Felicia has been a School Sister of St. Francis for 60 years. When asked why she joined the School Sisters, she said, “I like nuns. I liked these nuns more than others. They liked work; I liked work. When I worked with them, I felt a lively, creative atmosphere I got nowhere else. They were musical, and I was a musician. They drank beer at parish picnics; I drank beer. Still today, I feel the School Sisters’ life-giving energy when we share a meal around a table and have our spiritually charged conversations.”
The nuns she knew taught at St. Joseph’s in Summit, Illinois, the parish her family belonged to and worshiped at. Her mother thought that she should join the St. Casimir Sisters (they were Lithuanian, like her mother), but Felicia thought the sisters at St. Joseph parish were much more relatable.
Felicia is of the "Baby Boom" generation and came of age in the 1960s when the world was either falling apart or waking up, depending on your point of view. There was so much change it became daunting, even frightening. Felicia assumed that everything would change no matter what she did., and felt life was like crossing a river on steppingstones that disappeared behind her.
She began teaching at St. Maria Goretti grade school in Schiller Park when Catholic schools were being built so fast that she only had three walls to her classroom when school started in September. After Vatican II, Catholic attitudes changed and grammar school populations began to drop.
Felicia went on to teach high school at St. Patrick’s in Chicago, and Montini in Lombard. Catholic high schools began losing population and shutting down. By the mid-1970s, the pastor of St. Philomena Parish was concerned about the number of parish children who were not in Catholic schools. He asked Felicia to direct a religious education program for all parish children.
Felicia said the nine years at St. Philomena were some of the happiest she experienced in her career. She was able to build teams of teachers and assistants. "I could be the most creative," she said. "I found that I really love to work with a team. My goal in life is to build and collaborate with a good team. The team at St. Philomena was all leadership people, authentic and creative. I didn’t have to worry about how best to say something so egos wouldn’t flare up. I felt free to express my creativity."
Felicia is most proud of the Confirmation program that she developed with Peg and Doug Zieman and Father John Hillenbrand. The Archdiocese of Chicago even came out to make a video of it. “Years later, the four of us recalled, ‘You know, we did a remarkable thing. That Confirmation program could save the Church, if anyone cared.’"
After St. Philomena’s, Felicia went to St. Mary of Celle in Berwyn, Ascension Parish in Oak Park, and then St. Peter Canisius in Chicago. There, she was back with Father John Hillenbrand, who was dearly loved by his people. The creativity flowed again.
After Father John died from Huntington's disease in 2006, Felicia ran the parish until Cardinal Francis George could get a priest to be pastor. This was not an easy task for an inner-city parish. A year later, a new pastor was appointed and he decided to cut the budget by eliminating the director of religious education (DRE) position. In time, most DRE positions in the Archdiocese of Chicago were eliminated. Another step in the path disappeared.
Felicia began teaching at Loyola and later at Dominican University. After about 15 years, politics and the COVID-19 pandemic took their toll on small colleges, especially in Illinois, and today they are fighting for survival. Another stone in the path was gone, and Felicia retired, "figuring it's time for a new adventure.”
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