KINGSTREE—The official name of the congregation is the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, but they are more well-known as Felician Sisters.
They came to South Carolina in 1992, on the feast day of St. Clare. Sisters Mary Johnna Ciezobka and Susanne Dziedzic were the first arrivals and have worked at the St. Ann Catholic Outreach Center in the Pee Dee Deanery ever since.
Recently, they were joined by Sisters Adrian Jumbelic and Jacqueline Benbenck.
Paving the way
Sisters Johnna and Susanne told The Miscellany in a phone interview that they first met at a renewal program and discovered they both wanted to simplify their lives and work among the people they serve.
When the two Felicians arrived, they found a community that was already well-versed in the good works of religious sisters, thanks to the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, who had just left the area, Sister Susanne said.
They also received some good advice: “When you come you’ll fall in love with the people and they will call forth from you what they need,” Sister Johnna recalled.
And so they arrived with no preconceived ideas or plans and have followed the lead of the community.
They shall receive
Over the years, the ministry has grown and is blessed with greater ecumenical involvement, the sisters said.
The Blessed Angela meal day, which provides a free, hot meal for 80-100 people once a month, used to be sponsored solely by St. Ann Church. Now, the parish sponsors two months and other area churches volunteer for the rest.
The outreach center also has an after-school program, a clothing closet, take-out bag lunches once a month, and medical services including eye care, dental assistance and prescription medication.
In the spring, they host volunteer college students who tackle minor home repairs, and offer a week-long immersion experience to their fellow Felicians. Sisters Adrian and Jacqueline came as part of the immersion program and loved it so much they returned for an extended assignment.
Catholic churches across the state and everyone in the Kingstree area contribute to the center’s success, according to Sister Susanne.
“God has really just used us as his instrument,” she said.
Roots in Poland
The Felician congregation traces its roots to Sophia Truszkowska, who was born into a wealthy family in 1825 in Poland, according to their Web site, www.feliciansisters.org.
Distressed at the injustice and dismal economic conditions in her country, she rented an apartment and began caring for homeless children living on the streets.
She was joined by other women, and in 1855, Sophia dedicated her life to God’s service. The congregation follows the rule of St. Francis, after the Capuchin Franciscan priest who was Sophia’s spiritual advisor.
As a consecrated religious woman, Sophia became known as Sister Mary Angela. She was beatified in 1993 by Pope John Paul II.
The sisters and children often prayed at the shrine of St. Felix of Cantalice, and so the people of Warsaw called them the Sisters of St. Felix or Felicians.
In 1874, five Felicians arrived in Wisconsin, and within a decade there were over 200 sisters in the United States. They served primarily as teachers in the emerging Catholic school system and later established orphanages, homes for the aged and hospitals.
Today, the international order has over 2,400 Felician Sisters in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, England, France, Italy, Estonia, the Ukraine, Kenya, Poland and the United States.
The primary goal of all the sisters is to sustain and carry on the mission of the church, said Sister Johnna. In order to do this to their best ability, the congregation’s eight North American provinces will merge on Nov. 21, the 154th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice.
The new entity will be named Our Lady of Hope Province and the motherhouse will be in Pittsburgh.
Sister Johnna said about 400 women will gather at St. Cecilia Church in Rochester, Pa., for Mass and the installation of the new leadership team. Bishop David A. Zubik, who was taught by Felicians, will be the celebrant.
The original provinces are: Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michigan; Immaculate Heart of Mary, New York; Mother of Good Counsel, Illinois; Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New Jersey; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Pennsylvania; Our Lady of the Angels, Connecticut; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, New Mexico; and Holy Name of Mary, Canada.