Born the tenth child to Mary Elizabeth (Radachy) Chernitsky and Mathew August Chernitsky on Dec. 31, 1933, on the eve of her dear Mother’s birthday. Sister Anastasia said she was privileged to have an annual celebration with her mother. Sister Anastasia relates that she was named for a favorite nun that her godfather knew. Her godfather was also her brother-in-law, husband of her sister Dorothy.
Her brothers and sisters were: Mary Margaret, Matthew Steven, Thomas William, John Regis, Dorothy Louise, Edward Robert, Helen Frances, Elizabeth Ann, August Joseph, and the last was Anna Catherine. Although there were ten children, August Joseph, born before Anna Catherine, died on the night of his baptism days after his birth.
Her eldest brother, Matthew Steven with wife Ann lived with Sister Anastasia’s family. Tragically Ann died in childbirth, but the daughter, Anna Marie survived. It was Ann’s dying request that Anna Marie should be brought up in the loving Chernitsky family. Sister Anastasia felt that this was “her baby sister.”
Her brothers and sisters, eight total, delivered newspapers in the little mining town (presently known as Juniata Ville), and in the surrounding patches, (as they were known). The girls took on the paper deliveries as their brothers moved into jobs with the company stores. Sister Anastasia’s father started as a butcher in the company store and eventually became a manager of stores for the company. Her brothers worked delivering supplies for the company. For those who may not know, the coal companies ran the “company stores”. This meant that the workers were paid by the company and then gave monies back to buy supplies for their living needs.
Three of her brothers helped the family move from Juniata to Smock, another small town with a company store. In Smock, Sister Anastasia would make her first Holy Communion at Saint Hedwig Church and take part in a mission conducted by a Passionist Priest. She also attended catechism classes conducted each week by the Sisters. By the seventh grade, the family had to move again because the company houses were being sold. The family moved into their very own home in Connellsville, PA, where she met the Vincentian Sisters of Charity at Saint John’s Parish. This was the parish of her baptism and where she then returned to attend the Catholic School and receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The start of World War II was imminent. The family experienced the sadness of all four of her brothers going into active military services, the Marines, Air Force, and Army. Sister Anastasia recalls, “It was then that the faith of our mother showed forth as she faithfully prayed the rosary for their safe return.” Her younger brother Edward was seriously wounded, brother John was a Prisoner of War in Germany, brother Thomas flew thirty-five missions returning with battle fatigue, and brother Matthew, a Marine, served in the front lines in China. Thankfully, all four finally returned after the war. Sister remembers, “What a joy-filled reunion it was!” Her brother Edward never married and the wound he received went through his neck and out the back of his head.
Her oldest sister, Mary Margaret was her great inspiration in her life. Mary Margaret attended retreats and brought home booklets about the saints. When the family lived in Smock, Mary Margaret attended daily Mass before going to work. Mary Margaret was also Sister Anastasia’s confirmation sponsor. It was the priest in Smock, who made Sister Anastasia aware of Mary Margaret’s devotion when he remarked, “I believe that the return of your brothers was because of Mary Margaret’s daily Mass attendance.”
In Connellsville, it was Father Lawrence G Lovasik, SVD, who conducted a mission and encouraged frequent Holy Communion and Mass attendance. Sister Anastasia declares, “This was a truly great boon to her spiritual life.”
Sister Anastasia reflects on her spiritual journey citing the attendance at retreats at the VSC Motherhouse in the seventh and eighth grades which encouraged her to follow God’s call. The example of her mother and older sister living their faith-filled lives inspired her. In Sister’s own words, “In my senior year at Connellsville Public High School, our English teacher gave us the assignment to write a letter concerning what we intended to pursue in life. It was my opportunity to follow through with a letter to the Sisters to see what I could do to follow my supposed vocation. It was the start I needed to be on my way!” She can thank Sister Augustine Horinik, VSC, her seventh and eighth-grade teacher for the advice to take the academic course that put her in that novitiate class.
In 1951, Sister Anastasia says, “I disposed of my few belongings and entered upon my life’s pursuit. It was a dream come true, as our VSC chapel was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a wonderful picture was depicted on the altar where I felt the rays from His heart were coming forth into my heart as I prayed in our chapel.”
Having only attended two years of Catholic school, there was much to learn in the novitiate. The group before her had fifteen members and she was the only one until February when Dolores Sham joined her as a postulant. Anna Catherine/Sister Anastasia was already a high school graduate so she was only required to attend a religion class in the Academy. She helped Sister Germaine with typing letters of appeals. In the novitiate, there were also Theology classes given by the Chaplains and classes preparing them for future missions.
Sister Anastasia’s first ambition was to serve the sick poor at the Vincentian Home. After a couple of years there, she was assigned to teach in grade schools in the Pittsburgh and Greensburg Dioceses. The first teaching experience was the fourth grade at St Dominic’s in Donora, PA. Sister taught a year and was then she taught at St Ursula for 6 months. She was recalled to work at Vincentian Home for the next two years. Several assignments followed in grade schools: teaching first and second grade, CCD classes, first communion preparation class and even tutoring a young sister in the area to get the geometry background she needed for her degree.
Because Sister Anastasia had always wanted to nurse the sick, she attended nine months of training at Mercy’s School of Nursing. She soon realized that this was not for her. Although she loved caring for patients, she was happiest as a nursing assistant, a CNA and had no desire to be a “RN.”
Back to Duquesne University she went majoring in her favorite subject math. She received her Bachelor’s degree. For the next fifteen years, she would teach her much loved mathematics to students at Vincentian Academy, Cardinal Mooney High in Youngstown, Ohio, and St Thomas High in Braddock, PA. (1963-1982)
After her sister Dorothy’s death in 1978, Sister Anastasia worked at Regency Hall Nursing Home as a nurse aide for a year and did “reality classes”. Reality classes was a new theory for the patients with early dementia. The Nursing Home staff would try to orient the patients by emphasizing what day it was, where the patient was, and other memory reminders to help the patients know what their current reality was. Sister Anastasia spent the second year helping with activities there. For the next 18 years, Sister Anastasia would do the payroll at Regency.
Sister Anastasia says, “My sister, Mary Margaret with my brother Eddie came home to take care of our mother. Then Eddie took care of Mary Margaret when Eddie died in 1997, I went home to take care of Mary Margaret with the help of my niece, Anna Marie, until her death in 2000”. Sister lived in a mobile home in Dunbar, PA. The day of Mary Margaret’s death, Sister Anastasia had gone to Immaculate Conception Church. She was praying before the statue of the Blessed Mother asking for her sister to be helped. Sister Anastasia, “I felt that Mary would take care of her right then.” Upon returning home, her sister had died and her niece was notifying the family. Sister has thirty-three nieces and nephews, forty great nieces and nephews, and forty plus great greats. (could be even more by now)
Sister Anastasia returned to work part-time at Vincentian Regency as a receptionist. After Sister Janice’s Ferenchak’s death, in 2001, she was asked to take on the Motherhouse employee’s payroll. She did this until the merger with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
Sister Anastasia is a breast cancer survivor since 2008 and still works as a mail room volunteer at St Louise Convent. Her wish is “to be ready for another adventure and look to doing God’s will in whatever capacity I’m called upon, all for the sake of the mission and the charity charism.”
March 30, 2017
Interviewer Mary Gene Frank, SCNA (comments in italics by the interviewer)