Sister Jean's Vocation Story

Tell us about your Family.

My mom and dad, Pauline and Edward Wojcik, had two children.  I am the older and Marie, my sister is six years younger than I am.  I was born in the neighbourhood hospital and grew up in Lawrenceville Pennsylvania: USA middleclass America during the “fifties” and “sixties”. Dad worked as an insurance adjuster, and Mom didn’t work outside the home until Marie was about 12 or 13.  We had what we needed and some of the things of what we wanted.  But Mom and Dad spent money wisely.  My family was the average Catholic family.  We attended either Holy Family Church or the Church of St. Stanislaus on 21st Street each Sunday for Mass.  When I got older, I found out that Mother Frances Siedliska lived in the St. Stan’s Parish convent, which was closed long before I was born.

When I was five, I began kindergarten at Holy Family School that was four city blocks from my house. I excelled in academic subjects at school, but was below average in sport and physical activities. Although while growing up, I did belong to a bowling team during the eighth grade and averaged 100 a game. I also played girls’ basketball, did ballet, tap and Polish dancing. I played the piano from five years old. I taught myself to play the harmonica and enjoyed doing craft activities at the local Community Centre. My parents were keen enthusiasts on education. They also expected Marie, and me to do well at school because they knew we could. Our summer vacations were spent in different locations or in some kind of educational activity:  for example, we visited a tyre factory in Ohio to find out how they were made and Gettysburg PA because I was studying the American Civil War. Dad built a sixteen-foot motor boat which we named the “Pat Marie”.  In the summer we would, as a family, don our bright orange life jackets and cruise up and down the Allegheny River.

My grandparents were Polish migrants, but my aunts, uncles and cousins were first or second generation Americans.  We enjoyed visiting them, and celebrating Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Independence Day.  What fun we had together!

How did you find your way to Nazareth?

My Grandmother Adamski attended Mass daily.  I believe she prayed for my vocation. As a child, I would often ask St. Therese of Lisieux to pray for me and make me a Sister, too. 
I was taught by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth throughout primary school and high school.  I was impressed by my teachers:  Sisters Dativa, Edmunda, and Ermine.  I wanted to become like them!  As I got older in grade school, my friend Dorothy and I would “hang around” the Sisters, stay after school, do odd jobs or just “talk”.   My eighth grade teacher, Sister Bonfilia, arranged for the girls in our class to visit Mount Nazareth Academy, our High School in Bellevue at the Motherhouse of St. Joseph’s Province.  I saw the aspirants cleaning up after the afternoon tea.  They looked so HAPPY!  A few months later, I attended a vocation prayer day in the Cathedral.  The choice of Scripture was the “Call of Isaiah”.  Every fibre of my thirteen year old being screamed out at God (quietly of course). " Here I am God, send me! Make me a Sister!" I decided to change my eighth grade graduation streamers for the “Little black Aspirant Bow” that day.  The trouble was to convince my parents to let me go to the Academy and board there!  Once Dad said, “Let her try”, Mom gave in and agreed.

Could you share with us a brief story about your ministry?

After the Roman Novitiate, I was sent to Allen Park, Michigan to teach Grade Three in a traineeship arrangement: teaching and part time study at the University for my BA degree.  That was the beginning of my over forty years of classroom practice and corresponding study to meet the needs of my students. Prior to coming to Australia, I taught in three primary schools Years 2and 3, and then emotionally disturbed teens at Holy Family Institute in Pittsburgh for one year. Two years after arriving in Australia, I added Parish youth work to the ministry experiences. Then I focussed on teaching Religion and coordinating it in primary school.  Next it was teaching Music throughout the School at Our Lady of Grace, in Perth.  After that I was invited to teach English, Religion and coordinate the programme at Holy Family High School, Marayong. It was while I was there that fifteen students with migrant backgrounds presented a new English teaching challenge:  I needed ESL strategies!  After appropriate study (Teaching English as a Second Language), the next need to be met was the one-to-one Glitch Buster Programme at St Andrew’s High School-JPII Campus that assisted average students overcome challenges to their learning. I also utilized my TESOL background to assist adults to learn English, at first through a volunteer programme, private classes and then at Northwest Community College. Although I loved every aspect of my varied teaching career, being Career Development Officer at Mater Dei College in Edgewater, WA was the most exhilarating. It was a real thrill to match a student with the “right” traineeship, job or study! Currently, I have the responsibilities of part-time pastoral care worker and English educator at Holy Family Services, but my main job is that of Provincial Secretary and Councillor. 

Why did you apply to come to Australia?

When I was in grade four, Sister Monica Marie, who was teaching in Australia, came to our school to talk to us about her experiences. From then on, whenever I spoke about where Nazareth Sisters ministered, I always included Australia!

About three years before I came, the Provincial was “looking” for Sisters to replace Sisters who wanted to return to the States. I simply wrote a letter of enquiry asking what Australia was like. The written response said “Australia was like America! Not to think about it, finish my education at the university.”   Two years later, when that same Provincial came to Holy Family  Institute for Visitation, she said, “We are thinking of sending you to Australia.  You have three days to make up your mind”.  My reply was “And you would have three days to change yours! Of course I will go!  Why not? Will you tell the Sisters tonight?"  I didn’t think they would believe me if I told them this!  Then I rang my parents.  Dad was excited.  Mom was a bit apprehensive.  But they wanted me to be happy! I have been!

How do you like to spend your free time?

Utilizing my free time over the years has changed. tutoring adults and children who benefit from individual instruction. I have always wanted to learn to speak and read another language.  So I am currently studying Polish.  I like to make rosaries, and beaded jewellery.  

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