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The Year of Consecrated Life – Sr. Elaine Kisinko, OSBM

In honesty, I must say that I did not want to change my life to enter religious life in long-ago 1959.  I was very happy with everything that I shared with family, friends, my job, the church and my social activities.  It was especially difficult to leave sweet and loving very young nieces and nephews – and my 1957 pink Pontiac too! But I somehow knew that it was what our Lord wanted me to do, so despite protests from parents, off I went.

None of us, in whatever walk of life, can ever begin to imagine how our lives will evolve day by day and year by year.  These are the surprises of the Lord for us, and my life has been replete with these surprises.  I have said many times that He takes me to places where I don’t want to go.  But every step on the journey to those places has been filled with His grace.

I received the opportunity to enter the deeper life of monastic prayer and a closer union with God.  I was given the grace of a religious family of beautiful Sisters.  My vision and scope were broadened by higher education and degrees from DuquesneUniversity [Pittsburgh] and the University of Notre Dame.  I taught school in parishes from Chicago to the East coast, and I enjoyed the children and appreciated the different personality of each church and area of the country.  I had the advantage of serving the Province in various other ministries. I have traveled extensively for the Province and the Order in the Middle East and in South America and Europe, where I met and worked with our wonderful Basilian Sisters there. I have been to Rome so many times I could be a tour guide. For the past 16 years I have been especially honored to be the secretary in the Office of the Archbishop.

Although at first I was reluctant to join, and although I came to the Sisters of St. Basil with no understanding of what it would be like, I know that in seeking what God wanted for me, I have had the best of what this earthly life offers.  It is impossible for anyone anywhere to escape the sad times and challenges, but He lovingly provides the strength to everyone to overcome these.  He also sends the people and circumstances that bring us the gifts of His goodness, joy and laughter, and I am likewise thankful to Him for every one of these many happy wonders as well.

It is even a blessing for me to realize and to be aware with the greatest gratitude of how much I have been blessed.  When I finally meet Jesus face to face with that hundred-fold that was promised to those who follow Him, I sometimes think He might say, “What hundred-fold?  You received more than a million-fold during your life on earth!”

Though the life of every Basilian Sister is unique, I truly believe that what I have written here could, with individual variations of the particulars, be the story of each — although I don’t know of anyone else who gave up a prized 1957 pink Pontiac!

The Year of Consecrated Life – Sr. Dorothy Louise Balock, OSBM

The celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life continues as Sr. Dorothy Louise shares her vocation story:

IMG_1263Since I was born on Good Friday, my family considered me special and named me “Dorothy” which means “gift of God.”  I was the youngest of four girls and three boys born to Eastern European immigrant parents in the little Western Pennsylvania mining town of Patton.  We were blessed to have a Byzantine Catholic Church there.  I was baptized by Father Stephen Loya, surrounded by loving family and parishioners. Today I am the last surviving member of my immediate family.

I attended public schools, enjoyed sports and played the trombone in the band. I learned my catechism from two of my school teachers, Ann and Mary Homyak, who also were our parish catechists. SS. Peter and Paul Church was the hub of activity for us.  As a teen I helped there in any way I could, singing in the choir, teaching catechism, helping at dinners. Everything there reinforced my parents’ lessons about loving the Lord and trusting in His Divine Providence for our lives.  I was still young when I learned about prayer, love, forgiveness, cleanliness and a sense of responsibility. Such was life in the Balock family.

It was during my high school years that I felt the call to religious life, though I had not yet met a Sister.  Sometime after I experienced this call, Sisters from Mount St. Macrina came to Patton to solicit funds and they encouraged me. I attended my first Pilgrimage that year and was very impressed. However, being the youngest and the last to live at home with my aging parents, I assumed the responsibility of caring for them.

The picture changed when, a few months after graduation from high school, God took back to Himself rather suddenly: first my mother in December, and then my father the following April. The sudden losses were somewhat devastating to me, but through the support of my family, the Homyak sisters and parishioners and friends, I was able to see God’s hand in it all.  They encouraged me, as that September I responded to God’s call and entered the Order of St. Basil the Great in Uniontown, where I was given the name Sister Joachim. This started me on the road to doing many more things than I ever expected to do, and I don’t regret any of them.

My first ministry was teaching, mostly at the junior high level.  I found myself imitating the strict but kind style the Homyak sisters used – and it worked well.  I was also a principal for some of those years. Later I was elected to serve on the leadership team for five years and enjoyed living at the Mount.

A new path opened for me at that point that would affect the rest of my life.  I took courses to be certified as the Administrator of Mount Macrina Manor Nursing Home and served in this capacity for the next 17 years.  This brought me into daily contact with the elderly and the sick – just the work I thought I would be doing with my own parents.  I found that I loved being with older people, listening to their wisdom, supporting them in their time of suffering. The environment involved pain and suffering, some of it beyond relief, but I found that a listening heart, a compassionate touch, a reminder of God’s love and forgiveness seemed to make their passing into a new life somewhat easier. This time also involved sharing the pain of families in grief.  They taught me so much.

After the administrative role, I took a year of sabbatical; I spent half of it caring for my own blood sister after back surgery, and the other half in spiritual renewal experiences.  Formal training in pastoral care followed; since then I have been involved in ministry to the dying and to their families.  I worked at the best local hospice agency; it was later incorporated into the national firm known as Amedisys. Little did I know how intensely I would live this experience, for a short time later, I was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to undergo chemotherapy and later a bone marrow transplant.  Many tests, treatments and procedures were necessary before I made some progress. My community and my co-workers, my nieces and nephews supported me through this and I returned to serving others, now equipped with a better understanding of those who were suffering.  Unfortunately, the symptoms returned and I again underwent chemotherapy – that is, until I was further set back by a severe case of pneumonia.

