Before she passed away on April 25, 2021, at the age of 94, Sister Mary Bernice Pikul, C.S.S.F., sat down with Rhode Island Catholic to reflect on her life of service as a Felician Sister in response to her being nominated by members of her parish for a diocesan Lumen Gentium Award in the category of Catholic Education.
Not long after immigrating to the United States from Radgoszcz, Poland, with her family at the age of 12, in 1939, Pikul knew that she wanted to bring the Word of God to young people as a religious sister and educator.
“I went to Catholic school. I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to be a sister,” she said.
It was at St. Joseph’s parish there that she first became acquainted with the Felician Sisters Congregation.
After graduating from eighth grade in the small town of Florida, New York, 60 miles north of New York City, she attended a Felician Sisters high school in Lodi, New Jersey, beginning her aspirancy to become a religious sister.
In her junior year she moved to Enfield, Connecticut to continue her aspirancy, professing her first vows in 1948 and her perpetual vows six years later in 1954.
She began her teaching career in Middletown, Connecticut, and came to Rhode Island in 1981. From 1981-1987, when the school closed, she served as principal at St. Adalbert School in Providence.
“In a time of noticeable influx of Polish immigrants to Rhode Island, her mission was not only to pass on the knowledge and faith to her students, but also to introduce many non-English-speaking children and adults to the American church and to American society,” said Father Marek Kupka, pastor of St. Adalbert Church, said of Sister Pikul’s important ministry at the parish, where he began working with her in 2006.
“It was inspiring,” Sister Pikul said of her years there. “I admired the parents for taking good care of their children. In those days the children knew their prayers when they came to school,” she quipped.
Sister Pikul then served as a principal in other areas of the region but returned to St. Adalbert in 1991, where she taught C.C.D. and became director of religious education, while also serving as church sacristan right up until her passing. She is credited with having organized a high quality religious education program through her innovative and welcoming teaching methods.
“The parents are very supportive and the students are very good. It keeps me going. You’re not thinking about your own aches and pains,” she said with a laugh.
Sister Pikul also served as a community representative on the diocesan Council for Religious.