SR SOPHIE’S STORY
I was born in Sydney, Australia in 1991, and am the eldest of four childen. My dad is of Maltese background and migrated to Australia with his family when he was 12. My mum is a “country girl” from a big family of 12 kids. My parents have always been great models of faith, joy and vocation.
I was born with an extremely rare neurological disorder called Moebius Syndrome. Most of my face is paralysed (but I have a pretty fabulous wink!) and I’ve had many surgeries during my life to help me with things like blinking, speaking and eating. My disorder is a big part of my life and discernment. When I was growing up, I struggled a lot with identity, self-acceptance and finding my place in the world.
I first became aware of “discernment” and “vocation” in Lent of 2012. At the time I was studying at the University of Notre Dame in Sydney and was becoming more interested and actively involved in my faith. I really wanted to make Lent special, so I decided I would pray the Rosary every day, even though I had never really prayed the Rosary much before and had to borrow my mum’s Rosary beads. It was during this daily time of prayer that I first felt the desire to give myself to God really surface. I felt God was calling me to something but I didn’t know what. Before too long, I found myself thinking a lot about becoming a sister, but my first thought was NO WAY! Are you kidding me?! I want to get married!!
Later that year I went on a study abroad trip to a college in Minnesota, USA…and I was still thinking about nuns! The college was run by Benedictine sisters. I became close to a few of the sisters and shared my feelings. They encouraged me to connect with an order when I got home and to try and pursue these feelings in me.
In April 2013, I was still seeking and one day found myself searching online for religious congregations in Australia. In a long list of names, I saw “Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth”. Something about the name really attracted me so I went to their website. The first thing I saw was a big picture of two sisters smiling. Their smiles really touched me and I soon found myself reading everything on their website, and even discovering that they were hosting a discernment retreat for women the following weekend. If that’s not God’s work, I don’t know what is!
I went on that retreat…and have never looked back. In 2015 I began my process of discernment as an affiliate, moving to the convent in Marayong to live with the sisters. I officially entered the congregation in 2016 and made my first vows in February 2019. I currently have a very rewarding ministry as a chaplain in two major hospitals in Sydney.
If you would ask me what the essence of my discernment or vocational journey has been, I would say JOY. God’s call to us can take many different forms and be lived in many ways. This call may be difficult to follow at times, but it is always a call of joy because it leads us to become fully alive in God. Being a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth is one of my life’s greatest gifts and joys. I often find myself amazed at God’s generous, loving call to me, and I pray my life’s mission will be to share and spread the joy of God every single day.
Sr Sophie Boffa, CSFN
SR PAULA’S STORY
My name is Paula. I was an ordinary girl born into an ordinary family in the big country of the Soviet Union, when the communists persecuted anybody who believed in God. For me it was a time of great tension and fear.
Although my parents felt helpless at the oppression of the system, their faith remained strong. We prayed together and our parents and grandparents taught us to love the Church and its traditions.
At school the situation was no better. We could not share our faith in public nor could we speak about God or any spiritual events in our life, such as the reception of the Sacraments, Christmas, Easter and so on. Everything was a big secret!
When I was a child the priesthood and religious life were a big mystery. I remember saying to my mum: “I want to be a priest!” She simply responded: “No, you can’t because you are a girl!”
When I was 15 years old, I saw a nun in a long black habit for the first time in my life. I was excited. I asked myself: “How about me? Do I want to be a nun?” I thought to myself: probably yes!
But when I started high school, I forgot all about this “nun business”. I had a dream that seemed like a plan for my life. First, I would finish university, after that I would get married and then have 3 children.
That was my plan. So, I began my studies, found a boyfriend, went to discos, and danced through the night. But there was a big problem. I was never happy inside and I asked myself, “what’s wrong?”
However, Jesus had a different plan which I did not understand. So I prayed.
Then one day I met a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth. I do not remember the conversation, but until today I remember her smile. She invited me to visit the convent and I felt right at home.
I wondered why they were so happy, and I was not.
So, I started the long hard process of discernment and asked Jesus a lot of difficult questions. After one year, I decided to talk to the Mother Superior. It was now or never!
I remember saying to her: “Mother Superior, I want to belong to Jesus.”
She said:” Does this mean you want to be a sister?”
I said: “Yes!”
