Sharon Cecil, SCNA
Small towns are charming places for shopping and socializing; but also for growing-up. It is no longer true today since office buildings have taken over and the stores moved to the large malls. Back in 1930, I was born on a 50-acre farm on the outskirts of a small town, Greensburg, Pennsylvania. My parents John and Antoinette Papas Makar were born in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. They were country-folk and courted for three weeks before they married. They were blessed with twelve children, nine survived to maturity. A unique aspect of our family is the birth order: boy, girl, boy, girl down to the very last. I was fifth, the middle child.
We were reared in the country with good, clean air and plenty of fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables. Like all “country kids” we had our chores around the farm and in the house; but not at the expense of our school work. Education and discipline were high on the priority list. Homework was supervised by either by my father who worked in the coal mine and on the farm, or my mother who was a stay-at-home mom.
Sister Barbara and her family
We came from a very religious family, especially my parents. When my mother baked bread or pies, she would make a sign of the cross over them before putting them in the oven. After my father planted the crops he also made a large sign of the cross turning east to west asking for God’s blessings on the harvest. We were exhorted to have God in our lives. Before going to bed, our day ended with the recitation of the rosary around the kitchen table. On Sunday morning we had two different shifts going to church due to our large clan, but before boarding the car my father would read the Bible in Croatian.
My first job, which required a high school diploma, was as a sales clerk at Murphy’s “Five&Dime” store in downtown Greensburg, Pennsylvania, I loved it and it was fun. After two years I moved to the big city of Cleveland, Ohio, where I joined my sister who lived with my aunt and uncle. The job I had at Stouffer’s Restaurant required specialized training and knowledge of fine dining. I passed the training program and took up life in the big city with zest. However, part of our daily routine was daily Mass each day before heading to work.
One day after Mass we were approached by Sister Genevive, one of the Josephite Sisters who worked at the parish asked us about entering religious life. My sister’s response was, “No way”, but for me, it was the beginning of some serious soul-searching. A call to religious life was appealing. My living with my aunt and uncle was a great benefit for the Josephite Sisters. We made many trips to their Motherhouse. They kept me under their watchful eye with plenty of reading materials, statues, and leaflets of all sorts. When word got back to the Vincentian Sisters at my home parish that I was contemplating joining the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Cleveland; they set to work on an alternative closer to home. It turned out to be a good choice.
When I lived in Cleveland I always called home to talk with my mother. One day when my brother answered the phone, I told him I was considering becoming a Sister of Saint Joseph of Cleveland. My brother told my Mother and she became upset. She did not want me to be a Sister because she thought she would not get to see me very much. My Dad, however, told me that he always prayed that he would have a son or daughter to enter religious life.
Before I actually entered the convent I visited the Motherhouse of the Vincentian Sisters. I was sent to Sister Agnes Mary Deley, the seamstress, to measure me for the habit. I told her I was upset that I was being measured for the habit because I had not decided if I was going to enter the convent. Sister told me that I would enter the convent. Later, the Kostelnik sisters were taking Sister Seraphine, a nurse, to the hospital and were taking me to the train station to return to Cleveland. I told the Sisters that I was upset because I was measured for the habit before I decided if I was entering the convent. They all told me I would enter the convent. I cried on the way back to Cleveland, because I was not sure religious life was for me.
Sister Barbara with her mother, father, and siblings on July 4, 1953 when Sister was received into the novitiate
When I was working at Stouffer’s, a waitress wanted me to meet this young Croatian man. She told me she would introduce me to him. I told her that I really was not interested. She was, however, persistent and I relented and met him. He agreed to meet me when I finished my shift at 11:00 P.M. We went driving around Cleveland with a beautiful moon shining. We stopped at a fast food restaurant for a burger. The young man wanted to know my schedule for the week and he was a very pleasant person, so I told him, so we could meet again. My interest in religious life was dissipating. A week passed, however, and I was to enter the convent on the following Monday. Although I was disappointed that he did not call. I took this as God telling me that I was being called to religious life.
I entered the Vincentian Community on Sept. 8, 1952 and was received on July 4, 1953 and made perpetual profession of vows on August 15, 1958. I had given three choices of a name and none were accepted so, I was given the name Florian in honor of my parish. I did not like the name, and as soon as I could I returned to my baptismal name, Barbara.
I enjoyed my years in the Novitiate. Although, when I worked at Vincentian Nursing Home, I found Sister Mary Paul Halapy, the administrator, was very difficult to work with. She was hard on all the Novices. We came to the conclusion, that she was testing us to see if we had a true vocation. She sent me to Mother Ignatia Butka, the Superior, and Mother asked what she could do for me? I told her Sister Mary Paul told me that you wanted to see me. Mother Ignatia replied, “My dear child that is Sister Mary Paul testing you.”
After over sixty years as a religious Sister, I am convinced that I made the right choice. My life is replete with many pleasant memories – my early teaching years, the lives I have touched, the many great friendships that I developed with my religious Sisters. Summing up the later years is just as memorable and challenging as the earlier ones. I lived through the Great Depression, World War II, Civil Rights Movement and many technological changes which impacted my life and have shaped me into the person I am today.
I looked forward to the newness that came as we merged with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky. This merger was a great source of growth and challenge for us all. I am grateful for the many blessings, opportunities and challenges that have been mine.
I lived in Wauchula, Florida, with its utmost paradise elements, such as plenty of beautiful foliage year round and almost perfect weather during the winter months. (Forget the hot steamy summers) Best of all no lesson plans or papers to check that I had to do when I taught!!
For eighteen years (the most spent in any one place) I worked in Saint Michael’s Parish in Wauchula teaching CCD classes, I was the cook in the convent and sacristan for the church.
In looking back to significant events in my life there are two that have stayed with me through the years. One was when my Mother had twins and they died a day later. Another was when I was seven my oldest brother, Johnny told my father he was not going to finish the eighth grade, but was going to help on the farm. One day as he was harnessing the colt instead of going to the front of the colt and pet it front to back as they usually did; he went to the back of the colt. He must have startled the colt, it jerked the machinery. Johnny was thrown under the machine and he died instantly. Most of the family witnessed this tragedy and were traumatized by this for a long time .My Mother took it so hard. She always enjoyed music but for ten years she would not allow music in the house. She just was not herself for many years.
Today, I am retired and look forward to a quiet life enjoying retirement. I help to drive Sisters on short trips whenever I can.
If I was asked by a young woman to explain what religious life has meant to me, I would say, “Go for it! Take it! It Is A Wonderful Life!”