Sister Lucille was born on February 7, 1935 in Taurage, Lithuania to Peter and Albina Zelvys. She and her sister Nijole were identical twins. Theirs was a fascinating story of how God leads us to where we are meant to be. As the dangers of the war zone drew closer to their village, the Zelvys family was forced to abandon their homeland. They ended up in Germany where the government had established refugee camps for displaced people. Everyone expected to return home, but this was not to be. Lithuania, as the other Baltic nations, was given to the Soviet Union. In 1949, Sister Lucille’s family emigrated to the United States, landing in Chicago. There they faced the challenges and adventures of starting a new life with determination and faith.
The family moved into the north side apartment their sponsors had rented for them, and they began to adjust to their new home. When it came time for high school, Sister Lucille and her sister, who had completed their grade school studies in the refugee camp, decided to attend St. Casimir Academy in Marquette Park where the majority of Lithuanian immigrants had settled. Despite feeling at home, the girls found it very difficult to travel to school in the winter, so after a year they transferred to St. Clement High School. After graduation, Sister Lucille worked in an office and, at the same time, earned 27 credits at DePaul University, revealing both her strong work ethic and her passion for education.
During this time, Sister Lucille had been contemplating religious life but did not know where she should go. She made a retreat at Mundelein and prayed to the Blessed Mother to show her the way. In her heart she felt the answer: Go home to the Lithuanian Sisters. At the age of 19, Sister Lucille asked to enter the Sisters of St. Casimir. Her letters of recommendation praised her maturity, her ability, and most of all her faithfulness: “She has been faithful to daily Mass and communion during her school days and since she graduated. She was a good student and an inspiration to the priests and sisters in the parish. I highly recommend her to you.”
Sister Lucille professed her first vows as a Sister of St. Casimir on August 15, 1957, celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1982, her Golden Jubilee in 2007, and her Diamond Jubilee (60 years) in 2017. In addition to living the mission of the Sisters of St. Casimir, she also continued her studies, earning a BA degree from Marywood University in Scranton PA, an RN from St. Francis School of Nursing and, eventually, a BSN from Loyola University.
Sister Lucille began her ministry as most of the Sisters at the time did, as a teacher. For six years, she taught elementary school at Providence of God and Immaculate Conception Schools in Chicago and at Sacred Heart School in Emerson, Nebraska.
In 1963 Sister Lucille was asked to change professions and go into the medical field. Once she completed her education at St. Francis, she willingly accepted a variety of assignments in both hospital and school settings, including Antelope Memorial Hospital in Neligh, Nebraska, Villa Joseph Marie High School (school nurse), Loretto Hospital in Chicago (nursing supervisor), and Maria High School (school nurse and home nursing instructor for juniors and seniors).
Sister Lucille ministered longest at Chicago’s Holy Cross Hospital where she worked for 35 years. There she took on many demanding roles such as ICU nurse, nursing supervisor, and special procedures assistant where she aided in complex medical processes such as cardiac catheterization. A consummate professional in all she did, Sister Lucille was also moved personally by her experiences. In commenting on her years In health care ministry, Sister Lucille said, “As a nurse, I was able to help the sick, and I realized that my worries and concerns were nothing compared to that of other people…There were a few times I had the opportunity to initiate life saving measures for a patient and those moments were very rewarding to me. But the most important thing I learned was the importance of doing the Lord’s will.”
When she was not able to continue in active nursing, Sister Lucille, who was not one to remain idle, offered to write hospital protocols for various diagnoses and procedures. Her efforts helped improve care and streamline service. Sister Lucille also collected thousands of patient satisfaction surveys for Holy Cross Hospital, calculated – by hand – all the scores, and summarized the findings for every department. In recognition of her tremendous behind-the-scenes work, Sister Lucille was honored at a leadership meeting with a standing ovation and a bouquet of roses as the speaker proclaimed, “When it comes to tracking Holy Cross Hospital progress, and doing it meticulously, Sister Lucille is in a league all her own.”
Sister Lucille continued her health care ministry when she moved to the Motherhouse in 2007 by assisting with the care of our Sisters in the infirmary, ordering meds, and keeping track of them. In addition, Sister Lucille – who again, was not one to remain idle – asked to take care of setting up for daily Mass and all liturgical functions. She felt this was more of a privilege than a responsibility and performed these tasks with great love and reverence. Perhaps she was inspired by Our Blessed Mother’s apparition and message at Medjugorje, which always held a special place in Sister Lucille’s devotions.
When she went to live at Franciscan Village, Sister Lucille continued to use her talents to serve others. Since she had great computer skills, she facilitated communications between the Motherhouse and the Sisters with whom she lived. She also put her technological skills to work by using Skype to keep in touch with her family in Lithuania. Love for her homeland remained in her heart as did the connection with the new generation of family members.
Sister Lucille enjoyed the visits of Sister Ann Sullivan, SP who provided our Sisters with opportunities for personal or group faith sharing. Sister Lucille especially enjoyed visits from Clancy, Sister Ann’s little dog with whom she developed a sweet bond. In this little seen but delightful photo, Sister Lucille had Clancy on her lap giving him a personal computer lesson. Sister Ann said that Sister Lucille was the only person she knows who requested a picture with Clancy for her Jubilee.
Acknowledging and appreciative of all she had seen and done in her life, Sister Lucille reminisced at her Golden Jubilee, “As I look back over the past 50 years, I feel grateful to God for giving me a vocation to religious life, for blessing me with His graces in so many ways and letting me live long enough to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our Community’s founding.”
Although Sister Lucille experienced deep suffering toward the end of her life, she died peacefully on the morning of March 1st. Her last words were spoken to the nurse who was assisting her, “Lord, please take me.” Hearing her prayer and affirming her life-long faith, God took her home.
Sister Lucille, thank you for sharing your life with us and with all those whom God placed in your life.