The convent in Livonia, Michigan, was especially hard hit, with 13 out of 44 sisters succumbing to the new coronavirus.
Since Good Friday, 13 Felician sisters in one Michigan community and another Felician sister in New Jersey have died, all falling prey to the deadly Coronavirus.
The Register talked with Suzanne Wilcox English, who serves as director of mission advancement for the Felician Sisters of North America, about the sisters who lost their lives during the pandemic. English reported that the departed sisters had brought many talents to God’s service: Among their number were teachers, college professors, a multilingual translator, a librarian, a director of religious education, an organist and a nurse. One had served as secretary at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. Another had written an exhaustive history of the Felician congregation. Some were retired (the sisters who died ranged in age from 69 to 99), but all shared their ministry of prayer.
In all, the religious order — more formally called the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice — has 469 sisters in about 60 convents throughout the United States and Canada, as well as a mission in Haiti. The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Convent in Livonia, Michigan, where 13 sisters lost their lives to COVID-19, is home to 44 Felician sisters and five members of other congregations who are students at nearby Madonna University. Sister Noel Marie Gabriel, director of clinical health services for the province, reported that in addition to the 13 Sisters who died in Michigan, another 17 were infected but have recovered. At the Felician convent in Lodi, New Jersey, where one sister died, 11 others had also acquired the coronavirus but have since recovered.
From the onset of the epidemic, the sisters were open and forthright in dealing with the problem facing their communities. Sr. Mary Christopher Moore, provincial minister for the Felician Sisters of North America, published a weekly letter, keeping members and others apprised of the cases and deaths, as well as itemizing the steps the sisters were taking to ensure that the disease did not spread further within the community walls. In April, she reported that all of the large convents were in full room quarantine, with sisters wearing masks when encountering another sister or employee. Already early in the pandemic, the sisters received their meals on trays with disposable dishes/utensils, and like many in the wider community, they watched Mass via closed-circuit television, and participated in a daily spiritual communion.
As the days passed and the first sisters succumbed to the disease, Sister Mary Christopher continued to keep her Sisters informed and to offer encouragement. “This week,” she wrote May 4, “the Lord called one more of our Sisters home due to the effects of coronavirus, and we continue to mourn her and the other Sisters we have lost.”
As the community remained vigilant, she praised the sick and those who cared for them. “Today, we want to honor you, our Sisters who are bravely dealing with COVID-19,” she wrote, “as well as the nurses, nursing assistants, cooks, dietary aids, housekeepers, maintenance employees and enrichment coordinators who provide your care. You are both surviving the physical effects of the virus and coming to know isolation in the truest sense of the word, having only minimal contact with those who care for you, for the safety of all.”
By the end of June, although by that time 13 members of the community had been called by God to their eternal reward, Sr. Mary Christopher shared the good news that all of the sisters had come out of COVID-19 isolation, with no active cases in any of the convents. The survivors — those sisters who had contracted COVID-19 but did not die — experienced the slow recovery that has characterized the pandemic, including prolonged muscle weakness and fatigue, both physical and emotional.
And on July 8, despite the sad news that another of the older sisters had died, Sr. Mary Christopher was able to share some good news. While handwashing, mask wearing, social distancing and regular disinfecting remained staples of their routines, the sisters were once again dining together, and able to leave the convent grounds for necessary appointments and errands. They were once again able to travel for work, retreats or vacations, all while carefully observing social distancing and sanitization guidelines as well as travel guidelines issued by each state or province.
“After so many months of restriction,” Sr. Mary Christopher wrote, “the changes are most welcome, but we will remain highly vigilant and responsive to the current fluid nature of the virus in all convent locations. We will remain flexible and prudent in our planning as well as quite cautious in leaving our convents, based on infection control expectations.”
Because of travel restrictions and social distancing requirements, it was not possible to hold funerals for the deceased sisters, as would be customary. One priest, Fr. Bruce Lewandowski, held a virtual service from the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ Church in Baltimore.
Following is a list of the sisters who succumbed to the coronavirus, with their dates of death and their ages:
- Sr. Mary Luiza Wawrzyniak, 99 (April 10)
- Sr. Celine Marie Lesinski, 92 (April 12)
- Sr. Mary Estelle Printz, 95 (April 12)
- Sr. Thomas Marie Wadowski, 73 (April 15)
- Sr. Mary Patricia Pyszynski, 93 (April 17)
- Sr. Mary Ramona (Florence) Borkowski, 93, Lodi, New Jersey (April 18)
- Sr. Mary Clarence Borkoski, 83 (April 20)
- Sr. Rose Mary Wolak, 86 (April 21)
- Sr. Mary Janice Zolkowski, 86 (April 22)
- Sr. Mary Alice Ann Gradowski, 73 (April 25)
- Sr. Victoria Marie Indyk, 69 (April 26)
- Sr. Mary Martinez Rozek, 87 (April 28)
- Sr. Mary Magdaleine Dolan, 82 (May 10)
- Sr. Mary Danatha Suchyta, 98 (June 27)
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.