And she replied: “Oh, I knew that!”
I never asked how she knew that, but for me, her words were a confirmation that filled my heart with peace.
After a couple of months, I entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Now 29 years later, I am a happy person.
I call my journey – “a dance with Jesus” because I like to listen to his music in prayer and dance with him.
Sr Paula Volchek, CSFN
SR. HELEN’S STORY
The expression “God speaks to us through people and the ordinary events of life” sums up the reason why I am a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth today.
My journey to religious life began in my family, where prayer and weekly Sunday Mass attendance were a priority. For several years my older brother, two younger sisters and I, together with our parents, prayed the rosary as a family and, at times, rather reluctantly when favourite television programmes competed for our time and interest.
At seven years of age I remember being in awe of a young Sister of Charity whose kindness and gentle manner motivated me to stay behind after school hours to clean the classroom, carry sister’s bag to the convent or just chat for a while. At that time I recall a strong desire within myself to be just like her…God was at work!!!!
The story of my call to religious life would be incomplete without mentioning the role Mary played. While trying to discern my life’s direction at the ripe old age of twelve, I turned to Mary for guidance. Having heard about the weekly novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which was held in our parish church every Thursday evening, I decided it was time for me to do some serious praying. Like most other people who attended the novena I wrote my weekly letter to Mary, deposited it safely in the box in front of her picture, and waited for an answer to my prayer.
Since my family background is Polish, I attended Polish classes, joined the Polish girl guides and participated in many Polish cultural activities. A highlight of the year for our family was to attend the celebration of Our Lady of Czestochowa Chapel in Marayong. This was a highlight because it was one of the few times we had a ‘family’ outing. The celebration at Marayong consisted of an outdoor Mass, procession and a picnic…in a truly rural setting. The attraction for the children was not so much the Liturgy but rather checking on the turkeys and other animals on the property.
These annual visits brought me in touch with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Up until the age of 12 my desire was to become a Sister of Charity. However, God had other plans.
During the summer holidays, at the age of 14, I was invited, by a very zealous sister, to spend a two week holiday at the orphanage at Marayong where I helped the Sisters look after the few children who remained in the Orphanage during the Christmas vacation period. Here, once again, I experienced the kindness of the Sisters and enjoyed the company of the children.
At the end of the two-week vacation period another invitation was extended to me…to become an aspirant (affiliate) with a group of four girls in Brisbane, in February. What an unbelievable answer to my prayers!!!!! Without any hesitation on my part I broke the news to my parents. My father was not too keen for me to leave home at such a young age, but my mother was happy for me to go.
All this took place over 50 years ago!!!!!
During my life’s journey God’s ways have been sometimes mysterious, but never dull.
As I reflect on these past forty years it is easy to see God’s hand leading me…sometimes to places I would rather not go…but never alone.
I thank God and the congregation for the numerous blessings and opportunities which I have experienced in being able to continue and deepen my relationship with God, and serve God’s people …….the children, families and the elderly…and so… the journey continues…..praise God!!!!!
Sr. Helen Tereba, CSFN
SR. ROSANNE’S STORY
My name is Sister Rosanne Sinclair. I have been a member of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth for more than 30 years now. I first met the Sisters the day I started high school at Holy Family High School in Marayong, N.S.W. I was struck, from my first days there, by the way that the Sisters related to us and reached out to us as “real people”. It actually felt like they enjoyed being with us and I soon began to sense that there was something special in the way that they treated us. My life in community has been a coming to understand the source of what I felt, when in school with the Sisters, back in those days.
The heart of the message handed on from generation to generation of Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, by our Foundress, Blessed Frances Siedliska, is that each and every person is important in the scheme of things. Each one of us is part of the human family and as such, we possess a dignity that is to be recognised and respected. This is the challenge of our life…this is the challenge of my life as a Sister of the Holy Family of Nazareth… to reach out to each person, in their uniqueness, as a valued member of the human family and as part of a basic family unit…each person is first and foremost a member of the family of God. This vision of Blessed Frances has given my life meaning and purpose in a way that enables me to walk through the joys and sorrows, the celebrations and the commiserations of everyday life. All in all, I guess it gives me perspective for my life. This sense of perspective is pure gift.
