Members of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate at their North Central Edmonton Chapel include standing (left) Sr. Angelika Toma, Sr. Ewencja Dada, Sr. Adria Achtelik, Sr. Rafala Duraj, Sr. Lucia Da Silva, Sr. Carissima Swierkot, seated (left): Sr. Natalia Kieltyka, Sr. Akwilina Gajda, Sr. Isabela Da Trindade, Sr. Marianna Giolebiowska.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Members of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate at their North Central Edmonton Chapel include standing (left) Sr. Angelika Toma, Sr. Ewencja Dada, Sr. Adria Achtelik, Sr. Rafala Duraj, Sr. Lucia Da Silva, Sr. Carissima Swierkot, seated (left): Sr. Natalia Kieltyka, Sr. Akwilina Gajda, Sr. Isabela Da Trindade, Sr. Marianna Giolebiowska.

December 21, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Every morning, just before 6 a.m. inside the north central Edmonton building where the Sisters

Servants of Mary Immaculate live and work, the nuns start their day in prayer.

The 10 Edmonton members of the Polish religious congregation always pray for the Church, the pope, new vocations and peace in the world. They often include special prayer requests for the sick, particular needs based on current events and, ever-patriotic, prayers for Poland.

As well, the sisters never fail to pray for the protection of the children who will be in their care that day and for the families of the children.

"We start with listening and talking to God," said Sister Natalia Kieltyka, superior of the Edmonton house. "Without that, we can't function because who we are - our main goal in life - is to serve God. Prayer gives us that strength to become who we are and to serve people."

The SISEM Day-Care Centre, a 53-child facility run by the Sisters Servants since 1977, is their main ministry.

The sisters clean, cook, run the office and are the only caregivers at the day care, which is housed in the building where they live, next door to the Polish Holy Rosary Church.

There is a long waiting list for the Christian bilingual English-Polish day care, which accepts children from all backgrounds and religions.

The Sister Servants' love and charism for taking care of children dates back to the order's founder, Blessed Edmund Bojanowski, who lived from 1814 to 1871.

Bojanowski was a Polish layman who loved God and Mary Immaculate above all else.

He dedicated his life to the service of abandoned children, the sick, the poor and those in greatest need. In statues and images, Bojanowski is most often depicted with children in his arms, such as in the statue in the sisters' Edmonton chapel.

The well-educated and deeply Catholic layman was never married and, due to poor health, was unable to finish seminary formation to become a priest.

"He was a man of deep faith and a man of a really big heart," said Kieltyka. "He put all his money and whatever he owned in service for others, especially for children and needy people."

CHOLERA EPIDEMIC

Bojanowski founded the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in 1850, at a time when Poland was struck by a cholera epidemic. Cholera was claiming many lives, especially adults, leaving children as orphans.

Bojanowski saw the need to care for children but knew he could not do it alone. When three girls answered the call, the congregation began simply, in a house which served as an orphanage. Bojanowski's religious order went on to start orphanages across Poland which eventually became day-care centres.

Today, the congregation has 800 members and houses all over the world. Most of the houses are in Poland, including the general house in Wroclaw. The Sisters Servants are also established in Cameroon, France, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus and Canada.

The congregation arrived in Canada in March 1972, when the number of Polish immigrants and organizations in the country was growing. Five sisters arrived that year in response to a request from Father Stanislaw Wachowicz and Edmonton Archbishop Anthony Jordan.

In addition to the day care, the sisters' apostolate includes teaching religious classes at H. Sienkiewicz Polish Saturday School, preparing children for First Communion at St. Basil School and Holy Rosary Parish, and decorating the church for special occasions.

Sister Carissima Swierkot, one of the congregation's pioneers in Canada and a retired nurse, also visits sick and elderly people at their homes, nursing homes and hospitals. She prays with them, brings them Holy Communion and arranges visits from priests when needed.

The sisters have always worn the habit and veil.

HABIT APPRECIATED

Kieltyka, who joined the order in Canada from Poland 11 years ago, said the habit is a common sight in Poland, but in Canada, people often stop to appreciate the religious dress.

The thought that she herself would one day be wearing a habit was an absurd idea to a young Kieltyka when she was growing up in south Poland.

Kieltyka recalls when her best friend at 15 years old told her she was going to join the congregation. Two of Kieltyka's aunts were nuns but they had never considered her as a candidate or talked to her about the vocation.

Kieltyka was engaged to be married and had plans to be a doctor when shortly before her high school final exams, she was invited to a retreat that would change the course of her life.

On the first day of the retreat she fell sick with a terrible flu. Stuck in bed for several days, she was unable to participate in the program but had plenty of quiet time to think.

QUESTIONS ARISE

Questions she had never asked herself before started coming to mind: Are you sure married life is your vocation? Are you sure that medicine is your call?

"I was shocked. I couldn't put (the questions) aside," she said.

After pondering and prayer, Kieltyka approached the sisters to join.

She has never looked back. She has now been a member of the congregation for 24 happy years. She draws that happiness from God, prayer and service.

"Once you have the sense that you are doing what you're called for, this gives you a strength and happiness as well."

As for the future of the order, even as the number of vocations around the world dwindles every year, Kieltyka said she is not worried.

"I'm not fearful. I believe in God's providence," she said. "We will be here as long as we are needed."