Sr. Maryann Golonka
I was raised by my grandparents who emigrated from Poland during the First World War. They were members of Madonna of Czestochowa Parish. We lived in one of the Polish neighborhoods in New Castle, PA. I attended the parish grade school under protest since I had to forego my jeans and put on a dress! To say that I was a tomboy is quite an understatement. I climbed trees, played baseball, basketball, football, flew kites (made from dry cleaners’ bags) with the kids in the neighborhood, mostly boys. When my grandmother couldn’t find me, I usually was under the car with my Dad or some neighbor kid’s dad. I liked tools of all kinds and could actually build things, but I was better at taking things apart, I had to know how they worked. One of the greatest compliments that my step mother ever paid me was that I was a better plumber than my Dad; I thought that he could fix anything.
I seemed to have a gift for music. I had toy drums, saxophone, ukulele, and harmonica and made my musical debut at age 5. I sang, “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” for the Christmas program at school. Singing became important as did humming and whistling but it was time for a real instrument. At age 6 I began to take accordion lessons. Music and sports weren’t my only interests.
My uncle was a great outdoorsman who taught me to fish and hunt. Fishing became a passion and I even raised my own worms! I flunked hunting since I couldn’t shoot the bunny or Bambi, but show me a rat and I was right on it! I took up archery and bowling when I was in my teens and continued to fish when I could.
As a teenager, I felt that God was nudging me toward religious life. But in the tumultuous 60s, I was being pulled in so many directions that it couldn’t possibly be God yanking on one of the strings! What was I going to do with my life? So, high school was followed by nursing school which offered some insulation for what was happening in the world. The Vietnam War, women’s lib., sexual revolution, Vatican II, racial inequality, protests, sit-ins, riots, and the space race only added more confusion to my teenage years. God and church were not a part of my world.
I began my nursing career as a psychiatric nurse in a community hospital. We were never at a loss for patients, and I saw my share of folks that had bad trips on LSD or fried their brains on other drugs. I enjoyed the work but felt that I could be doing more. With the Vietnam War raging, there was a need for nurses, so I applied to the Air Force. My uncle was a career Airman and thought that it was a good fit for me. I anxiously awaited my acceptance letter since the date was selected to begin training in Texas and I had my Lieutenant bars. The letter came and I was “rejected”-no explanation given! The recruiter and his superiors tried to find out the reason for the rejection. After 6 months, I received the call from the recruiter telling me that all the nurses in the eastern part of the U.S. were rejected; the officer in charge had a breakdown. I was asked to reapply but I said, “No”. There still wasn’t any God in the picture.
After a couple of years, I concluded that my chance for advancement was slim to none at the small hospital where I worked. The head nurse was in her mid-30s and wasn’t going anywhere for a long time. So, I applied for a position at St. Elizabeth hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. I knew that it was a large facility and my parents received good care when they were patients there.
I began working at St. Elizabeth’s and my coworkers were three Humility of Mary Sisters-one RN and two LPNs. The supervisor was a sister as was one of the evening supervisors. There were sisters everywhere: dietician, social worker, pharmacist, dietary assistant and many nurses scattered throughout the hospital. They were real people! I had Holy Spirit Sisters in grade school and Sisters of St. Francis in nursing school but these sisters were different. They seemed to love life, were happy and really cared for people. Over the next 6 years, sisters came and went but mostly they went! God kept nudging as I worked, bowled in 2 leagues, played league softball, took classes at YSU, maintained a house and kept an eye on parents, grandmother and a widowed aunt. “Leave me alone God, I’m busy, go bother someone else” became my mantra.
Weekly trips for groceries included stops at the liquor store and the beer distributor. Milk was purchased in Pennsylvania and gas and cigarettes in Ohio, I wanted the most bang for my buck. God would show up every once in a while and I recited my mantra with confidence. I had money in the bank, bought a new car every other year and went on vacation every year, what more was there? Finally, God won the battle.
When I was at work one morning, I asked one of the sisters if I could speak with her. The look on her face was priceless when I said, “I think that I want to be a sister.” That look accompanied by: “You’ve got to be kidding” was repeated over and over by family members, coworkers, friends and team mates.
It has been over 44 years since I entered the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. What do folks say to me now? “You haven’t changed.” Religious life gave me the opening to work on becoming the person God wants me to be. I continue to grow personally, professionally and spiritually. I’ve had opportunities in ministry that were and continue to be beyond my wildest dreams. Music continues to play a big part in my life and ministry. So, to quote Bishop Robert Barron: “God, like the hound of heaven in Francis Thompson’s poem, comes relentlessly searching after us.” God is infinitely patient and waits for us to respond to an ongoing loving relationship by nudging, no matter how long it takes.