public person," Piska said. "And for me to celebrate this way, publicly, that's the best advertisement of the life and joy I've had in it."
Piska entered the convent right out of high school. The popular athlete, with a flair for the arts and music, was taught by Ursuline sisters throughout her school years.
In high school while other students were wondering what to do with their lives, Piska already knew. She was going to be a nun and a teacher. There was no question about it.
So it was no surprise to anyone when Piska entered the convent.
"When we were walking to school, she would act like a nun," said Doreen Porret, Piska's long-time friend. "If she was wearing a coat, she would put it around her middle and make it look like she was wearing a habit."
Known as Sister Marie Leo in her early years at the convent, Piska rarely saw her family and friends. It was hard for someone so sociable to be almost cut off from the people she had grown up with, but Piska never let it faze her.
Thinking there would be no gum available in the convent, Piska's grandmother bought her some only to have it confiscated when she entered.
When one of her cousins got married in 1965, the whole wedding party went to the convent after the ceremony to take pictures with Piska.
Piska was the eldest of five children. Her parents were devout Polish Catholics, but they rarely talked about God and their faith.
"In our family it was always lived," Piska said.
Piska also fulfilled her other calling, that of a teacher.
She completed her education degree at the University of Alberta and a master's degree in religious studies at Loyola Marymount University in Chicago.
She taught at St. Edmund School and was principal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She worked with the Catholic school board in Sherwood Park as a religious studies consultant before joining the pastoral teams at St. John the Evangelist, St. Angela and Good Shepherd Parish where she has been for the past five years.
Working with then-Father Gerald Wiesner, who was president of Newman Theological College, and Msgr. Bert O'Brien, Piska helped to introduce the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) to the archdiocese.
It was originally done one to one, but when Piska got more requests, she decided it needed to be done in a group setting. It also incorporated the marriage preparation program.
"She worked hard," said Wiesner, now bishop of Prince George, B.C. "And she worked collaboratively with others.
"She's very generous in sharing her gifts - almost to a fault sometimes," Wiesner said.
He also commended Piska on her ability as an instructor. "She's very methodical and creative. She would bring all sorts of things to interest her students."
Piska has also been part of the archdiocese's jubilee committee and is involved in jubilee preparations for her congregation. She has also been preparing a celebration of her own. In the spirit of the Great Jubilee, Piska is taking a year-long sabbatical to enjoy time in retreats and with families and friends.
"I'm going to learn the computer and take an art course or two," she said. "It's a time to be renewed."
"People say to me 'Fifty years, how did you do it?' I say 'I didn't do it, God did it.'"