There was a time when Sister M. Rosalma Pawlak, CSSF, used to visit the elderly sisters in her order to keep their spirits up by enjoying their company. Now Sister Rosalma is on the other side of that relationship after a long, varied ministry that saw her work in many different avenues.
As she sits in the assisted care facility at the Felician residence on Doat Street in Buffalo, Sister Rosalma tells a reporter who asks her how old she is that she's only 49, followed with a laugh. Really, she's 94. A member of a large Catholic family that included seven girls and three boys, Sister Rosalma was born in Pennsylvania but was raised in Elmira.
"You can't find a nicer group of people (to grow up with)," Sister Rosalma said. "It was wonderful. Every one has gone to heaven. It's hard when you lose everybody. I have nieces and nephews, but nobody is living here (in Buffalo). They're all scattered, so it's hard to see them."
Sister Rosalma's father was a shoemaker. Her mother stayed at home to raise the large family. They were all raised in the Catholic faith.
"Many times (my family) would say the rosary together at night, especially when anything would happen," she said. "We had a big house, and my mother would go to the dining room and I could see her kneeling to pray. We had the pictures of the Sacred Heart and Jesus, and she would be there saying the rosary. Many times I would come home from school and I would find her there by the window waiting for us, and she would be saying our prayers. She was always there for us."
Sister Rosalma had several sources of inspiration for her call to a religious life. First of all, she always enjoyed being taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph in her school in Elmira. In addition, her sister Rose entered the religious life first.
"I wanted to work in the school with children as a dental hygienist. I went to Elmira College and got the courses (I needed)," Sister Rosalma said. "In between that time, I had a car of my own, I had a good job, but I felt as though I lacked something. I had everything I could want, I had a wonderful family, but I wanted something more. I went into the ambulance core and did things like that, but it never really interested me too much. My sister came to visit us. I picked her up and we were talking in the car. She said, 'Why don't you enter the convent?' I said, 'Yeah, that sounds good.'"
Sister Rosalma entered the convent at the age of 21. Her brother was supposed to take her, but he told her to drive herself because, "I don't want anybody to say I drove you to the convent."
After she professed her vows, Sister Rosalma did indeed work as a dental hygienist at the Home for Children at the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She also did many other jobs over the course of her ministry, including serving in administration, driving her fellow women religious to places they needed to go, and even teaching basic computing skills for children.
"I did many things," she said. "It was wonderful. I really enjoyed my vocation. Nothing is ever perfect, but it's a wonderful experience for a person."
While she has slowed down some, Sister Rosalma is still enjoying her life. She enjoys meeting with friends and participating in senior exercise programs, like bowling.
"I know as you get (older), you think of God more often and all the good things He gives you," she said. "Many times you want to say many thank yous to Him because He gave me a lot that I'm very grateful for."
To donate to the Retirement Fund for Religious, visit Share in the Care.org.