Many people have asked me over the years if I regret giving up being married and having my own family in order to be a religious sister. As the years pass, I can answer with deeper and deeper conviction that I honestly believe and feel that I have been given far more than I can ever give up. I have a loving family in which my mother, my sister and five brothers, together with their respective families, continue to love and support me despite the business of their own lives. I have been blessed to know my own Sisters living in a number of countries and here in Australia. I have been blessed by being invited into the lives of many people with whom I have worked, studied and lived during my life in community. Most of all, I have found a loving and faithful companion in my God. It doesn’t mean I don’t have my bad days and my times of doubt…but, in the end, if life is meant to be lived….God has certainly given me an amazing life.
Sr Rosanne Sinclair, CSFN
SR. RITA MARIE’S STORY
As I gaze upon the story of my own vocation it seems that it was only yesterday when I began this journey. It has been like a dream, so far beyond my reach and comprehension. God in His goodness and Love, made me realise and understand the meaning of His wonderful call, a call to Life, Love and Service.
It was the 3rd of February 1998, when I went from Iloilo to Manila in the Philippines, together with the pious group named the Missionaries of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Composed of 2 women and 3 men, the purpose of the group in going to Manila was to study and learn about Mission. Luckily, we met Sister Gemma Pepera, the Regional Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth at that time. Upon hearing that Sister Gemma belonged to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, we asked her if she could give us a seminar about Mission.
Through God’s intervention I believed, that was the starting point in my life to discover my own call to Nazareth.
On May 17, 1998 I entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, based in Manila, as an Affiliate. Through the help of Rev. Father James Ferry, MM who was vicar for religious and confessor of the Sisters in Greenhills, Manila during that time and up to this present moment. Everything was new to me, even in eating, sleeping, talking, doing things and praying, but I was certain that God invited me to this journey, no matter how unusual the things around me appeared. I remember reading a book, in which it was discussed how Jesus said: “Come, taste and see”. That is what it felt like to me in those early days.
On May 16, 1999, I entered the Postulancy period, It was a memorable experience for me to know, to learn, and to discover myself through different kinds of studies, processing, seminars, conferences, inside and outside the convent.
In the year 2000 I entered the novitiate period. As I recall, it was an amazing encounter with God, in the daily events of my life as a novice. Reflecting on the life of Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd (Frances Siedliska), our Foundress, I began to ponder just as she always pondered deep within her heart: “What is there in life that is truly great and magnificent?”
It was on May 1st 2002, that through God’s mercy and love, I made my first profession. I was filled with excitement, and anticipation for this new beginning and hope for the future.
“God’s ways can be so different from human judgements and prediction.” (Book of the hidden life).
Sr. Rita Marie Apura, CSFN
SR. CHRISTINE MARIE’S STORY
Religious life was not one of my options before when I was a child. Like every other girl I also had an ambition to finish my studies, help my parents and have a family of my own. Without knowing that God had a wonderful plan for me.
Growing up in a farm far from the town I did not had an opportunity to meet nuns. I did not even go to Mass every Sunday except during birthdays, Christmas, Easter and the fiesta of our Patron Saint. The only opportunity I had of learning about my faith is through our Catechism classes at school and through my parents’ own faith.
I had my high school in the town and there I met new friends. I always hung out with them, went to the disco, went to the city and sometimes went to see a movie even during class’ time. We always did mischievous things at school; like asking for a gate pass from the school principal telling her that we needed to buy something from the shop outside the campus, but then, after she would sign the paper we would add our friends name on it and give it to the guard so that my friends and I could go out together. I couldn’t understand why we enjoyed doing those things but at that time it was fun.
One time I met a friend outside the campus, she invited me to come with her for a gathering and so, I went. It was an annual convention of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Youth Movement from all over the Province. They were so friendly that I easily felt at home with them. So every time they meet in our place I was also there. The member in our place increases in number so; we decided to have our own activity twice a week. Since, most of us were students and the others were working during the day we usually had it during the night. We had Bible sharing every Tuesdays, intercessory prayers during Thursdays and later on our parish priest scheduled us to sing for the six o’clock Sunday mass. However, my family were not so happy of what I was doing. They were pleased to see me serving the church but not coming home late at night. They thought I was still hanging out with my old friends and went somewhere.
