(The remarks of this interviewer are in italics.)
(Having spent time with Sister Luke Boiarski in early September and seeing her interact with others, both in person and on the phone, this thought came to me. She has been given the gift of connection – connection with employees, family, co-workers, persons in need, volunteers, friends, the SCN community, Charity Alive, members of the Charity Federation and even strangers she meets along her travels. No matter the age – young, mature, older; no matter the origin – Vietnamese, African American, Belizean, Native American- Sister Luke seems comfortable and “at home” with the person.
God has blessed her abundantly with this gift of connection. Both she and the SCN community can rejoice in it.)
Sister Luke was born Shirley Ann in 1948 to Alphonse (Al) and Anna Bologna Boiarski. (Laughingly, she says her parents named her after Shirley Temple and thought that she would be gifted in acting, dancing and singing…but not so.) She was the second of three daughters, with an older sister, Anna Marie and a younger sister, Roseann. They lived in Bellaire, Ohio where Al worked for Wheeling- Pittsburgh Steel and Anna was a devoted and skilled homemaker, known for her expertise in cooking. She made everything “from scratch” and was known for her delicious pizzas and pastas. Later, Anna would become a baker at Linsly Military School right across the Ohio River in Wheeling, West Virginia.
The grace and blessing of Sister Luke’s life was that she grew up in a multi-generational family. At one time or another, these family members lived with her family: her maternal grandmother and grandfather, one uncle who lived with them until he passed away, another uncle who lived there until he married, and a paternal grandmother who came to be with them regularly. A maternal aunt who died early in life and her two children, Patty and Jimmy, came to live and grow up with their Boiarski cousins also.
“What was so impressive to me was that my Dad accepted the members of my mother’s family as his own and never complained about the fact that it was never just himself, Anna and the three girls,” Sister Luke shares admiringly, “’Early on in my life, I was given the opportunity to learn to relate to different ages, which was a wonderful benefit for me.”
Another blessing was that her paternal grandparents were immigrants from Poland and her maternal grandparents were immigrants from Italy. Every Sunday was “Family Day” set aside to visit relatives. Strong family ties were built into Sister Luke’s early life.
Remembering her childhood, Sister Luke admits that she was the mischievous child, ready to stir up fun and trouble. She imagined that she was a Dale Evans cowgirl, who could have many adventures. The five young ones in the Boiarski household got along very well but Sister Luke hated babysitting Roseann. She made her little sister walk in front of or behind her, and even burned off the bangs on her little sister’s hair. Her mother lovingly warned, “Someday you may be in reform school.” That was a phrase often repeated.
The three Boiarski girls attended St. John’s School in Bellaire where the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth taught. Sister Luke mentioned two teachers that were very special to her: Sister Rose Eileen (now Rosemary Maguire, SCN) and Sister Mary Angelita Coomes, SCN who inspired her to think about becoming a Sister.
In her senior year of high school, the class took a trip to Nazareth. All Sister Luke could say about this trip was that “Nazareth spoke to me”. She entered the SCN novitiate on September 8, 1966, having just turned eighteen three days before. Her Dad, Al, said, “Please stay at least two weeks to give it a try because it is too far to come back to Kentucky within a week.”
Sister Luke ended up staying much longer than two weeks. She completed her time as a postulant and when she entered the novitiate, was given the name ‘Luke’. When asked how the name ‘Luke’ was chosen, Sister recalls that she liked the attributes of the artist and the physician associated with Saint Luke. She requested the name ‘Mary Luke’ but, because that name already belonged to another Sister in the community, the name was shortened to ‘Luke’.
About her novitiate days, Sister Luke now says, “It was good – sometimes challenging and hard, but good. Sister Mary Pauletta Kane led us in the way that seemed best to her. In 1969, Sister Maria Vincent Brocato became part of the formation team. I was able to relate well to Sister Maria Vincent. I thank God she came into my life then and I appreciate her still.”
A memorable experience of her novice days was being sent to Marymount Hospital for a time. Without any medical background, Sister Luke was sent to the nursery and delivery room. Even more daunting was an ambulance ride to St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington, with the drivers, the patient and Sister Luke. Only later did she understand why everyone moved into furious action when, after being asked the patient’s blood pressure, she responded, “No blood pressure”. She had never learned how to measure blood pressure!
During her final novitiate year, she had mission experiences in Louisville at St. Thomas-St. Vincent Home as well as St. Thomas Parish in Memphis, Tennessee. Her favorite memories were bringing food to those in need in the Bardstown area.
Sister Luke’s vow day was March 29, 1970. She remembers on that day it snowed three inches but she rejoiced that her family was there to celebrate.
During her first year as a professed SCN, Sister Luke remained at Nazareth to continue her studies at the Nazareth campus of Spalding College. Her first mission after study was to Presentation Academy where she taught art, painting and served as the retreat director. The art department had been closed for many years but Sister Luke re-founded the department so that art classes could be offered at Presentation once again. At first, her art classes were held in the Presentation gym but later under Sister Jean Vessel’s administration, the Art Department moved to a leased building on Fifth Street. Sister Luke reminisces, “During these years at Presentation, I lived at St. Agnes Convent with twelve Sisters where I was the youngest.” I enjoyed living there with Sisters who were engaged in a variety of ministries.
“One of the special blessings while at St. Agnes is that I became friends with Sister Mary Terence Coyne. Although we were very different in age and temperament, she influenced me greatly and she also battled breast cancer and leukemia at that time.”
