The remarks of this interviewer are in italics.
At the top of the page of Sister Marita Pozek’s short autobiography which I used for reference, she had written ” Nothing happens by chance.” As I left her apartment and her gracious hospitality, I found myself thinking of this quote and recalling her beautiful, interesting story.)
In April,1924 a two and a half pound baby girl was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Stephen and Hermina Schenker Pozek. She was named Rita Marie but the doctor told the parents that, sadly, she would not survive.
With a smile, Sister Marita says,” I not only survived but am well and healthy today. My mother believed that massage of an infant with olive oil would strengthen me so she and my grandmother did so faithfully.” She was baptized at home and again at Church with both dates being on her baptismal certificate. ( Marita now belies her ninety two years. Her appearance and vitality make her seem much younger. She can surely be teased about this double baptism !)
Marita’s father was from Yugoslavia; her mother was born and reared in Pittsburgh. Rita/ Sr. Marita reflects“ My mother was a superb seamstress and enjoyed making dresses for me for all occasions. My father was quiet, gentle, kind, and worked hard in the steel mills in Pittsburgh. He and I were very close. He seemed especially protective of me who had had such a small start in life. My great grief was that my father died unexpectedly from an accident. I was only seventeen. It was devastating for my mother, widowed at forty-four, and for me, as well. My mother and I grew even closer after my father’s death and would ever remain so.” Rita/Sr. Marita believes that both parents handed on to her a love for classical music and the fine arts.
Sister Marita and her mother, Hermina
There were four other children besides Rita: Edward, Robert, John, now deceased because of a painful cancer, and Anne, who has died of a heart attack. Her sister Anne was seven years older than Rita but they would later become very close friends as well as siblings. Rita began kindergarten when she was five years old and attended public schools for her elementary and high school years. She is proud that from kindergarten to senior graduation she had perfect attendance.( And to think of her delicate beginning !)
Rita had great interest in the business classes she took at Peabody High School. After she graduated she had several jobs and finally obtained a very good position as secretary at Westinghouse Electric Company. She remained in this job for seven years. An invitation by persistent co-workers would change Rita’s life. It came about in this way.
Friends at the office asked her to fill in for someone at a retreat for young women. Rita was not at all interested. She enjoyed all the social life a young woman experiences -parties, boyfriends, fun times. She says firmly,”My life plan was to marry, have a family and make sure that we took care of my mother.” Finally, she did give in to her friends’ entreaties and accepted the invitation to go the Vincentian Sisters of Charity Motherhouse in Pittsburgh for the weekend retreat.
The peace Rita found there at the VSC Motherhouse left her in awe. The stately, dignified Mother Gregory Kolesar impressed her very much. She began to think about religious life and experienced the beginning of her vocation call. ( Remember Sr. Marita’s quote that ‘Nothing happens by chance”. The invitation to the retreat surely bears that out. Over and over Marita would say to me,” God wanted me here”.)
She dared not mention this to her mother so she asked advice from a priest. In time she did tell her mother, who was very displeased and unhappy about Rita’s decision. Her family felt they could not support her in this choice. Given their feelings of disapproval, she found leaving home most painful.
In August 1949 at age twenty-four Rita entered the Vincentian Sisters of Charity. She remembers, “Needless to say, I experienced extreme homesickness and had difficulty in adjusting to this new way of life. I struggled to stay. It was so painful being away from my family. I realized what a challenge it was to have no Catholic educational background in a very Catholic situation. My novice director, Sister Jerome Nosal, encouraged me every day to give myself time. Even in those days of stringent regulations and rules Sister Jerome let me be myself, something I experience to the present.” (What a compliment to the VSC Community!)
Marita’s family came to visit and tried to persuade her to return home. (One can only imagine how this made holding fast to her religious vocation even more difficult for Marita. Her mother and family would later realize that religious life gave Marita the freedom she needed to tend to family.)
Persevere she did, receiving the habit and the name of Sr. Marita in 1949 and then making first vows in August,1952. Her final vows came in August,1954. She shares ,” After final vows I was at peace and happy with my life choice; I did, however, still worry about my mother.”
