My Vocation Story by Sr. Barb Kwiatkowski, OSF
My vocation story begins in God’s country—beautiful Ohio—-where I was born and raised. I was born into a 100% Polish family, the oldest of 3 girls. Ours was not a family without problems, but, despite our problems, there was always a lot of love. My grandparents were very influential in my faith life, especially my mom’s dad. My parents constantly stressed that we were here on earth to become good persons and help others, but my Dziadzia (grandpa) taught us to pray and always talked to us about God and about the possibility of religious life.
When I was in the 3rd grade, I made my First Communion. I remember feeling so close to God! I also remember being fascinated with the Sisters who taught me in school and by the kind of life they led. They seemed especially connected to God and very happy. When I was ready to start the 4th grade, we moved to another part of the city and I went to a different school where I had a very similar experience with the Sisters who were my teachers. They often suggested to me that when I got older I should think about becoming a Sister. I had no idea if that was something I wanted to consider as an adult, but I liked them, and so I listened.
When I graduated from grade school, I went to an all girl’s Catholic high school. I played basketball in high school, sang in the school choir, worked on the paper and the yearbook and was President of the Christian Service Club. Becoming a Sister was the farthest thing from my mind! Being a Sister was not popular at the time and I was having way too much fun to even consider such a possibility. I do believe, though, that throughout my life God had been calling me to consider religious life through the people and events I had experienced, but at this point in my life, I just wasn’t listening.
After graduating from high school, I enrolled at the University of Toledo. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and really didn’t like the big school atmosphere at UT, where I was just a number. I dropped out of college after a year and went to work full time. I was making good money and was able to travel, buy a new Camaro and a motorcycle and go out on the weekends with my friends. Sounds great, but I wasn’t happy and I didn’t feel fulfilled. A friend of mine who realized that I was searching for something, asked me to help him with the youth group at an inner city parish where he volunteered. I agreed and that’s where I first met the Joliet Franciscan Sisters who staffed the parish school.
I found myself once more being fascinated by the life these Sisters led and I was impressed by their dedication and service to the people in the parish. I remember a time the Sisters spent all night searching the drug infested, high crime neighborhood for an 8th grader who had run away from home, a time when they took in a family of 5 that had been evicted from their apartment, and numerous times when they took food and clothing to people in need. It was as if a light had been turned on in a dark room for me! I realized that I was attracted to this kind of life of service and dedication to others and I wanted to live and share my life with people who wanted to do the same thing. And so, at the age of 24, I left my hometown and my family and friends and moved to Joliet to enter the Sisters of St. Francis.
I have had an interesting, challenging and full life as a Joliet Franciscan Sister. Most of my life as a Sister has been spent in secondary education where I have ministered as a teacher, dean of students, assistant principal and campus minister. In addition, I spent time as a missionary in Brazil at our mission there and as vocation director for our Congregation. I do believe that my life as a Sister was in God’s plan for me and that I am very blessed. St. Francis, as he lay dying, told his brothers, “I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours.” Herein lies my hope and challenge for any young person reading this—I am convinced that Christ will put people and experiences in your life to guide you in what is yours to do in life. It is up to you to live a reflective life with a listening ear and a heart open to doing whatever Christ calls you to do. Blessings on your journey!