Even in her 80th year Sister Mary Olympia refuses to consider herself a lily of the field that neither toils nor spins. She has devoted her life to teaching and working with children and to the Felician order.
“I came to the United States from Poland to become a nun,” she says in a halting voice. “Here I needed only $100 for my dowry to enter a convent. In Poland it would have cost thousands. I had seven brothers and sisters and my father was a poor man.” She emigrated alone at 17 and lived with a cousin until she had earned the $100. Then she embraced the Felicians, primarily a teaching order which originated in Poland and now has 4,000 members in the U.S.
For 48 years Sister Mary Olympia taught second-graders in Lodi, N.J. Now officially retired, she still remains active in the Felician community of 600. She rises at 5:30 a.m., opens the chapel for Mass at 6 and then helps in the convent kitchen, visits other sisters in the infirmary, does little chores. “Whatever I make I give to the children,” she says. Her former students—and those she cared for in the now-closed orphanage—occasionally return and look up the sister. Her love of children has never diminished, though she can no longer play with them. “I enjoyed that. It was my best work.”
Most warm afternoons Sister Mary Olympia walks down the hill from the convent to the Felician Sisters cemetery—often used by children as a playground. Beside a large ash tree which bears the pocketknife graffiti of the young, she rests, a serene dark-robed spirit, and prays for the sisters who lie buried there. She thinks of the children too—”My children,” she calls them. “They always asked if I would be promoted with them to the next grade,” she says, and smiles.