Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 12, 2001
Courier for the Lord
Young woman at low point in life when she began journey to religious life
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
CALGARY — A courier drives through the streets of Coquitlam, B.C., delivering mail, not sure about what she wants in life.
She knows she wants to quit her job, but before she can, she is fired. Janet Kozak was at a low ebb in her life. "I guess we really listen to God when we're down or in our floating period," she says.
Kozak grew up in a loving Ukrainian family in the suburbs of Coquitlam and remembers going to church with her parents as a young girl.
"I did not understand the Ukrainian language at that time. In church, everyone was speaking in Ukrainian, so I prayed very earnestly to God and received great comfort from that," she said.
Like her teenage peers, Kozak drank, smoked and partied. She is candid about her life and credits God for plucking her out of potentially dangerous situations.
Kozak warmly discusses the "Sisters in Blue" (Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate), an Eastern rite order founded in 1892 in Western Ukraine. They came to Canada in 1902 to serve immigrants from Ukraine.
Kozak says the sisters played a positive role in her life.
She was taught by the Sisters in Blue in high school and remembers, "What I really wanted was a positive relationship with God. I did not wish to do great courses on him - I wanted to experience his love.
"The sisters would tell me I would make a good sister but I resisted from the date of my graduation in 1982 until 1989."
Sister Janet says, "I knew God was alive within me." In 1989, she began to search in earnest for what God wanted her to do. She went to Mount Taber Holy Transfiguration Monastery in California in search of self and God.
Kozak says she feels the grace of God most strongly in the sacrament of Reconciliation. When she told her father confessor at the monastery that a number of people said she should become a sister, he asked, "Why don't you?"
When Kozak returned to Coquitlam, she spent the summer working with youth but could not escape the hound of heaven in her mind.
In October 1989, she went on retreat in Toronto with three other young women and recalls: "That was a moment of grace for me. My questions, doubts, and fears dissipated and I felt with great certainty that I would devote my life to God."
At that time, Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, was in Toronto. "He talked to the three of us young women and said prophetically that one of us would become a sister.
"I knew I wanted to do what God wanted me to do but did not know what type of life would best facilitate that for me. I thought of joining the army, the Peace Corps, . . . but when I saw movies like The Missionary I felt my heart strings were being tugged - heart wrenching moments when God entered my heart.
"At this time I discovered Christian music. This music had a profound effect on me as it opened my heart more deeply - Christian music is like prayer to me."
Struggles don't end with commitment, as Kozak was soon to find out in her novitiate. Kozak reflects that this is the time when you have to retrain yourself for a life as a sister in community. It's like a marriage where you have to die to yourself. "I have trouble with that, but it's getting better," she admits.
Sister Janet Kozak took her perpetual vows in New Westminster Aug. 5, 1997.
Her mother, Millie Kozak, wrote her a poem called A Sister in Blue. The last stanza reflects her family's love for her gift and choice of life: "So, Janet we congratulate you and wish you the best. We thank the Good Lord, for we truly feel blessed. We love you and we're proud of you, our daughter - A Sister in Blue."
Today, Sister Janet is a self-assured woman in her mid-thirties who wears many hats: superior of a house in Calgary, postulant of directees, vocation committee, work in the parish and schools.
With all these responsibilities, Kozak says, "I need time to recharge my batteries. I love to sing. I love prayer and what I receive from it. I love to embroider and cross stitch and I truly love conducting retreats so I can enable participants to experience Jesus - I am called to help people share some of the joy Jesus has brought in my life and show them it is attainable for them.
Kozak advises women who may be thinking of religious life: "It's always an adventure and never boring. It is a gift to be able to visit other cultures and participate in God's work with his most needy children. If a woman is interested in this life, she should follow her heart and trust that God wants the best for her."
Kozak is as concerned about vocations as other religious leaders and reflects: "It's interesting that in countries of greater poverty, like Ukraine and Brazil, there are high numbers of vocations and yet in Canada and the U.S. there are smaller numbers.
"God chose the poor and oppressed - maybe because they listen more to his call. In my own development, there were always young sisters in my life. I was fortunate.
"Today, when I go and talk at a school, the question that is more important for me to handle is not 'Do you wish to become a sister someday? but rather, 'Do you know what a sister is?'"
God's courier has come a long way, but as Kozak says, "I don't think the mystery in my life has ended as I am still in awe of why God chose me."
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