June, 2016 | Interviewed by Sister Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN
(The remarks of this interviewer are in italics. There was an earlier, shorter autobiography of Sister Annamarie that was very good for reference. As we visited and shared, I began to appreciate the many gifts God had given her. The organized background materials that Sister Annamarie had kept were a great help in writing the inspiring story of her generous, dedicated life. Her Slovak heritage has been a blessing in Annamarie’s own life as well as benefit for others. I was very moved as she shared the story of her visit to her mother’s home village in Czechoslovakia and sang for me a little Slovak song dear to her mother.)
S Annamarie’s mothers 85th birthday:
Sister Annamarie and her brothers and sisters at their mother’s 85th birthday celebration.
Back L to R: John, Joseph, Stephen, and Andrew
Front L to R: Sister Annamarie, Helen, Anna (Sister’s mother), and Sister Henrietta
Annamarie was baptized Agnes (since her parents always named their children after the saint whose feast day was close to the date of their birth) and was the second youngest of seven children born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Valent and Anna Klimchak Pavlik. Her father died at age forty-two of a rheumatic heart. Agnes was only three and a younger sister was just eight months old. She reminisces, “The very next year after our father’s death, my older sister Mary, just fourteen, asked permission to enter the convent. Our valiant Mom generously acquiesced, even though she would greatly miss her help with the younger children.”
“lt was on those trips to visit my sister, now Sister Henrietta, at the Vincentian Motherhouse that the seeds of my vacation were sown. Even at that early age. I was impressed with the joy I saw on the faces of the Sisters there. Later when I was in the sixth grade, the movie, Therese of Lisieux’, also greatly impacted my life in regard to my choice of vocation.
From the first to the eighth grade, Agnes was taught by the Vincentian Sisters. In 1941, she entered the Vincentian Academy as an aspirant. (An aspirant went to high school with other girls and was not singled out in any way.) In 1945, in her senior year, Agnes became a postulant with the Vincentian Sisters of Charity. Her Reception Day took place in August when she was given the religious name of Sister Annamarie. She remembers well the Gospel of that Sunday. “There were ten of us in my group and the Gospel told Jesus’ story of the Ten Lepers. Later in the day, I returned to the chapel to thank the Lord for my vocation. As the grateful leper, I didn’t want to be remiss in expressing my gratitude.”
(Novitiate life was not harsh for Annamarie. As novices have been doing down the ages, she shared that they laughed a lot, and maybe cried sometimes).
(Annamarie remembers that once, the novices received a penance of praying three Hail Marys with outstretched arms before the crucifix in the dining room for an incident, which they thought was rather insignificant. As they were approaching the crucifix, Annamarie whispered, St. Vincent says, ‘The foot of the cross is the best place for you; fervently love to dwell there.’ The novices began laughing, for which they later received another penance. The group always gave support to each other as they took on challenges together in preparation for vowed commitment.)
In August 1947, Sister Annamarie made, what at that time were considered “final vows.” (After the Congregation became a Papal Institute, the Sisters took solemn vows.) The Gospel of the Vow Mass was that of the Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins. (Her novitiate group now consisted of only five members.) Again, she asked the Lord to keep her lamp burning for the coming of the Bridegroom, as did the Wise Virgins.
After her novitiate, Annamarie taught for sixteen years in the elementary schools. Her first mission was at Holy Trinity School in Duquesne,
Pennsylvania. There followed years of teaching at St. Bartholomew in Crabtree, PA; Holy Trinity in McKeesport, PA; St. Ursula in Allison Park, PA; St. Matthias, Youngstown, Ohio; Ford City Catholic, Ford City, PA; and Monessen Catholic School in Monessen, PA. (In those days, it was customary to change assignments of the younger Sisters frequently. This accounts for the number of missions a Sister may have on her record card.)
In 1967, Annamarie had received a Master of Arts Degree, majoring in
Classical Antiquities, and in 1971, a Master Degree in Education from Duquesne University. Besides these two degrees, Annamarie briefly did post-graduate work at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana and St. John College in Cleveland, Ohio.
For the next twenty-five years, Annamarie would serve in a variety of missions and positions. The list is impressive: secondary teacher in both
Man Valley Catholic High School in Monongahela, PA, and in Bishop Boyle High School in Homestead, PA., where she later became Assistant Principal. She was a secondary teacher at Notre Dame High School,
Fonthill, Ontario, Canada, and then back to St. Matthias as Principal for eight years. She also served as Coordinator of the Sisters at Ford City for a year as she had been at S1. Michael’s in Munhall, PA. Then, Annamarie became Assistant Principal at S1. Sebastian’s in Pittsburgh and, lastly,
Principal at Monessen Catholic School where she had served as a teacher before.
Looking back on her apostolate in education, Annamarie reflected, “I always tried to develop qualities of leadership in the students that I taught. I am proud of so many of them: a priest, two Vincentian Sisters, a couple lawyers, physicians, judges and several nurses and teachers.”
She recalled an incident regarding her first teaching assignment at Holy Trinity School in Duquesne, PA. Of the five years that she spent there, she taught the same class in grades two, three, and five. On the very day of their eighth grade graduation, the entire class (with the exception of one boy) came by bus to visit her in McKeesport, PA where she was currently teaching. They wanted to show her their appreciation.
In 1988 Annamarie’s life took a quite different direction, when she became a member of the staff at Regency Hall Nursing Home. She was delighted to work with Sister Carmelita Alvero; the Administrator and a good friend.
