She’s what folks might call a “hometown” girl. Her name is Sister Frances Kowalski, OSF, a sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities, who is proud to be a native of Syracuse. “We’ve always been a city that has tried to reach out to others and make a difference in people’s lives. As part of Central New York we have much diversity. It’s a community that comes together in times of need as well as when things are going well.”
Growing up in Syracuse, Sister Frances was taught by nuns. “I wanted to be like them,” she said. “They were teachers and I wanted to be a teacher.” And so it happened. When Sister Frances entered the community she always taught children science and religion. “I worked with every level in some way from pre-kindergarten to age 12. I loved interacting with children. I always felt I was preparing them for life and making choices.”
As an avid basketball fan, Sister Frances also coached the younger children as well as the cheerleaders.
After years in the classroom, Sister Frances worked as manager of a housing facility for low-income, senior adults in Port Charlotte, Fla. “I was involved from the first stages of the building process to the opening of the building when completed.” After working with children, youth and senior adults, Sister Frances was called by her sisters to serve on the leadership team for the congregation. “This was a challenge. But if my sisters affirmed me, I felt I had to at least try.”
She came back to Syracuse, she said, “to be part of the community of my sisters, the diocese, the local parish, All Saints, where I lector, and the civic community.
“I’m a creation person. I’ve always loved nature even as a young child. I love to walk and to be near water. I draw strength from being in nature,” Sister Frances said. “I have an extremely analytical mind. What would tire others, energizes me.”
As a member of the congregation’s leadership team, Sister Frances has the responsibility of the finances of the congregation and human resources. In addition, she is the liaison to the sisters in Hawaii. “What I enjoy most is building our common heart through relationships, recognizing and appreciating the giftedness of each individual.” After 43 years as a Sisters of St. Francis she says, “The greatest blessing is community, my sisters and the relational living with them.”
This year, 2010, is a significant year for the Sisters of St. Francis. It marks 150 years of ministry in the Diocese of Syracuse. “This anniversary helps me appreciate the sisters who have been in community and how the sisters have made an impact in Syracuse,” said Sister Frances. “It helps us to recall and rejoice in life, to keep the spirit alive in us and appreciate the past while building the future.”
In addition to the legacy of 150 years of service, the congregation takes pride in their own Blessed Marianne Cope who ministered to patients with Hansen’s disease in the Hawaiian Islands. This native of Syracuse is now recognized as blessed in the church and is on the road to sainthood.
“Religious life today is not what it was 150 years ago,” says Sister Frances. “My hope is that religious life will continue to respond to the needs in the changing world as it is today. Religious have always been on the forefront of responding to people’s needs. I hope we continue to see the needs and respond.”