Even though Catholic Sisters Week has wrapped up, Hopebound continues to celebrate the contribution of Catholic Sisters in this BONUS feature.
Today we’re sharing about Sister Carol Marie Wiatrek and Sister Therese Ann Parobek, co-directors of Angela Spirituality Center in Pomona, California. Angela Spirituality Center was founded by this dynamic duo sixteen years ago. Their mission is to cooperate with Christ in the spiritual renewal of the world by radical presence to the people of Pomona, California.
Founded in 2007, Angela Spirituality Center serves people experiencing the effects of homelessness, poverty and human trafficking in the Pomona, California community.
Sister Carol Marie and Sister Therese Ann had never worked together before when they united with a vision to care directly for vulnerable people in southern California. Accompany them on an average day, and you will pack up the back of their trusty hatchback car and set out on their route throughout town, always ready to pop the trunk and distribute clothing, food, bottles of water, blankets, or toiletries. Some people, familiar with the smiling sisters and their genuine care for them, will ask for prayer, or stop just to talk. If anyone asks, the sisters also have prayer cards, rosaries, and other religious articles to share.
Their partnership, and their direct encounters with neighbors in the margins of society, are aspects of their work that the sisters find most rewarding.
“I find Jesus in the homeless”, says Sister Therese Ann. “Every time I see a homeless person, I’m thinking about Jesus who was homeless. He told us ‘Whatever you do to others, you do to me’, and I pray that I would see Jesus and serve him when I am going to the homeless.”
Sister Carol Marie finds her partnership with Sister Therese Ann, and the support of the Felician community, to be deeply rewarding. “I’m so grateful that I have had another sister to work with, that we went out two by two”. She is thankful that God gave her a great desire to fulfill the mission of the Felician Sisters, and she’s honored to do what Mother Angela (founder of the Felician Sisters) did – she went out to the streets of Poland to care for the widows and children. “We’re so connected to the roots of our founding”, says Sister Carol Marie.
Sister Therese Ann was born in Poland, near Krakow. Throughout her time as a Felician Sister in the United States, she served as a primary grade teacher for 23 years before taking on a role as a principal. She also served as a local minister, where she was the local leader for nine other sisters.
In addition to the street ministry she shares with Sister Carol Marie, Sister Therese Ann is also certified in pastoral ministry and visits people in local hospitals and hospice care centers, as well as the ill and infirm who live at home.
She tells the story of the first time she was called to sit with a woman who was dying of cancer. The woman was just 45 years old, and the sisters had formed a relationship with the woman and her family. One day, unexpectedly, the woman’s husband called; “Sister, she is dying.” Sister Therese Ann dropped everything to go to them. She held her friend’s hand and talked with her of God’s love as she passed peacefully. “It’s one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Now I know I can go through it, and I experience things with people.”
Sister Carol Marie was born at home on her family’s ranch near Stockdale, Texas. After joining the Felician Sisters community, she started teaching elementary school in 1962. After two years in primary education, she moved on to Junior High. “I loved it! People used to say that no one likes to teach adolescents, but I just loved it. The people I taught back then are now in their 60s, and I’ve connected with some of them, and it’s amazing what they remember about our time together. Not necessarily the academics, but the activities and the engaging things we did together.”
Sister Carol Marie originally planned on being a counselor, but ultimately pursued school administration and was a principal for 16 years. “That was very enjoyable. It was very rewarding to work with the teachers and the students and their parents.” Sister Carol Marie also worked on Provincial Administration for six years, and was Postulant and Novice Director for six years, which she considers a great privilege. While living in Pomona, she took coursework from Loyola University on Spiritual Direction, and serves as a Spiritual Director as well.
As you may imagine, there is little “down time” when you are serving and caring for so many. Sister Carol Marie loves spending time in nature. “Right now, the jasmine is so fragrant and just about to break open. The tangerine-colored poppies are growing now, too. I especially love this season, and always have, since I was a child – crops grew, baby animals were born, baby chicks hatched.” She also enjoys praying and reading books about the spiritual life when she has the opportunity. You may also find her enjoying the occasional Hallmark movie!
Sister Therese Ann rarely slows down from her work. “I’m a people person, you know? And I love people and want to be with them.”
While the sisters are known for their work with the homeless, they are dedicated to minister to all the people of Pomona – those with resources, and those without. Many of their supporters and donors have experienced hardship themselves and have come through those experiences with deep faith and tremendous generosity. “Not just Catholic people – so many people have such deep faith” sister Carol Marie notes. “They make me want to be a better person.”
Sister Therese Ann hopes that Felician Sisters are known for the joy they find in serving. “Felician” means “joyful”, after all! “We are honest and true, and we go with joy. When God shines through you, people are not afraid to come to you for a hug or a cry.”
Sister Carol Marie hopes that people would know the sisters as people of integrity, and that they would know that their focus is on Jesus. “We want to bring about the spiritual renewal of the world. We want to be centered on Jesus, and hope that others will be centered on him as well.”
Thank you, Sister Carol Marie and Sister Therese Ann, for all you do to minister to the people of Pomona!