Coming back from all of this required a long time, much patience, prayer and lots of help from my Sisters, my family and friends.  One introduced me to Barbara Johnson’s book Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy, which encouraged me.  I did just that.  I walked around for months wearing a neat hat with a big geranium sticking out of it.  It cheered me and those around me as well. I learned so very much in this time, especially a deeper trust in the Lord.   My love for nature, animals, and music also helped me so much then and also when I later underwent surgery for breast cancer.

More recently, when my physical strength declined, I became a volunteer for Amedisys Hospice and Home Care (instead of an employee).   I favored spreading devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help to the sick.  I prayed and sang with them, read scripture or played Christian music.  One daughter wrote to tell me how much her mother was changed by my visits, even though when I first started visiting her – during her favorite soap opera – she wasn’t very pleased. It was so gratifying to prepare many souls to joyously meet the Living God of Love.

In 2010 I was pleasantly surprised when I was named the Amedisys Volunteer of the Year.  The company flew me and a companion to New Orleans for the first phase and then later to the national convention in Orlando for the presentation of a plaque.  It was exciting and so much fun.

Much of my inspiration comes from the quote from Isaiah 43: “I have called you by name and you are mine.”  It helps me have an ‘attitude of gratitude’ – counting your blessings takes one across the valleys of life and builds confidence in God’s goodness, I have learned.  I like to say “God is with us!” –  how could I not after all the ways I have experienced his care and seen his mercy poured out upon myself and upon person after person?


The Year of Consecrated Life – Sr. Mary Grace Skuban, OSBM

This year as we celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life, we are also going celebrate the vocation stories of the Sisters of our community.

Our first story in this series is from Sr. Mary Grace Skuban, OSBM: 

Sr Mary GraceI first felt God’s call in ninth grade. I knew of the Sisters’ Academy for girls, but I also knew that it would be a burden on my family for me to leave.  I was sure I belonged there by the time I was 18, but not all of my family agreed. I was the only girl among three brothers, and my mother in particular did not favor her only daughter going away and “giving up” her life.  Somehow, each year when it would be time to seriously prepare to go to the convent, something came up in the family to hinder my going at that time.

In the meantime, I worked as a clerk in an office in Scranton, Pa. for a company that sold magazines.  I prayed patiently for the right time, attending adult religious education classes and eager to learn more about my faith.  My mother’s friends were there also and they secretly encouraged me in my desire for religious life.

However, when I wrote to the Mother Superior in Uniontown, I received no response – or so I thought.  The letter welcoming me to the community mysteriously “disappeared,” that is until I found a piece of the envelope that was not completely burned!  Then I understood.  I wrote again to the Sisters but this time I requested that my mail be sent to my work address.  The Sisters wrote me there, but when I explained the reason for using that address, they agreed with my Mom that I should stay with her.

On September 8, 1957, my home parish was celebrating its 50th anniversary and I was helping with the serving in the rectory. I was able to talk to Bishop Nicholas Elko and I asked him for the favor of speaking to Rev. Mother Olga on my behalf.  He did and on September 14 I received my letter to come. Though I had never traveled much, I left on the midnight bus from Scranton to Uniontown with three other women from the area also on their way to become Sisters of St. Basil.  Arriving at the Mount was my dream come true!  In a few months, when I formally received the habit, my parents with my brother and his fiancé came and affirmed me in my vocation. Thank God and His Holy Mother!

Before I left home I was again reminded of the help of the Mother of God in my journey.  The Sodality to which I belonged had a farewell dinner. They invited then-Father Michael Dudick, later Bishop Michael, pastor of our parish in Old Forge to speak.  He used the example of the Angel Gabriel coming to an unknown town of Nazareth and inviting Mary to become the mother of Jesus Christ.  He continued by saying, “Now Angel Gabriel has returned again to call another unknown Mary to “Come, Follow Me.” This message that evening was and still is the stimulus that has greatly been my “treasure in my heart” for the past 54 years!  I prayed often to the Mother of God to lead me to this place where I could fully live for her Son.  She has been my helper and guide along the various roads I traveled.

After my initial formation, I did domestic work in our convents at several school missions where our Sisters taught.  Then I served at SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary for three years. I happily worked in the kitchen and laundry and at the convent and enjoyed a wonderful community spirit with the Sisters, staff and seminarians.

Next, I was missioned as a catechist in Binghamton, N.Y. as a substitute teaching in the primary grades for a short time.  After serving as a nursing aide for the summer at our nursing home, Maria Manor in Ebensburg, Pa., I entered Sacred Heart Hospital School of Nursing and passed my State Board exam for my LPN license in January 1969.  I spent the next 20 years in nursing at both Maria Manor and Mt. Macrina Manor in Uniontown, where I also worked in medical records. Of all my ministries, this was my favorite. After that I had a sabbatical year and then was missioned between the House of Prayer and St. Basil’s Home.

In 1998, I became the Sacristan in the Monastery Chapel at the Mount.  This is my current ministry and I enjoy it very much.  It is a joy to take care of the Lord’s dwelling place throughout the year!

I thank the Holy Mother of God each day for being faithful to me and to my desire for a deeper life in her Son, Jesus.  She took my seven-year offering of patient waiting and perseverance and gave me a life so blessed and full!  Trust her yourself . . . come and see!