“God is simple,” Sister Natalia says. “Children are so simple, and that’s the image I have of God now. You don’t have to try to pretend that you are someone else; children teach you that. You can really be yourself.”
Sister Natalia Kieltyka, the local superior of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, takes a few moments out of her busy day to welcome me to the Sisem Day Care Centre in north central Edmonton, next door to Holy Rosary Polish parish.
Despite the fact that there are 50 preschool-age children in the building, it’s remarkably peaceful ̶ I’ve come during afternoon nap time. It’s not only the absence of noise that contributes to the atmosphere of peace, however. There is a distinct sense of the presence of God. That’s because Sisem is not only a daycare ̶ it’s also home to the Sister Servants, and to the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Sister Natalia immediately leads me to the sisters’ chapel, where we kneel for a few moments in silence in front of the tabernacle. It’s obvious that the chapel is the heart of the place ̶ sisters slip in and out, taking a few moments to be with the Lord in between their many tasks.
The chapel has been lovingly decorated with flowers, and with a statue of Blessed Edmund Bojanowski, founder of the Sister Servants.
“Prayer is the base for our life,” Sister Natalia explains. “I brought you to the chapel first because that’s where everything starts in our life.”
This basis of prayer forms a solid foundation for the sisters’ apostolate. Their primary work is operating the daycare centre, which they opened in 1977. Originally, it offered support to Polish immigrant families.
Today, children of any cultural background are welcome at Sisem, but the sisters still have a special place in their hearts for immigrants, especially those coming from Poland.
“All of us sisters are immigrants, so we know the pain of being immigrants,” Sister Natalia says. “We try to help people who are struggling with their first days in Canada ̶ mostly Polish families, but whenever someone needs help, we try to help.”
What are some signs that a young woman might have a vocation to become a Sister Servant?
“The desire to serve, that would be one of the first signs,” Sister Natalia says. “The desire to give herself to the service of God and to the service of children, young people, the sick, the needy.”
A young woman with a vocation might also feel attracted to the community’s Marian spirituality, which emphasizes communal prayer, coupled with a profound love of Scripture.
“We also nourish our individual prayer life, which is very important,” Sister Natalia says.
“We are connected to lots of different kinds of spirituality. Each sister has the freedom to choose what suits her the best, what’s dearest to her, what helps her to build her relationship with Jesus the best.”
Supportive and loving sisterhood is also very important to the spirituality of the Sister Servants.
“We always live in community. Our founder didn’t want any of the sisters to live alone, or serve alone,” Sister Natalia emphasizes. “Even if there are only two or three of us in a certain place, we always pray together.”
The Edmonton community consists of 11 sisters. Growing up in southern Poland, close to Krakow, Sister Natalia had no idea that she would one day come to Edmonton as a religious sister.
In her final year of high school, she had been accepted into medical school and was engaged to be married. Just before her final exams, she signed up for a weeklong retreat with the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.
“On the very first day, I got a terrible flu!” she recalls, laughing.
Confined to bed for the entire week, she had plenty of time to think about her life and future. A period of questioning followed the retreat. After seeking advice from a spiritual director, Sister Natalia discerned that God was calling her to consecrated life.
She never looked back. She has now been a member of the congregation for 27 years, and for the past nine years, has served as superior of the Edmonton community and director of the daycare.
“My relationship with God is definitely more simple than it was 27 years ago,” she reflects.
“I’ve learned from children that I can be who I am in front of my God. God is really my friend. I don’t have to be afraid to cry in front of Him, to be joyful with Him, to share my struggles, or whatever is happening in my life. That’s the greatest gift I have discovered as a sister.”
Note: The community featured in this article was founded in Poland and is of Roman Catholic affiliation. There is another community with the same name in the Archdiocese of Edmonton: the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate based in Mundare, Alberta. The Mundare community is a Ukrainian Catholic congregation, and is not connected to the Edmonton one.
– Rose Derksen is a pastoral assistant at the parishes of St. Alphonsus and St. Clare in Edmonton
Sister Natalia talks about Divine Mercy Sunday.