A religious life
Our journey by sea to New Zealand in 1944 was a happy one. But some parts of it, especially when we were crossing the equator, were extremely hot and exhausting. I lost my appetite and felt very tired. By the time we arrived in Wellington it was much cooler and I felt so much better.
Our first two weeks in Pahiatua were wet and miserable. We couldn't get our luggage and it was raining most of the time, and we began to feel sorry for ourselves being so far away from Poland. We hoped that at the end of the war we would return to our homeland, but were very disappointed when, in 1945, our country was taken over by communism against our will. We all knew from experience what Stalin's regime was like and that we would not be safe there, so we had no choice but to stay in New Zealand.
We had our own school in the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua and when we arrived I was enrolled in the camp's Polish High School. Ours was a mixed class of boys and girls. We learned Latin and English as a second language, and it began with me trying to translate English into Polish word for word but it didn't work. We ended up with some very funny expressions and we laughed so much that the teacher decided we should start thinking in English.
One day, our teacher Miss Neligan asked us what colours of bread we knew? All the answers were black and white, but I was daydreaming and said brown. In Polish, we usually called brown bread "black" and for me it seemed that my answer was stupid. To my surprise the teacher said that I was right!
When I completed my studies in the camp's Polish High School and decided to stay in New Zealand, I was sent to St Dominic's College in Dunedin where my younger sister was already boarding. When I asked her what the Sisters were like, she replied that they were very nice, "but they are not for you". It was an excellent school and the Sisters did all they could to help us with our study and religious education. They made a very good impression on me, as they had a deep spirituality like the contemplatives.
From my youngest years, it was my dream to become a religious Sister, even before I knew there were religious orders. When my teacher in Poland read to us about Mary when she was presented in the temple to serve God, I made up my mind to do the same when I grew up. As I didn't know any other congregations, I applied to the Dominican Sisters I had associated with page 108at the college. I admired the way they combined their deep spirituality with their teaching and I felt this was what I wanted to be – a Dominican for the rest of my life. During my difficult times, I always turned to God and Mary, and reflected on my initial call. Through this, I always found the strength to carry on.
When I ask myself what gives me life after 50 years of my religious life and how do I stand before God, I find the answer in the catechism. God made us for Himself to share with us His divine life and love. Therefore, I try to aspire to achieve a personal, intimate and conscious union with God who is the source of all life and love. St Augustine tells us that we will never find peace until our broken hearts find rest in Him. Then we can be happy and share the joy with others.
I do not look back and nor have I any regrets for choosing to be a Dominican. My gratitude goes back to my parents, who died in Siberia, and to so many good people who helped me. My prayer is that God may reward and bless them abundantly.
Sister Jadwiga celebrates 50 years as a Dominican Sister, surrounded by former Polish children refugees in the Polish House in Auckland. (Maiden names in italics)
(l-r) Jan Jarka, Stanisława Nowacka Piotrowska, Tadeusz Mazur, Jan Roy-Wojciechowski, Jadwiga Cooper Jarka (seated), Maria Jaśkiewicz Dac, Franciszek Kubiak, Maria Kolodzińska Nowotarska, Zofia Bieniowska Rombel, Sister Jadwiga, Janina Szczepańska Malczewska, Jadwiga Kolodzińska Nawrocka, Jan Pąk, Zofia Nowak Głogowska, Rozalia Zazulak Manterys (seated), Kazimierz Rajwer, Roman Kolodziński, Jan Kaźmierów, Cecylia Zazulak Gawlik, Irena Pąk Iwan