Sister Mary Balkus
Sister Mary was born on December 1, 1925, in Chicago, IL, to Mary and Konstant Balkus. She was the third in a family of four children. Her parents expected their children to practice their faith and share love and respect with all they would meet.
Sister Mary attended Ambrose E. Burnside Elementary School and then St. Casimir Academy. It was at the academy that she began feeling attracted to the religious life. At the age of 20, Sister Mary entered the Sisters of St. Casimir. She professed her first vows in 1948 and celebrated her Silver Jubilee in 1973, her Golden Jubilee in 1998, and her Diamond (60 years) Jubilee in 2008.
One of Sister Mary’s greatest joys and accomplishments was that of being a teacher. She earned a B.S. degree in Education in 1962 from Marywood in Scranton, PA, and her M. A. in History in 1967 from Loyola University, Chicago, IL. From 1948 until 1960, Sister Mary taught in elementary schools: Sts. Peter and Paul, Our Lady of Vilna, and St. George schools in Chicago, IL, and St. Alphonsus school in Baltimore, MD. In 1960 she was asked to move into secondary education, where she remained until retiring from full-time ministry in 2004.
From 1967-1976 Sister Mary served as principal of Villa Joseph Marie High School (VJM) in Holland, PA. An article published in the Bucks County Courier Times in 1973 quotes Sister Mary: “We’re interested in educating the whole person.…We are trying to make our student a leader or a career person or whatever she chooses to be. We want them to step into the world as they see it with their values intact.” In 2014 Sister Mary was inducted into the VJM Wall of Fame in recognition of her excellence as a principal.
The rest of Sister Mary’s years in secondary education were spent at Maria High School in Chicago, IL, where she taught U. S. Government, U. S. History, and English. While at Maria, she continued to expand her education, taking part in many non-degree certificate programs, such as Illinois State Constitution Workshop and Howard A. Taft Institute on Political Parties. These not only broadened her horizons, but they were the springboard for how she wanted her students to go beyond the classroom walls and put their knowledge to use. In a Southwest News Herald issue Sister Mary is pictured with several of her students who won awards in an essay contest on affordable housing. On the same occasion she was presented with a U.S. history and government award for her efforts in making students conscious of housing concerns in Illinois.
One of Sister Mary’s students received a Congressional Bronze Medal for her many volunteer hours of community service, something that Sister Mary always encouraged in her students.
When Sister Mary retired from full time teaching in 2004, she offered her services in the Sisters of St. Casimir Food Pantry. Sister Mary loved following the accomplishments of her students, noting with pride their success in life and professional aspirations. In 2009 she moved to the Motherhouse infirmary because she needed more care. When the decision was made to transfer the Motherhouse to Catholic Charities and move to Franciscan Village, Sister Mary became part of the community of Sisters at Our Lady of Victory Convent, and later, became a resident of Mother Theresa Home. Initially, she was able to take part in some of the activities, including using her history and educational background to become a winner in games of Trivial Pursuit. Her ministry of a kind, welcoming presence was evident in her warm greetings to everyone.
Sister Mary was especially devoted to Mary, the Mother of God, having a special devotion to Our Lady of Medjugorje. Many people requested Sister Mary to pray for them, sometimes needing help in desperate situations with little hope of solution. The miracle of answered prayer brought her great joy when she would receive a call or a letter thanking her for her prayers.
Sister Mary’s wonderful, smiling presence was a gift. Her eyesight was failing but her inner sight beheld beauty. The TV in her room was set to EWTN, which led her in praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the rosary she often held in her hand.