Sister Margaret Kwiatkowski

Sister Margaret KwiatkowskiMargaret’s story in community over the past 60 years has been a process of discovery: of herself, of many varied cultures, and of how her life has intersected with our broader society. Margaret attended a parish school in West Allis, Wisconsin, where she met the School Sisters of St. Francis. After attending a high school sponsored by another community, she realized that her nature was more akin to Franciscanism. Evaluating what to do after high school, in those days of significant societal change, Margaret told herself of religious life: “Try it!”

She reflected on “What do the changes mean for me? What does the rest of the world think?” She said, “I never expected the shifts to even occur, and certainly not as quickly as they were happening.” These were the years when the community sponsored programs such as Focus Out and Living Aware. The most meaningful message she heard at this time was “Take responsibility for your life,” and she took this to heart.

She remembers that after earning her degree from Alverno, she was teaching primary students and reading an article about Antarctica in a student newspaper. She realized that she needed to gain a broader experience of the world, and “get out of the Midwest!” While teaching these young children, she recognized that some needed greater preparation even before starting first grade. She began taking early childhood education courses. While teaching in a Catholic school in Fairbanks Alaska, looking for a different position, she was offered a summer school position on a military post.

She applied for, and was accepted, as a day care teacher at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska – a major milestone in her development of a different cultural awareness. A short time after arriving, however, she was invited to become director of the day care center, and then coordinator of all the preschools on the post. While it was a personal challenge, Margaret grew in confidence. Soon, her title grew to be child development coordinator and program director of the day care, preschool, and home day care centers. She helped direct the building of the child development center serving children ages six weeks to preschool. She shared that the “military believes in ‘recruit a soldier, re-enlist a family.’” 

After attending higher education, she collaborated with professionals from other military childcare programs during a few weeks in summer in Atlanta. They were tasked by the military, to write the first child development program regulations for all U.S. Army/ Air Force military bases. This involved considerations like required space, personnel ratios, food requirements, certification processes, and curricula. “Being in the military culture, the state of Alaska, and school in Atlanta was exciting, insightful, and affirming,” Margaret said. “I believe I was able to incorporate our School Sisters values in our work.”

Although she kept in contact with School Sister friends during this time, after four years Margaret decided she needed greater community interaction. “I loved Alaska, the interdependence, opportunities for initiation, learning self-awareness, and the natural environment. But I also knew I had done as much as I believed I could do.”

Margaret capitalized on the opportunity to obtain her master’s degree in human development with an emphasis on early development, all paid for by her military retirement income. This degree led to a position in Lexington, Kentucky, where she experienced the southern black culture. “It was a different type of challenge, but I grew from it,” she said.

Margaret found another culture after moving to California. She was invited to teach primary children in a school where English was the second language of most students. She thrived there for 20 years, her fourth major cultural immersion. “I loved the relationships, ministry and spiritual opportunities while also serving as area coordinator, helping the Southwest sisters, and working for the Care of Creation Committee,” she said. “Caring for creation is part of who I am.”

Now, in semi-retirement, Margaret continues to assist her sisters and the U.S. Province. She reflected, “I’m confident that I can function in different situations. In working with the sisters, I can bring who I am to what I’m doing. I love being connected to other women who have a similar sense of direction.”

Yes, Margaret, your life has truly been a journey of self-discovery and growth through many cultures bringing your dedication and Franciscan values to countless people.

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