Maybe the only way they can think of in order to stop me is to give me a lot of duties at home so that every afternoon as I came home from school I already had a list to things to do. I tried to finish the chores quickly so that by the time they arrived from work I was already gone to our prayer meeting. I knew it was wrong but there was something that I was longing for. At first I thought I just wanted to be with them, I thought I just wanted to belong or simply just wanted to have friends.
Until one day I realize that I wanted to do something more than I usually did. I was happy of what we were doing but I felt it was still lacking. It was not anymore a matter of service but there was something beyond that. I wanted to commit myself to God without having an idea on how can I make it possible. All I knew is that God loves me and I wanted to love Him back. I prayed over it and sought an advice then, finally, I realise that maybe God wanted me to consider religious life. I entered the convent at the age of 17. That was years ago I am now a Final Professed sister of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Religious life is not perfect. I would not say that this is better than married life or staying single, but for me it is, because I realize now that this is my life. This is what I am called to do and this is what I meant to be. Every person has his/her own purpose that gives meaning to his or her own life.
Sr. Christine Marie Ramada, CSFN
SR. GRACE ROCLAWSKA’S STORY
Country of origin: Poland a beautiful country in Europe with a strong Catholic tradition. I was born on the 21st of June 1972, by the Baltic Sea in Gdynia, which is the north part of Poland. From 2009 also an Australian Citizen.
Family: Is made up of mum, dad and my sister, who is four years older than me. My sister teaches Polish at a Primary School in Poland.
Family background: My dad worked in the shipyard in Gdynia. My mum brought up 2 children and then worked for a couple of years in the supermarket as a salesperson. Now both parents are retired and live with my sister. In 2017 we celebrated Golden Jubilee of their marriage. After I finished my High School I joined the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. While going through the process of formation and working as a teacher, I studied at John Paul II College and then University in Czestochowa. I completed my Master of Theology Degree in 1998.
When and why did you choose vocation: God knows best. What I tried and still am trying to do is to read His signs and respond to them in my life. For a few years I was really interested in becoming a missionary sister, but when it came to the final decision I was quite sure that it should be the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth (which I knew from my parish). What attracted me so much to this congregation was the fact that I could be a religious sister who worked and prayed for families (which is our main charism). Looking back to over 25 years in religious life (entered in 1991) I believe God wanted me here and I find that each day is always a mystery of His ways in my life.
Where have you served: Back in Poland I taught Religious Education for 10 years in different schools – from Primary to Junior High School as well as was engaged in pastoral capacity in various parishes. I prepared children and young people for the Sacraments, led some children’s and youth choirs, prayer groups and drama groups. I also led some retreats for children and families. Here in Australia I studied Diploma in Children’s Services and Certificate IV in Training and Assessments while undertaking different congregational roles at Holy Family Children’s Centre. For a couple of months I was a Special Religious Education Teacher at Marayong Heights – St. Andrew’s Parish. I am honoured to be a Director of the board for Holy Family Services http://www.holyfamilyservices.com.au/– our sponsored ministry in Marayong, where I used to work as Mission Advancement Coordinator and the Childcare Worker and Director. For a period of almost 10 years I served as a Sacramental and Liturgy Coordinator in Mary Queen of the Family Parish in Blacktown.
Your ministry at present: I serve as Provincial Treasurer for the Holy Spirit Province. I am also a Programs and Engagement Representative at Institute for Mission http://www.ifm.org.au/ , Blacktown (Diocese of Parramatta). From 2017 I am honoured to be an Executive Member of Plenary Council 2020 http://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au/Committee and continue my service to Australian Mission Network. This year undertook the role of the member of the Diocesan Pastoral Council in the Diocese od Parramatta. All of these to be with my sisters and the people of the church in Australia here and now?.
Sr. Grace (Grazyna) Roclawska, CSFN
SR. JEAN’S STORY
Tell us about your Family.
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. After six years as Provincial Secretary, I have retired from active ministry.
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! Do Not think about it. Finish your 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: I still tutor adults and children. Over the years craft was added. I liked to make rosaries, and beaded jewellery and patchwork quilts. This was replaced by loom knitting and crocheting. The things I make usually go to some charity. I have always wanted to learn to speak and read another language. So I am currently studying Polish. I also enjoy watching or listening to our Australian international team play cricket.
Sr Jean Wojcik, CSFN