Although Sister Luke loved her ministry at Presentation, she wanted to do more with youth. Her education had progressed in this way: in 1972 she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art from Spalding College; in 1983 she finished at University of Louisville with Master of Arts (MA) degree in Art. In 1983 she was hired at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish (Germantown area of Louisville) as a youth minister. She began a youth group and reached out to the many young people there who did not have strong or supportive home situations. During the summers, Sister Luke studied in Chicago at Loyola University where she received her MA in Pastoral Studies.
While ministering at St. Elizabeth’s, she lived in community at St. Leo the Great on Wampum Street in Louisville with other very fine SCN women: Sisters Margaret Regina Murphy, Anne Magruder, Margaret “Mag” Riggs and Mary Terence Coyne. As Mary Terence’s cancer became terminal, she was accepting and peaceful. “She taught me about dying as well as about living. I am very indebted to Mary Terence.”
In 1990, their home on Wampum Street was going to be taken over by the city because of the expansion of the airport. At the same time Sister Luke’s mother, Annie, was living on her own after the death of Sister Luke’s father in 1986 and she was not in the best of health. Sister Luke asked Sister Anne Magruder to consider going with her to the Valley area, near Bellaire, in order to assist Annie, when needed.
The two of them were fortunate in finding positions there. Sister Luke became a Pastoral Associate at St. Joseph Parish in Tiltonsville, OH. Sister Anne obtained a job in adult education in the Belmont/Harrison County system and lived in Tiltonsville. Their move was an excellent choice. St. Joseph’s Parish loved having the Sisters, and remarked, “You are our kind of Sisters.” Luke and Anne felt that they were at the “heartbeat” of everything that went on in the parish. Their first pastor was Father Tom Petronek; the new pastor was Father George Coyne.
Both priests gave Sister Luke the freedom and trust to build a program that offered services, especially those beneficial to youth.
They resided at St. Joseph’s for eighteen years. Sister Rose Johnson, who was under temporary vows also joined them for four years.
At the same time, Annie Boiarski needed more care and she came to live with Sisters Luke and Anne. (This interviewer remembers seeing Annie sitting quietly in the living room crocheting and being her lovable, amiable self.) Sister Luke was asked by Sister Susan Gatz, then Director of the Office of Congregational Advancement (now Office of Mission Advancement/OMA), to work in vocation ministry. She did this on a part-time basis at first, traveling to Nazareth once every three months. She says of this time in her life, “It was a sacred journey for me to companion so many good young women.” She then mentions the names of several who are SCNs today: Sisters Jacqueline “Jackie” Aceto, Higinia Bol, Carlette Gentle, Isa Garcia, Chris Kunze, Paris Slapikas and our beloved Marie Flowers, who is now deceased.
After Annie’s death, Luke and Sister Anne moved to Bardstown with Sisters Eva Kowalski and Nancy Gerth and later Anne and Luke moved to Nazareth. In 2008 Sister Luke was called to her present ministry, Director of the SCN Lay Mission Volunteer Program through the Office of Mission Advancement.
In this ministry, she uses her natural gifts as a “people-gatherer” to invite individuals to serve others through immersion experiences in Belize, Botswana, India, Appalachian areas (of Kentucky, southeastern Ohio and Pennsylvania), Montana, New Orleans and other places where there is a need.
The volunteer program has grown exponentially under her leadership. When a volunteer trip to the Blackfoot reservation in Montana had to be cancelled at the last minute due to flooding in the area, Sister Luke changed plans and took the volunteers to Joplin, Missouri to help residents there recover from a recent outbreak of tornadoes.
The SCN Disaster Relief Ministry was born as a result of this powerful experience. Since that time, she has led teams to respond to disasters in Indiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky and Texas.
Her dream to have a place on Nazareth campus for volunteers to gather, build community and feel at home resulted in the establishment of the St. Joseph the Carpenter Volunteer House. The lower floor of this building had been used for years as the paint and carpenter shop, while the upper floor was used for storage. When Sister Luke learned that the carpenter shop was being moved, she initiated a conversation about remodeling this house to use for volunteers. The Executive Committee approved the proposal and the house now serves as a “welcoming home” for volunteers.
Over 490 volunteers are connected to the SCN Congregation, because of the leadership of Sister Luke.
Many of the SCN Associates were first introduced to the congregation as volunteers. Sister Luke delights in connecting people with one another. “It’s all about relationships,” she always says. Through prayer, service and conversations, bonds are formed that are life- changing.
Recognizing the importance of introducing young people to the Congregation, Sisters Luke and Nancy Gerth formed “Charity Alive,” a young adult Associate group to build and maintain relationships with the Sisters. The four components of Charity Alive include service to support the mission and charism of the Sisters of Charity, deepening one’s spirituality and integrating the Gospel message into one’s life, offering support to others who hold common values, and finding direction in life to discover one’s passion and encourage one another on the journey.
In early 2018, Sister Luke received a diagnosis of breast cancer. She feels that God gave her the grace to accept it peacefully and without fear. Thankfully, the radiation treatments were successful and she returned to full-time ministry with her usual faith and energy. She has been given a “Woman of Courage” award by Vincentian Academy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a recognition well deserved for her efforts to live out the charity charism. Sister Luke says that her favorite quote is from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.”
After my visit with Sister Luke and Sister Anne, I could only marvel how they support and trust each other as is needed for the demanding ministry which Sister Luke presently has. My prayer is that God will bless them both in all the ways they need to continue being the generous ministers they are.
Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN
Interested in reading more Marie Menard Committee interviews?
Click here: https://scnfamily.org/tag/marie-menard/