(The remarks of the interviewer are in italics.)
“I have just learned to accept things as they come, to go with the flow.” There must have been and still is much “going with the flow” in Sister Mary Clement Pavlik’s life. This year she celebrated her 101th birthday and still has energy and enjoyable wit about her life and ministries. Kelly McDaniels and I found Sister sitting in her wheelchair, reading the daily newspaper but ready to stop and visit with us. She had many stories to tell us of her long life and ministry. Remarkably, she has known all the “Mothers” of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity.)
Mary Bernadette Pavlik/Sister Mary Clement was born March 7, 1916 to Joseph and Mary Organisklak Pavlik. Both parents were born in Slovakia and settled on the South Side of Pittsburgh. They spoke their native Slovak and passed it on to Sister Mary Clement who still has the gift of that language. (Sister remembers that she and other Sisters sometimes used their Slovak speaking ability when they did not want employees to understand their conversation.) She says, “My parents spoke enough English so that we could not pull the wool over their eyes.” Joseph Pavlik worked for Jones and Laughlin Steel Company. He and Mary were the parents to six children- Joseph/ Father Clement, Mary Bernadette, John, Margaret, William (Bill) and Michael.
Sister Mary Clement was proud to tell us the story of her siblings. Bill is still living, age ninety-two. She remembered that he was a “fruit and vegetable announcer”, responsible for keeping track of the prices of fruit and vegetables. She feels close to Bill and is grateful that since he had a government job he is” well off.”
Her memories of growing up are, for the most part, pleasant and happy ones. She feels that she and her siblings got along very well. A sad story for Sister was remembering how her brother John died on his birthday. He was supposed to have the day off, but his boss had new equipment and begged John to come in and help set it up. The equipment fell on John’s chest and he was killed.
A happier remembrance was that her brother Joseph entered the Passionist Order in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was stationed at St. Paul’s Monastery in South Side, Pittsburgh. Once Sister received her religious name, she and her brother shared the name of Clement.
In September 8, 1930 Mary Bernadette entered the Vincentian Sisters of Charity of Pittsburgh. She had completed the eighth grade, was fourteen and a half years old and became a postulant. Novitiate life wasn’t hard for Mary Bernadette because she “went with the flow.” Her novice mistress during her five years was Sister Bernadette Fialko. She remembers getting in trouble because she and other young novices, after hearing a reading in the community about monks who did this, dubbed themselves “jackasses of the Community.” (Was that because of the many work chores that were assigned to novices? Perhaps….) Sister Bernadette asked them to explain themselves. “We were all on our honkers!” Each one acknowledged her part in the fun until the next to last reported boldly, “I think it was Clement! Sister Bernadette exclaimed, “I knew it!” (As Sister Mary Clement recounted this story she observed that the novice who named Clement as the culprit later left the VSC Community and became a Jehovah’s Witness.)
Sister Mary Clement had hoped to become a teacher but she was sent to study nursing at St. Francis Hospital and became an RN there in 1939. Four years later Mary Clement would later earn a BSN degree at Duquesne University. In 1948 Sister completed studies to gain her license as a registered nurse anesthetist. She served in that capacity for many years. Ten years after becoming an anesthetist Sister graduated from St. Louis University with a Master of Science in Nursing Education. Her thesis for that degree was the need for a nursing school in Montgomery, Alabama where the VSCs had a hospital. When a nursing school was eventually founded in Montgomery, Sister’s thesis was used as a guide to create the nursing program.
Sister’s first ten years of nursing were in the Pittsburgh area at St. Francis Hospital, Vincentian Home and the Motherhouse. After acquiring her BSN, Mary Clement’s nursing career took her to the eighteen-bed St. Vincent Hospital in Monett, Missouri for four years. She returned to St. Francis Hospital as a student in anesthesia before going back to Monett for seven more years. Then she went to St.Jude Hospital in Montgomery for three years during which time she served as Director of Nursing.