Sister Annamarie and Regency staff
Appreciating the gifts Annamarie brought to the position. Sister Carmelita challenged her to establish two programs, a Risk Management and a Development Department. For this new endeavor, Annamarie would need to do much reading and study, with a good measure of creativity and courage. “God was with me,” Annamarie says with gratitude.
Sister Dorothy Dolak who followed Sister Carmelita as Administrator, wrote a letter of appreciation for the monies Annamarie raised to acquire new windows for the nursing facility. Through additional grants, she was also able to obtain the first computers for each nursing unit and department.
(This accomplishment seems quite a feat, in my opinion.)
Annamarie would remain at Regency for twenty-one her years. During that time, she was able to establish a Vincentian Regency Auxiliary, a group of dedicated men and women who assisted in her fundraising efforts for the nursing home. Among their many projects, they purchased resident lifts and Care Trackers for each wing. Care Trackers were computer-like devices on which the Certified Nurse Aides “punched in” the care they provided for each resident during their shift. This information was later reviewed by the charge nurse in a print-out. The Auxiliary also equipped the multi-purpose room with a new rug, chairs, and a large TV screen.
In 1990, her sister Helen asked Annamarie to accompany her to Italy and then to Germany to see the world-renowned Passion Play at
Oberammergau. What a blessing it was to visit Rome and see the center of Christendom and then to be in Germany for the once-in-a decade Play!
Three years later Helen invited Annamarie on a trip again – this time to the Holy Land. (We agreed that after such a visit, one views Jesus’ place of birth through different and awe-inspiring lens. Annamarie’s album contains an abundance of the many holy sites that she visited.)
During these years, Annamarie was able to keep her Slovak heritage and language very much alive. This was enriched by her visit to beautiful and scenic Slovakia and Poland in 2001. Her younger sister, now the only living sibling, again gifted her with this special trip. Their mother had died in1986 and always wanted her children to see the homeland of their parents. In a lovely account of her trip entitled, A Trip to Remember, Annamarie shares these thoughts as they left the country,” We loved visiting our few remaining relatives and seeing the beautiful and lofty Tatra Mountains. We found the people to be very joyful, industrious, hospitable and religious.
Poverty has not daunted or depressed their spirits. They are a proud, singing, dancing, and music-loving people.”
With reason, Annamarie is proud and grateful for the strong European roots of the Vincentian Sisters. The story of the faithful religious of the
Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul of Satmar is awe-inspiring. The Community suffered greatly under Communist rule but did not surrender to threat or intimidation. Mother Benedicta Raskovska has written a moving account of their struggles during the 1950’s-60’s, which Sister Annamarie translated for the GOOD SHEPHERD publication.
(I was privileged to read this story and marvel at these strong women.)
Annamarie is a member of the Conference of Slovak Religious and in 2004 she was elected to serve a four-year term as secretary/treasurer on its executive board. Down through the years, she has tutored two Slovak priests and several Sisters in the English language, and is often called upon to translate letters from Slovak to English and vice/versa for various needs.
Although she had never felt the call to serve in the foreign missions, Annamarie has always had an affinity for the poor. When Duquesne University was conducting a drive to collect Shoes for the Children of Equador (who had to own a pair of shoes to be admitted to school). Annamarie personally collected over a hundred pairs of new and lightly used shoes for Duquesne University’s project. She wrote to the headquarters of local department stores and also solicited donations from the staff at Vincentian Regency and from the children at a local Catholic school.
During her visit to Slovakia, she was approached by an acquaintance, a female doctor in Kosice to see if she could obtain a much-needed sonogram for the Louis Pasteur Hospital. Annamarie and her friend Bernie began the quest for the machine. She also solicited used medical equipment from several area nursing homes. The shipment included wheelchairs, walkers, beds, commode chairs, canes and other items.
In 2009, Annamarie retired to the Motherhouse and joined the Prayer Ministry group. She writes the Annals for St. Louise and says she keeps her mind active with her Kindle Fire, her computer, crossword puzzles and listening to classical music.
(As we passed the Necrology Board, which listed all the deceased Vincentian Sisters of Charity, Annamarie gently touched the name of her sister, Sister Henrietta Pavlik, who died in 1987.) Henrietta had a Masters Degree in Nursing from St. Louis University and served God’s people as a nurse/nurse instructor in Missouri, Pennsylvania and also in Alabama, where she started a Practical School of Nursing for young black girls. (I was grateful that I was able to go to the cemetery to visit’s Henrietta’s gravesite!)
Now, in her 71st year of her vowed life, Sister Annamarie can rejoice in her faithful commitment to her religious vocation and to her varied ministries.
Sister Annamarie and her sister Helen on the occasion of Sister Annamarie’s Golden Jubilee in 1995
She reflected this very well years ago in her response to the Diocesan Golden Jubilee Questionnaire, where she wrote, “Innate to our being is a strong desire for fulfillment. To a great extent, I am finding fulfillment in my religious life as a Vincentian Sister of Charity. Were I able to change the course of my life, I think I would still choose to follow my vocation as a Vincentian Sister.” (Powerful words indeed!)
As regards the merger of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity with the Sister of Charity of Nazareth in 2008, Annamarie cites that giving up their identity as Vincentian Sisters of Charity and relinquishing their archives to Kentucky were the two aspects of the merger, which she found most difficult.
However, she has since accepted this as God’s Will for their congregation.
She says that whatever loss she has experienced in the earlier years of the merger, has turned to a gain of many new “sisters”, many warm and loving friendships, and a Community rich in global ministries. God be praised!