Interviewed by Sharon Cecil
June 23, 2016
I, Agatha Voytek, was the middle child of John and Mae Voytek, born on April 27, 1935, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. I had an older sister, Sally and a younger brother, Leo. My family was loving and caring and close-knit. My parents were always helping the Sisters. Many times my Dad was their chauffeur.
My formal education began in Holy Rosary School in Republic, Pennsylvania. It was at this time the Sisters asked me to play the piano and assist the teachers in music. Yes, in third grade I was introduced to my first Music Education class. On festive occasions, I would play for the Pastor’s feast day and holidays, especially Christmas and Easter.
My ninth year of school was spent as a freshman at Redstone High School. There I made many new and wonderful friends. I enjoyed my first year in a public school, however since my sister, Sally went to Vincentian Academy, I thought I would try it. My sophomore year and those following were really wonderful. My senior year found me president of the Sodality of Mary and also the May Queen! During my three years at the academy, I found myself pianist for the high school orchestra.
After classes or during a free period I would go to the chapel and sit in a back seat and listen to the Sisters praying their Office. A sense of peace and quiet came over me at this time. I know now, it was then I was being drawn to religious life. My Mom always wanted to be a Sister herself, but being the oldest of nine children, circumstances did not allow her to pursue this desire. Instead, God gave her two daughters who would enter religious life.
My sister Claudia whose baptismal name was Bernadine Ann, had already entered the Vincentian Sisters of Charity on February 2, 1946. She was received into the Novitiate on August 18, 1946 and made her final vows August 15, 1948. Her religious name was Claudia. So seven years later I joined my sister Claudia and entered the Vincentian Sisters of Charity. I entered on December 8, 1953 and was received on August 15, 1954 and made perpetual vows on August 15, 1959. I was given the name Maria Emerentia.
Emerentia and Claudia: Sister Emerentia (left) and her sister Claudia
When I was in the Novitiate I was given organ lessons and after a few lessons, I found myself playing for many liturgical services. After the Novitiate, I was sent out to many schools in Pennsylvania and enjoyed every school in which I taught. Each school needed a music teacher and the parish needed an organist. Also, four or five Sisters needed a cook to take care of meals. Yours truly did it all!
In Ford City at Holy Trinity School I was responsible for a Boys’ Choir, Children’s Choir and a Men’s Choir. At that time we were still singing Latin and it became quite a job.
While living in Ford City Sister Jean Kubilis and I went with a parishioner to see Niagara Falls. We also, took a helicopter ride over the Falls. In conversing with the pilot we discovered he was a Marine. I told him my brother was a Marine. The pilot gave us an extra half hour ride. After the helicopter ride we donned our yellow rain jackets and rode the “Maid of Mist”, the boat that took us under the Falls. During this excursion we were invited to go on a date by two young men. We declined to tell them we were Sisters (the raincoats covered our habits). They were flabbergasted and apologized profusely. We told them there was no need to apologize because they made us feel good!
When I was teaching at Vincentian High School I had to be ready to teach Religion, Social Studies and direct freshmen and senior choirs. On Mondays after school at 3:30 pm, I would practice with the Victors. It was a drum and baton corps which I started and trained. They were great. Many trophies were won in parades we attended. The corps especially liked our yearly trip to Canada to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. We did very well there in the competition and always came home with a trophy. Monday was a trying day since we practiced until 5:00 pm. At 5:00 pm I would hurry to chapel and play Benediction during our Office. At 5:30pm I ran home and ate a quick dinner then another Sister and I would go to Saint Ursula’s parish to teach CCD classes. Later I was a full-time teacher at Saint Ursula’s School and put on many Walt Disney musicals.
During Lent when I was a full-time organist at the Motherhouse I taught the Schola the sung Passion of Saint Mark. At this time we were doing liturgical dance for festive occasions. I would add that the Sisters did a tremendous job.
While busy teaching and playing daily Masses at various missions, I attended Duquesne University. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Education and a Masters in Administration. I also was certified to teach Music.
When I was preparing liturgies at the Motherhouse, one year I decided to make a real military Fourth of July. My brother, a Marine, had always told me if you need help with anything contact a Marine. I went to the Marine recruiting station in downtown Pittsburgh and asked if an Honor Guard could be sent out to the Vincentian Motherhouse and be an active part of the Eucharistic Liturgy for the fourth of July. They had some doubts since the Honor Guard was used in parades on July Fourth. To my surprise, a group of Marines appeared at Vincentian Academy one week before the Fourth. Yes, they wanted to see the chapel to work out the logistics. I was bursting with excitement when I heard this!
The Honor Guard added a very patriotic dimension to our liturgical celebration on July Fourth. In appreciation for this service, I invited the Marines and their families to join the Sisters at our picnic lunch. I also gave each Marine a six-pack of beer wrapped in red, white and blue paper which they really enjoyed. The Marines and their families lingered long after the lunch walking about, meeting the Sisters and enjoying our beautiful grounds.
When my parents were up in age and needed some help, the community permitted me to stay at home, and assist them for twenty years. When I was able I substituted at Holy Rosary School, gave private piano lessons and started a Children’s Choir for the church.
One Lenten season I taught the students some Yiddish songs and Jewish dances—The Havanagila. We planned on having our first Seder Meal for the parish. Our pastor, a Jewish Rabbi, and I got together for a business lunch and discussed the possibilities for a Seder Meal. Yes, we had it on Holy Thursday. The Rabbi conducted it, my friend catered the meal with all the traditional Jewish trimmings and the students sang prayers and did their traditional Jewish dance. It was a great success.
After my parents died I returned to Pittsburgh and lived with Sister Claudia for fourteen years. We brought our little Pomeranian dog, Cleo, and Squeally our cat.
All was well until April, 2014 when the unexpected death of Sister Claudia occurred from complications after open-heart surgery was followed in December by the death of my brother Leo. These deaths so close were very traumatic for me. I am now the lone survivor of my family.
I now live at Saint Louise Convent. My spiritual life has been nourished by the many good retreat experiences I have had. Sister Emily Nabholz has been very influential in guiding me on my faith journey. All the opportunities that I have had to use my musical talent enriched my life. Even though I am retired I continue to give private piano lessons and play the organ for our Eucharistic Liturgy. I hope to continue to assist doing this as long as the Good Lord permits.
My life as a Sister means the world to me. I live, breathe and die for the gift of religious life! I enjoy life itself!