Sister de Lourdes Okoniewski, OSF, 87

“This is my second year in retirement,” says Sister de Lourdes Okoniewski, who retired from active ministry at age 85. “I love it. I have a lot more time for prayer, and I appreciate that.”

A member of the Bernardine Franciscans of Reading, Pennsylvania, Sister de Lourdes has spent nearly 70 years in religious life. “Mine wasn’t so much an attraction to religious life as it was a gradual formation,” she explains. “I was baptized into a loving Catholic family. We lived 4 blocks from the parish, and the priest used to stop by the house. Our whole family was wrapped up in the Church. The Felician sisters taught me in grade school and the Benedictines in high school. My older sisters were always good role models. So, it was all these things together that led me to religious life.”

By the time she graduated high school, Sister de Lourdes was ready to answer her calling and entered the Bernardine Franciscans. She was already well-acquainted with the community because her older sister was a member. “All the (Bernardine) sisters were so nice and so good to us kids,” she recalls.

With just a summer’s worth of instruction, Sister de Lourdes began teaching in 1949. She remembers how much she appreciated her on-the-job training. “Our principal was a smart lady,” she says. “She would have the other (experienced) teachers check in on our classrooms. We got a lot of hands-on help.” Sister de Lourdes spent a total of 43 years in educational ministry, 23 as a teacher and 20 in administration. “I taught in 7 different states, and if I had a favorite grade, I don’t know what it would be,” she laughs. One year, she had to prepare a class of 75 second graders for First Holy Communion. “I thought to myself, ‘How do I reach them all?'” She recalls that she “relied on the Holy Spirit.”

Following her educational ministry, Sister de Lourdes spent several years serving in leadership for her community, both at the local and provincial levels. At age 82, she was chosen to serve as the local minister (superior) of St. Joseph Villa, the community’s retirement center. There she attended to the various needs of the elder sisters. She officially retired three years later.

“These days I’m taking care of my (older) sister. I take her for walks. I keep her up on family news. She just turned 100,” says Sister de Lourdes. “As far as living a long life, I guess I’ve got good genes. But I think how you live your life is more important than how long you live. Live with good humor and just do the Lord’s work.”