As Sister Carmella Chojnacki, FDC, and Sister Paula Krizancic, FDC, walked to daily Mass at Corpus Christi Parish the week of July 14, they were surprised at how many parishioners welcomed them back and said they had missed seeing them the previous few weeks while the sisters had been out of town.
The presence of Sister Carmella and Sister Paula has left an impression on the daily lives of many at the South Bend parish. As the two Daughters of Divine Charity prepare to leave Corpus Christi for the last time later this month, their absence will be deeply felt.
The Daughters of Divine Charity was founded in love and compassion on Nov. 21, 1868. Upon leaving the School Sisters of Notre Dame, foundress Mother Franziska Lechner moved to Vienna, Austria, and started the Daughters of Divine Charity, based in the Rule of St. Augustine. A short 25 years later, the congregation consisted of more than 570 sisters.
Having built schools, retirement homes and St. Mary residences — safe homes for young women who moved into the city for work — the order’s mark of love grew. The Daughters of Divine Charity is currently blessed with 1,100 sisters worldwide, and the order celebrated 150 years of service in 2018.
The order’s presence in the United States is young in comparison to its worldwide mission. The sisters came to Toledo in 1913 and began serving in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend less than a decade later. Prior to the founding of Corpus Christi Parish in 1961, the Daughters of Divine Charity were actively present in other South Bend-area parishes and schools, most notably Our Lady of Hungary, St. Mary of the Assumption and the former parish of St. Stephen.
Sister Carmella and Sister Paula have served as witnesses of the consecrated life for nine years at Corpus Christi and embodied the love their order represents. They have offered their time to students as substitute teachers and to the parish as leaders in the faith.
Sister Carmella said she cherishes her years of serving in many unique fashions at Corpus Christi. “You name it, I’ve done it,” she said. She calls herself a “permanent sub” for teachers: having taught full-time from 1965 until 2005, she found a completely new joy in substituting. She has filled in wherever needed, from teaching music classes to working the front office as a secretary. She has also taught religion on weekends “for forever,” including during her time at Corpus Christi.
Sister Carmella also has a strong love for her order’s foundress, which has led to amazing opportunities such as a journey to Vienna to be a witness for Mother Franziska’s cause for beatification in 2009.
Sister Paula said she will miss the Corpus Christi faith community and the little ones she teaches. Prior to entering the convent, she moved to a Daughters of Divine Charity residence in Akron to receive a Catholic high school education. As she continued at St. Vincent High School, she discovered her vocation and entered the Daughters of Divine Charity in 1953. Throughout her years of service, Sister Paula said she has enjoyed teaching the children and playing the organ. She hopes she has the chance to continue sharing developing her musical interests at her next assignment.
Sister Carmella will relocate to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the St. Elizabeth Briarbank home. The former motherhouse for Holy Trinity province has blossomed into an assisted living center, where three Daughters of Divine Charity care for the elderly residents. She said she is excited to care for those in the later stages of life and to do whatever God calls her to do while at the home.
Sister Paula will serve at Leonora Hall-Francesca Residence in Akron, Ohio. Once a residence for young women, Leonora Hall is now a center in which the sisters aid those with developmental disabilities. Sister Paula said that Akron will not be a place that’s completely new to her, as it has already meant so much in her life.
Both sisters shared their excitement for the new relationships and opportunities before them. But parting does come with its fair share of sadness, especially given that it marks the end of the Daughters of Divine Charities’ legacy in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Corpus Christi pastor Father Daryl Rybicki noted that “the Sisters’ departure… ends a more than century-old presence of the Daughters of Divine Charity among the people and children of the area.” It’s a relationship in which “the presence of the Daughters of Divine Charity in the parish community has meant much to the people of the parish, as it tied them to a rich history of the sisters’ presence in many areas of parish and school life, as well as a tie to our history,” he said.
Other parishioners said that seeing the sisters’ smiles and their joy enhanced each day. They mentioned the true love the sisters seemed to have for the parish and for all its people, from small children to the oldest parishioners. They commented that the sisters were always willing to help and did so with smiles, whether in the office or in the classroom.
While serving in their roles, the sisters’ presence impacted the Corpus Christi community more than most people could put into words. But the sight of the sisters traversing the parish parking lot for the past nine years to go to Mass was reassuring, and their absence was keenly felt in the short time they were recently gone. It also is likely to be felt in the classroom when school resumes, and in the many other moments when, in the past, the sisters shared in Christ’s love with the community they cherish.
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