Her first mission was to the business office at Vincentian Home in Pittsburgh. After a year Marita was assigned to St. Barnabas School, also in Pittsburgh, where she taught the first grade. She then went back to Vincentian Home during which time she became a student at Duquesne University. There she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Education. Interestingly, after the year of study she did not teach business or work in an office but was sent to St. Ursula Elementary School in Allison Park, PA, as a first grade teacher . From 1957 until 1974 Marita did teach business subjects in two secondary schools – Cardinal Mooney in Youngstown, Ohio and Greensburg Central Catholic in Greensburg, PA.
In her business classes Marita taught the basics for obtaining a job but she gave the young women other valuable instruction – charm classes for dress, makeup, .womanly postures.(What good future thinking was this!)
By 1970 Marita completed a Master Degree in Business Administration from Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. In 1975 her ministry changed in a surprising way.
Marita had been allowed to apply for business classes at several Ohio colleges. Instead, Mother Anne Kremenik asked Marita to consider being administrator at the VSC hospital in Monett, Missouri. “ I really need you”, pleaded Mother Anne. After Marita said that she was really not interested in this type of ministry and was concerned about her mother, Mother Anne’s prompt response was, ” Take her with you.” Marita prayed, discerned, and finally said.” Yes”. Very shortly thereafter she asked to retract that consent. Mother Anne persuaded Marita to try it for a year. Wisely, Marita asked to go and get some training for this ministry. She made a month’s retreat and then spent a very profitable year as an intern at St. Joseph Hospital in Southside, PA. ”God’s grace came,” says Marita smilingly.
Sisters at St. Vincent Hospital in March, 1977 during Sister Marita’s time as Administrator
Back row (L-R): Sisters Patricia, Loretta, Lawrence, Eusebia, Margaret Mary, Vivian, and Sarah Marie
Front row (L-R): Sisters Francis Xavier, Shirley, Sebastian, Marita, Seraphine, and Ann
In August 1975 Marita went to St. Vincent Hospital in Monett, MO. Marita would spend eighteen years as Administrator of St. Vincent’s and for seventeen of those years she also served as Coordinator of the local community which numbered twelve VSCs. She recalls that she worked with a very supportive staff who helped her deal with the nursing shortage, recruitment of physicians, government regulations and the other responsibilities that come to healthcare administrators. Marita says with joy,” These were the most challenging and creative years of my religious life.”
In 1980 Marita’ s mother, Hermina, came to Monett. She was happy and grateful to be among the Sisters, especially for the blessing of being with her daughter. The Sisters at St. Vincent’s treated her as they would their own mother (Remember Marita ‘s belief that “Nothing happens by chance.” At last Marita had the opportunity to care for her mother as she always hoped.) Her mother was an avid reader and crossword puzzle enthusiast, and the doctors were kind in attending to her medical needs. She was also able to travel to visit her other children.
A charming part of Marita’s mother’s story is that while she was in Monett, Marita suggested to another VSC, Sister Vivian Mitala, that she consider bringing her own ailing mother to St. Vincent’s. (Marita was passing on the wisdom and open heartedness of Mother Anne Kremenik.) The two mothers were there together and enjoyed each other, although one did not speak English. Sister Vivian’s mother, Susan, would become critically ill and, when she was in her last days Hermina sat by her side. Marita was grieved when her own mother died in 1986 while she was away from Monett visiting Anne, Marita’s sister.
In June,1994 Marita left Monett and accepted a position in Waldron, Arkansas where she served as Assistant Administrator at Mercy Hospital. Her ministry there with the Sisters of Mercy would last five years. She returned to the VSC Motherhouse in Pittsburgh to be an Administrative Assistant. In 2008 she began a time of serving as part time receptionist at St. Louise Convent and also Vincentian Collaborative System. She now volunteers at Vincentian Home and assists with medical records.”
Sister Marita celebrating her Golden Jubilee in 1999 with Sister Corinne Giel
These words of Marita’s are what one would want to take away from this interview. “Choosing to be a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity proved to be the most valued decision I would ever make. During these years I have had numerous opportunities to touch and be touched by wonderful people. I truly believe that nothing happens by chance. I know that God wanted me here in religious life. and I trust completely in God’s providence for the future.”
Sister Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN