Sister Frances Pytlik, one of this year’s Jubilarians, is a case in point. A 46-year veteran of the classroom, she has just completed her 32nd year of full-time teaching at St. Mary’s School in David City, Neb.
In the Fall, she will transition to two part-time jobs: reading teacher at St. Mary’s and visitor with residents of St. Joseph’s Villa and Court, both in David City.
We recently sat down with Sister Frances to learn more about her.
What influenced your decision to become a vowed member of a religious community, and specifically, the Adorers?
I can’t say that there was one event that drew me to religious life, maybe just day-to-day living of the faith. I met the Adorers in high school and I liked their spirit.
Tell us about your early life and family, and where you grew up.
I grew up in Brainard, Neb., a small town of 300 people. I am the middle child of five, with a sister and brother older and a brother and sister younger. My father owned one of the local taverns and it was a half-way stopping point between school and home. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, who loved to be outside in the garden. Both sets of grandparents lived in the same town. I attended Holy Trinity Grade School. In 1961, Aquinas Central Catholic High School opened and my parents decided that I would attend. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ were on the staff at the high school.
Outside jobs in a small town are often limited, but I earned a little extra money by mowing lawns in the summer, shoveling snow in the winter, babysitting and de-tasseling corn. Every summer, we would enjoy a family vacation of camping.
How did your formative years shape who you became?
I never considered my family as overly religious, though we often prayed the rosary at night, attended devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and went to Mass as a family on Sundays. I think that these seemingly ordinary events created a basis for a daily living out of our faith. Our house was “tagged” as a place where a person traveling the railroad could get a sandwich. Even though there were seven of us living in the house, there always seemed to be room for one more child or relative that needed a place to stay.
You have been a teacher for nearly 50 years. Why did you stay in education when many Sisters, including Adorers, left the classroom for other professional pursuits?
I guess you could say that I found my calling as a teacher. I have spent most of my years teaching the lower elementary grades, especially second grade. Since all of my teaching experience has been in a Catholic school setting, I have been blessed to walk with the students in learning about the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. It was always exciting to see the students grow in their faith. I never considered myself a great student, so my heart went out especially to those students who struggled with learning.
My own love of nature has helped me capture the students’ imagination at the beginning of the school year as they are introduced to the wonders of the life cycle of a butterfly. It was a great way to get the students back into the learning mode after summer vacation. That being said, I must add that I always had to be ready for the students bringing in all kinds of crawling things.
I remember one second-grader coming to the convent and wanting me to help him find the butterfly eggs on milkweed plants. After crawling through ditches, we were able to collect the tiny eggs. To this day, his family continues sharing the wonders of the monarch butterfly with the children and grandchildren.
You have a master’s degree in gerontology and aging studies. Did you consider entering a different field that involved working with elders?
I started working on my master’s degree in gerontology when I was in my 60s. I credit this to the nudging of the Spirit.
In 2003, I was asked to be on the board of St. Joseph’s Villa and Court, a skilled nursing and assisted living facility that is sponsored by the Adorers. I found that I had to learn a whole new language of nursing terms. At about the same time, I was also spending most weekends being a companion and caregiver for my aging mother. I felt that I needed a little more information about aging and caregiving.
At about this same time, an e-mail came to my school account announcing this new online program that would be starting at Concordia University in Seward. After passing over the e-mail many times, I finally did a little more research and decided that maybe this would be a good program to help me as a board member and as a daughter. I thought it also might lead to a new ministry when I felt that I should move out of the teaching profession. As it turned out, I really enjoyed the classes.
For my final project, I created a class on “Creating Intergenerational Programs.” I taught this class online for two years. It was quite a stretch going back and forth from second grade teaching during the day to college teaching at night.
I just completed my final year as a full-time teacher. I will continue to work part-time as a reading specialist at St. Mary’s in David City. The rest of the day, I will volunteer at St. Joseph’s Villa and Court. I really believe that the Holy Spirit has a way of getting us to where we need to be.
If you could step back in time with the wisdom you have acquired over the years, what would you tell your younger self?
Trust God even more. Be open to great possibilities and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Never stop learning. Treasure and respect all life. Enjoy the ordinary moments of each day!