Sr Stefana of the Sorrowful Mother was born in Podolia, in the town of Borschuk (then Poland, today’s Ukraine) on the 14th of April, in 1928. Her father, Joseph Dmitrzak, was a professional worker, her mother, Ludwika Pawlik, took care of the home and family. Sister was named Maria at her baptism, being the third child, preceded by two sisters, Angela and Aleksandra and followed by a brother, Bronek.
The war completely devastated the life of Sr Stefana’s family. On the 10th of February, 1940, without any warning, the family was forced by the Russians to leave their house and their whole estate, to be deported to Russia, to Siberia.
Maria remembered well that winter morning, when the Russian officers knocked on the door and told them to get out of the house, taking only the most necessary things. They first loaded the whole family on a wagon, not telling them it was the first stage of a deportation to Siberia. The journey to Siberia, shared with many other Polish families, took place in cattle cars – overflowing to the limit, without heating, without water and without any toilet facilities.
After a long and hard journey in frosty weather, all who arrived alive, were unloaded and placed in very primitive rooms. The deportees were assigned to work in the forest. Maria, her brother and other children were placed in a Russian school. Shortly afterwards her father and brother died, being buried in Russia.
After two long years, in 1942, came the amnesty and the permission for Polish families to leave Russia. Although families stopped being treated as prisoners of war, they were not permitted to return to their own country. Maria, with her mother and sisters, like many other compatriots, were first taken to Teheran in Persia (now Iran), where they stayed for a few weeks under tents. Afterwards they were resettled together with 5,000 other people, mainly women and children, in Tanzania in eastern Africa, near Mount Kilimanjaro. There they lived in a typical African home, made of clay and African grass. Eventually in 1944, Maria and her surviving family reached England, and settled there. Her older sister, Angela, got married, and soon Aleksandra also started a family and took care of their mother. After the death of their mother, both Aleksandra and Angela and their children, maintained close contact with Maria.
Maria was introduced to our Congregation through a Polish priest and thereafter decided to devote the remainder of her life to God. She joined the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Pitsford, England on the 16th October, 1949.
Her novitiate and her first vows took place in Albano, Italy. She pronounced her first vows on the 12th August 1952. Afterwards she was sent to work in an orphanage in Brisbane, Australia, returning to Rome in 1957 to undertake her preparation for final vows, which took place on the 2nd August in 1958.
In 1960 Sister was transferred to Pitsford, England, where she engaged in a ministry of hospitality and served as sacristan; subsequently was assigned in 1966 to Ponders End (Children’s Nursery) at Loreto Convent (England). She devoted herself to the kindergarten with great dedication, working with Sister Scholastic. She loved children and they loved her too. Parents of small children greatly appreciated her whole hearted sacrificial work. Numerous people expressed this gratitude during Sister’s life, remembering her on such occasions as Christmas, birthdays and other holidays.
In 1976 Sister moved to the Enfield convent and continued her work with children’s play groups until 1992, when her sight began to deteriorate. She was then only able to attend to simple tasks such as looking after the garden and its flowers which she loved, until her vision was completely impaired.
This caused her great suffering putting an end to her daily, active life, at a time when her general state of health was almost completely satisfactory. On the 8th December 2018, several months prior to her 91st birthday, on the feast of her beloved Mother of God, she was taken to the hospital to diagnose a rather sudden weakness. She remained in Barnet hospital just over four weeks during which time her physical condition progressively deteriorated. The last week in hospital she was unable to communicate with visitors. On the joyful feast of the Epiphany, her local community of Sisters in Enfield gathered to recite the rosary for Sr Stefana. Shortly afterwards a call came from the hospital informing them that Sr Stefana died.
With eyes that are no longer extinguished, we believe she has been welcomed into the house of her heavenly father and her beloved mother, Mary. May she rest in peace.