PARK CITY — Holy Cross Sister Mary Ann Pajakowski will be honored at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto, Notre Dame, Ind. on July 16 along with 13 other Sisters of the Holy Cross also celebrating jubilees.
“Time flies when you’re having fun!” said Sr. Mary Ann as she recalled all her years of ministry, adding that she can hardly believe it’s been 50 years since she professed her first vows. She has served as a teacher for much of her life, first at the high school level and now in Utah as education director for Holy Cross Ministries and in St. Mary’s Parish in Park City teaching after-school programs.
Those times provided many wonderful memories throughout the years since she first became a nun, she said.
One of the greatest blessings she experienced were “the ways I was given opportunities to work with the Latino community,” which she was first introduced to while teaching high school at St. Mary’s Academy in Indiana, where she had summers free and used this time to volunteer at youth centers, she said. That time “introduced me to a community that was just starting to settle out in South Bend, Ind., and to the difficulties they were having in the school system,” she said.
Many migrant Latino families in the community worked hard, chasing jobs all around the country to support their families, Sr. Mary Ann said. This “transitory life, where the whole family worked under severe conditions,” meant that the children didn’t receive the education and care that they needed, she said. She recalled one family of 11 telling her that, for a time when they lived in Arizona, they slept underneath their truck.
Many students who came from these families had difficulties keeping up with an education, Sr. Mary Ann said. She began volunteering to teach summer programs to help get these kids back on track, she said.
When St. Mary’s Academy was closed down, Sr. Mary Ann came to Utah to the newly formed Holy Cross Ministries. During the 17 years that have followed, she has worked with the Park City School District to implement after-school programs in three grade schools for children whose parents are homeless or in transitional housing.
Her most current project, Parents as Teachers, starts when the children are very young, usually under 3 years of age, and teaches parents ways to provide their kids with opportunities to learn, and how to keep them healthy and prepare them for school.
“The goal is to support parents in educating their child,” said Sr. Mary Ann, who hopes the program will allow “the kids to grow up, lead good lives and become who God wants them to be.”
Sr. Mary Ann has been a blessing for the low-income Hispanic community in Park City, and her work provides “a continuation of care from when kids are toddlers to when they’re going into middle school,” said Patricia Sanders, director of development and communications at Holy Cross Ministries.
“(Sr. Mary Ann) is a great teacher,” said Holy Cross Sister Catherine Kamphaus, assistant superintendant of Catholic Utah Schools, who celebrated her own Golden Jubilee two years ago. “She’s always been just very energetic, so funny.”
For example, once Sr. Mary Ann hosted a Christmas party for a group of Holy Cross Sisters and told everyone to come prepared to read Scripture, and “I thought, ‘Oh no,’” Sr. Catherine said, laughing.
However, rather than a straight reading from the Bible, each sister had to act out a skit that Sr. Mary Ann had prepared in advance, Sr. Catherine said. Sr. Mary Ann adores games and activities and is always ready to play them with her students or with her fellow sisters, she said.
Sr. Mary Ann is “a very clever person,” said Holy Cross Sister Genevra Rolf, the episcopal liaison for women Religious in the Diocese of Salt Lake, adding that she could always think of fun or funny things to do. “She’s been in one level or another (of education) all her life. She really started the education department for Holy Cross Ministries. … She’s a great Holy Cross sister and a great representative of Holy Cross (Ministries).”
In all her years teaching as a Holy Cross Sister, her students have changed how she looks at the world, Sr. Mary Ann said. Each student is a testament of “God’s variety of gifts and creations,” she said. “Every child can teach us so much. … It’s made me more attentive to the people God has placed in front of me at any moment. … I see (children) as wonderful gifts and feel very lucky and very privileged to work with the people we do.”