Sister Stephania Walczak, SSND
February 5, 1932 – March 22, 2020
Mary Ann Leona Walczak, in 2013, recorded her birth in these words, “On a cold crisp wintery morning, February 5, 1932, in the ‘Flower City,’ of Rochester, New York, I was born to Charles Joseph Walczak and Eleanor Amelia Frank Walczak.” Her parents were of first-generation Polish and German origins, respectively.
The family lived in the suburb of Greece, New York. Having one brother, Joseph, 2 1/2 years older, Mary Ann grew up in a world of sports, at the local ballpark and on frozen lakes where ice skating was her favorite pastime. Depression years were difficult, so the family moved to the German section of Rochester to be near her grandparents, and Mary Ann started school at St. Michael’s, an SSND mission. She received First Communion and Confirmation in 1940 and 1942. In 7th grade, “the desire to become a Sister came into my mind.”
With the encouragement of Sister Genevieve Welch, Mary Ann was one of five girls who went to the Aspiranture in Fort Lee, New Jersey, from the eighth grade class of 1946. “With the approval of my parents and a letter of acceptance from Mother Mary Philemon, and a deep desire in my heart, I set out for what was to be four very happy years. Here, under the guidance of Sister Dosithea, I received my first introduction to religious life.”
Three other girls from St. Michael’s received the bonnet in the parish Church with Mary Ann on August 28, 1950, took the night train to Baltimore, and entered the Motherhouse on Aisquith Street. Two weeks later she and six other candidates were “on mission” at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Camden, New Jersey. Many years later, Stephania wrote, “We were each helped by a Sister partner who directed our daily work with the students. The wonderful example of the Sisters there helped greatly to increase my desire to become an SSND.”
On July 15, 1952, Mary Ann became Novice M. Stephania and began her novitiate with the Venerable Sister M. Eustace, whom she called “a shining example—a loving and caring woman who nurtured us in the spiritual life and charism of Blessed Theresa.”
A year later after first profession, Stephania was missioned to St. Leo School in Irvington, New Jersey, where she taught for the next nine years. July 24, 1959 brought her final profession. During her time at St. Leo’s, Stephania studied at Seton Hall University for a B.S. in Elementary Education. Later in 1963, she was awarded an M.A. in Education and English, also from Seton Hall.
In August 1962, she returned to Rochester because her mother was not well, and moved into St. Margaret Mary Convent with ten other Sisters. The school had previously been staffed by the Alleghany Franciscan Sisters. A year later she was missioned to the newly-opened Bishop Kearney High School, a joint venture of the Christian Brothers of Ireland and SSND. Using her newly earned M.A., Stephania taught English and Religion at the growing, thriving school for the next four years.
Her mother died suddenly of a heart attack in 1968, and she entered a “difficult period” in her life, caring for her father, who died in 1973, and serving as principal of St. Margaret Mary School for six years.
At her Silver Jubilee in 1978, Steph’s class celebrated in Rome at the Generalate. It was Sister Mary Margaret Johanning’s first year as General Superior. Stephania remembered, “Mary Margaret’s You Are Sent retreat was the highlight of the summer for me. Her genuine love for YAS was so contagious that to this day I still read my notes.”
Sister Lorraine Burns remembers about Stephania that she loved her devoted family, her congregation, and Bishop Kearney High School. She returned to BK in 1974, where she spent the rest of her apostolic life as a teacher and assistant campus minister. Of these years she wrote, “I treasure the time I spent with teachers and students.” Steph taught English and Religion until 2008, then served part time as assistant campus minister at the school, while also tutoring at Notre Dame Learning Center, a sponsored ministry of the province.
Her long love affair with BK covered 50 years of her life and included many ministries: chair of the English Department, moderator of the National Honor Society, and organizer of the “Notre Dame Society,” a volunteer group giving service to those in need in the Rochester community. Along with first principal, Sister Mary Louis Whalen, Stephania was inducted into the 2006 Bishop Kearney Hall of Fame. They were recognized for living the BK motto, “Do All Things Well.”
Stephania’s years at BK saw many, many changes. Recently, an independent hockey team of 15 young women rented, as a living space, what had originally been the home of the Christian Brothers on the top floor of the building. Like the BK girls, they were often seen dropping into Stephania’s little office to talk. Young people found her naturally attractive and sympathetic.
On Sunday morning, March 22, Stephania died very suddenly of heart failure in the apartment where she and Lorraine had lived for 34 years. Her cremains will be buried in the Notre Dame section of Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Rochester when the virus crisis permits. A liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated at that time.
Lorraine, since the shock of Steph’s death, spoke these loving, grateful words, “She was a good lady, a good friend.”
Sister Kay O’Connell