FIFTY YEARS OF MINISTRY

By Mary Stone

Sr Marie in front of Cathedral
Sr. Marie Lucek celebrates her Golden Jubilee on July 13, 2014 — 50 years in ministry as a Sinsinawa Dominican.

Sr. Marie Lucek celebrates her Jubilee anniversary this summer; fifty years have passed since she agreed to a ‘lifetime membership’ in the Congregation of the Sisinawa Dominicans, and a lifetime dedicated to ministry.

Women religious were the cornerstone of the Church in its early years in Southeast Alaska; many of our hospitals and schools were founded and staffed by women religious in the early 1900’s – the Sisters of St. Anne in Juneau and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace in Ketchikan. But today, with resources stretched and religious vocations decreasing, women living a professed religious life within the Diocese of Juneau have become a highly valued resource and a special gift to the community – as is Sister Marie Lucek, OP.

In July, the Diocese of Juneau and Catholic community celebrate with Sr. Marie and thank her for fifty years of commitment to religious life. Her ministry here in Southeast Alaska has been primarily based out of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Juneau. Characterized by a combination of physical separation from her Sinsinawa Dominican sisters in the lower 48 states and a learned dependence on the support of Alaskan friends and community members, Sr. Marie describes her time serving the Catholics of Southeast Alaska as one of personal growth and many blessings. On July 13 she will celebrate with 12 of her Dominican sisters at the Sinsinawa Mother House in Wisconsin, where they will gather to remember those who have died, and share in a festive meal and a joyous celebration of the Eucharist at which they will renew their vows. Shortly thereafter, Sr. Marie will travel to Strasbourg, France to attend a spiritual retreat with other Dominicans from the USA and Ireland. Later in the summer she hopes to celebrate with the Diocese of Juneau Catholic community.

The oldest of nine children, Sr. Marie grew up in Rockford, Illinois attending Catholic schools and influenced by the leadership of the Notre Dame Sisters as well as the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. Although encouraged by both orders to consider the religious life, she chose instead to enter the secular workforce after high-school and to save funds for college tuition. After three years of employment in the banking sector, the thought of entering religious life still lingered in her mind. A friend made the choice to enter religious life, and that nudge finally encouraged Marie to do the same. Although her friend ended up not making profession, Sr. Marie did, and 50 years later she is still living a dedicated religious life.

Sr. Marie Lucek (Sr. Doris was her former religious name) entered the novitiate in 1962, only one month before Vatican II began. After learning the Rule and Constitution and the traditional elements of religious life, she and her Dominican sisters who made their profession two years later in 1964 entered into a different world for women religious – one of change, experiments, and a good bit of chaos. Vatican II encouraged women religious to ‘become more modern;’ but, what did that mean? “We knew we were in the hands of the Holy Spirit,” remembers Sr. Marie, of her postulant and novice years. After years of prayer, struggle and discussion, she and her sisters were grateful for the four pillars of Dominican life—prayer, study, community and ministry—that continued to be their foundation. As their ministries evolved to include new areas other than strictly education, their motto remained the same: “At the heart of ministry is relationship.”

After receiving a degree in American Studies from Dominican University/Rosary College, Sr. Marie was sent by her order as a teacher to various schools and educational ministries ranging from the mid-West to the East Coast, teaching levels from elementary school to adult learners. In 2001, following a 9 year residency in Washington D.C. ministering to adult and ESL learners, Sr. Marie took a sabbatical year in California, and then returned to her Mother House in Wisconsin to assist her elderly sisters. After completing chaplaincy training in San Antonio, she heard through her religious sister, Sr. Mary Ann Nelson, about a pastoral opportunity in Juneau, Alaska. At that time, Sr. Mary Ann and Sr. Zita Simon —both Sinsinawa Dominican sisters—were ministering in Juneau.

Despite an unfortunate mishap during her initial exploratory visit to Southeast Alaska—slipping on gravel and breaking a leg—Sr. Marie decided to accept the pastoral position offered to her by then Cathedral rector Fr. Thomas Weise, and join the staff of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in downtown Juneau in 2006. Her responsibilities at the Cathedral parish today include administering the RCIA program, funeral ministry, hospital chaplaincy, and assisting the staff with parish events. “It took me a while to know how I could best use my gifts,” she admits. Today she relates, “Some of my most profound moments have been supporting families through the funeral process and praying with patients at Barlett Regional Hospital­—God’s presence was so tangible during those moments.”

When she first arrived in Juneau, Sr. Marie was able to share the Alaskan experience with two other women religious and live in community at St. Joseph’s convent on Douglas Island; however, soon after her arrival both sisters were assigned to ministries outside of Alaska. After living in community for many years, learning to live alone in a new and somewhat isolated Alaskan city was a big change. But, after surviving a challenging first year of adjustment, she grew to appreciate her new home and today attributes the support of the local Catholic community, friends, and the beautiful natural surroundings as some of the blessings of her ministry in Southeast Alaska. In addition, monthly phone calls with a group of Sinsinawa sisters who are also living alone, has become a caring community that reaches out over the miles to support each other.

When asked about the future of women religious, and declining vocations, Sr. Marie shares, “We are not in charge of vocations; it’s the Holy Spirit who calls, and as Pope Francis has reminded us, the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of surprises. We do what we can to suggest (the religious life to young women), and to pray, but only the Holy Spirit knows how the future will unfold. We have a prayer that we pray often: ‘Providence can provide. Providence did provide. Providence will provide.’ We have never been disappointed but have always trusted that God will lead us to where we are called.”

A Mass was held in Queen of the Rosary Chapel at Sinsinawa Mound on Sunday, July 13, for Sr. Marie Lucek and 12 other Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters celebrating 50 years. If you would like to honor Sister Marie on her jubilee, go to the Sinsinawa Dominicans’ website at
http://www.sinsinawa.org/jubilarians.