The hospital staff of St. Vincent Hospital in Monett, Missouri, c. 1944. First Row (left to right): Sisters Pelagia Rechtorik, Angela Sotak, Edwin Spisak, and Julitta Doycak. Second Row: Sisters Isabelle Kominak, Mary James Hovan, Olivia Graber, Seraphine Kostelnik, and Canice Kostelnik. Third Row: Sisters Mathias Baytos, Longina Jaron, Regis Puscar, and Mary Clement Pavlik
Mary Clement’s next assignment was a return to Monett for seventeen years. Her memories there are special to her. She recalls. “We started with that small eighteen beds and built it up to eighty-two beds. We didn’t have enough doctors, so despite their objection, we hired Vietnamese physicians. I told them that we were not running a nursing home. We needed doctors, so I hired them from Michigan. Besides being the administrator, I served in the operating room and was an anesthetist. When you are in a small hospital you get many jobs.
I especially loved being an anesthetist, although it wasn’t too easy when I had to get up in the middle of the night. Being with babies was delightful for me. They said I had a special way of calming down the fussy ones by letting them suck on my thumb! I believe you have to love your work if you want a happy life.”
Mary Clement remembers that Sister Valerie Miller, born at St. Vincent Hospital, entered the VSC Community from Monett after having worked at the hospital during her high school years. A friendly reminder to Valerie from Mary Clement was,” Be a tribute to Monett.”
In 1979 Sister became the Vicar to Sister Mary Judith Seman, community leader. When asked about this ministry she said it was “…all right. I was always able to acclimate myself, whatever I got into.” She had this leadership role for eight years.
When asked about having known all the Mothers/VSC leaders she had some interesting observations. She remembered Mother Emerentiana, who died in 1935; five years after Mary Clement entered the VSC Community. She says, “Mother Emerentiana was motherly but stern. She spoke three languages: Hungarian, Slovak and English. She loved to hear us play the fiddle which I had done before I entered. She had the practice of gesturing to the young novices by beckoning with her finger and saying in her thick Slovak accent, “Come on here.” She had a leg wound that necessitated her keeping her leg elevated and she died after gall bladder surgery.”
Sister remembers that Mother Gregory Kolesar had many terms. She said she was a good Mother Superior and was very popular. She recounted a story of a time when she and Sister Henrietta Pavlik went home to Sister Clement’s house. At the time they had no cars and had to travel by street car. As it was getting dark outside, Clement’s father suggested that they had better get home or they were “gonna get hella”. When asked by Mother Gregory to tell about their visit, Sister Henrietta asked permission to repeat what Clement’s father had said. When Henrietta did so, Mother Gregory appreciated it and laughed.
(Sister Henrietta Pavlik was not related to Sister Mary Clement but they had been neighbors and were friends.)
Sister continued as Healthcare Coordinator until 1995 when she retired to the Motherhouse, now St. Louise Convent. She loves the safe place of the chapel and feels she can talk to God freely. She keeps up with the news and appreciates her room at Lourdes Hall, saying that it is a “high rent” apartment with bedroom, bathroom ,living room and office all combined.
Sister Mary Clement on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 2005. L-R: Sisters Leontia Spisak, Gerard Hurka, Amanda Bercik, and Mary Clement Pavlik
Mary Clement “votes for movement”. She likes to get things done and to take care of business. An example is that if there is no one talking at the meal table she will start by saying something “crazy’ to get the conversation moving.
Mary Clement ends her visit with us by saying, “I am happy in life and am not going to let anybody ruin that. I am what I am. I have my RN, my BSN, and my MSN and I wait for that last special degree, RIP”
There is much more to learn about Sister Mary Clement. There are two lengthy interviews which are typed up and saved in her drop file. Her witty and sometimes terribly honest answers are there for the knowing.
(As Kelly McDaniels and I left her, I said, “It seems to me that whatever gifts God has given you, you pass on to others.” With a twinkle in her eye she responded, “I hold on to some.” Surely her wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude of “going with the flow” and letting God give her direction are two she had kept.)
Sister Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN
Kelly McDaniels, Archivist