of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
February 9, 1917 – October 15, 2004
Sacred Heart Province
Des Plaines, Illinois
“The life of Sister of a Nazareth should be lived in the spirit of continuing interior penitence, because Christ suffered for our sins and the Blessed Virgin Mary suffered with him.” (to Mother Joanna, February 12, 1883)
Christine Niemczyk was born on November 12, 1915, the seventh of eight children to Michael and Apolonia. She was baptized at Holy Trinity Church, November 21, 1915, the thirteenth anniversary of the death of Mother Foundress.
She completed her elementary education at Holy Trinity School and her secondary studies at Villa Nazareth in Des Plaines. As a young girl she had a great desire to enter religious life and follow her older sister, Sister Desolata to Nazareth. However, as much as she desired to become a sister, there was always a stumbling block that hindered the fulfillment of her dream. Finally at the age of 21, she entered Nazareth on September 8, 1936. She was given the name Petronella at investiture. She pronounced her temporary vows July 2, 1939, and her perpetual vows August 15, 1945, taking the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary as her mystery.
Sister Petronella spent her most of her religious life ministering in the health field. She was a medical records librarian and a cardiology transcriber at St. Mary’s Hospital in Chicago, Loretto Hospital in Texas and Holy Family Hospital in Des Plaines. Although hospital work was not her choice, she found joy and satisfaction in her work performing it to the best of her ability.
Sister recalled the “happy times” at St. Mary’s where twenty-six temporary professed sisters filled with a spirit of love and concern for each other lived and shared very tight quarters.
Sister “Peter,” as she was often called, was a soul of deep faith, quiet, unassuming woman who found her strength in prayer and reflection before the Blessed Sacrament. She was very small in stature, but strong in her dedication and convictions. It took very little to make her happy and it was a pleasure for her to find ways to make life easier for others. Acts of kindness and support for others were part and parcel of her daily life.
Among her many talents was her ability to wrap gift packages for any and all occasions. She had the ability to coordinate paper, ribbon and accessories into a masterpiece of art. Year after year she would come to Des Plaines spending countless hours wrapping the gifts for the sisters and benefactors. Each was more beautiful than the other...all a reflection of the beauty that was within her.
For most of her life Sister suffered physically. She was frail and often in pain, but when you met her she never showed the slightest sign that she was not feeling well. She never uttered a complaint, but continued to perform her duties as perfectly as possible. She was the first to offer a helping hand, console someone who needed support and never asked for any personal exemptions. Even in retirement she volunteered at the reception desk at Nazarethville.
In 1999 when she was transferred from Divine Providence to Nazarethville, she continued to minister to the guests who came to Nazarethville. Her radiant smile and pleasant personality greeted the guests as well as the residents. When she finished her hours at the desk, she faithfully went to spend time with her sister, Sister Helen, who was a patient in the special unit. In 2004 as Sister Helen’s final days came close, she spent most of the day and into the evening at her bedside. She was always grateful to Sister Helen for remaining at home to care for their parents so that Sister Petronella could enter the community. After the death of their father, Sister Helen entered the community in 1952 joining Sisters Desolata and Petronella. It was very difficult for her to be at the death bed of yet another Sister, leaving her alone.
As the chill of autumn arrived and the cold November days followed, Sister Petronella’s health suddenly declined. She was confined to bed and drifted in and out of consciousness. Once again the close relationship of Mother Foundress began to come into play. Sister Petronella shared a birthday with Mother Foundress, and was baptized on the anniversary of her death. As November 12 dawned, it was Sister’s 91st birthday and the Lord planned a surprise birthday party for her in heaven. Not only was it her birthday, but the death anniversary of Sister Desolata, who died November 12, 1991.
What a joyful reunion and homecoming that must have been. May God grant you peace and eternal rest in the kingdom he has prepared for you and those who love him.
Digitized by S. Brendan O'Brien, CSFN
School of Arts & Sciences
Holy Family University
9801 Frankford Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19114
Last updated: January 2007