A Heart of Generosity & Love | Sr. Agnes Paulina, O.P.
With her parents, Sister Agnes Paulina emigrated to the United States from Poland. Influenced by Saint John Paul II, who she met while living in Poland, Sister eventually discerned her Religious vocation and joined the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, where she shares her love of God generously with everyone she meets.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz: How would you say [your life in Poland] influenced the person you are today?
Sr. Agnes Paulina: I think it’s beautiful because in our convent we take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Poverty has a special place in my heart because it gives us that dependence on God and whatever His will is, whatever He gives us or doesn’t give us. I think back to my parents and how they were trustful in the circumstances, even difficult ones, that everything would be okay. [God] is always in control, and I don’t have to worry about anything. It’s when I try to fight Him when difficulties come because when we go against God’s will, things start to get tricky and complicated. It’s our responsibility to share with others what we’ve been given freely.
We had these vivid memories of our parents being forced to speak Russian or to do certain things against our Faith that they don’t want to do, and we took the ownership of our faith very seriously and the ownership of our history because we knew that if we don’t, somebody will take that away from us. I think it’s very critical today, especially for the world, to realize that there are values that don’t change that should always be respected, and they can’t be wiped out of human nature.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz: Why did you leave Poland?
Sr. Agnes Paulina: My family took a leap of faith in 2001, and we left for California, which is where my dad’s great-uncle settled in the ’60s. That was in the times of intense Communism, suffering, and poverty, and they wanted to give me and my brother a sense of being able to live the American dream. They wanted us to cherish the opportunity to grow and be a fully-developed human person, and they thought that that was going to be the best way that could happen.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz: Sister, what are some of your earliest memories when you came to the United States? What was it like to come into a different culture, country, and language?
Sr. Agnes Paulina: Culture shock. My family immigrated to the middle of the melting pot in Southern California, so I was surrounded by every culture and religion possible. I attended a public high school because my family couldn’t afford to send me to any other school. Entering high school at a liberal school was an interesting experience, but it’s also beautiful because my mom once told me she always prayed for me to meet good people, and that’s exactly what happened everywhere I went. I met one or two Catholic friends, and we became good friends throughout our whole life. I still keep in touch with them, and it’s beautiful, but it was shocking to see that not everybody is open about their religion and that religion is a taboo subject. You don’t necessarily practice it because you don’t want to offend other people, or maybe you’re afraid of being made fun of for your beliefs, not that that would’ve been done through any sort of administrative process, but it’s peer pressure. You want to be cool, and you don’t want to be made fun of. It’s been a beautiful experience to know that God always provides in those situations and that He finds those special people in our life to help guide us towards Him. Besides that, I think it was hard work because I had to learn another language from scratch. I was working hard because I wanted to give back to my family what they have given me by leaving the country. I put a lot of time into my education because I knew that my parents left everything behind for me and my brother to be able to take any opportunity that we can to develop and mature.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz: How did you find our community?
Sr. Agnes Paulina: I took a break from school after I graduated and finished a residency. I wanted to find a home and a good job where Catholic values were respected. That was important to me. At that point, I was thinking of healthcare. I thought, “Since I’m doing nothing at home, I’ll start,” so I did a lot of things.
I found an Ignatian exercises class offered at our parish nearby, and that was one of the hardest things for me to do. It was to start praying with the Bible daily and make a holy hour daily because there’s a lot of distractions. I started thinking I wanted for God to show me who He is. I asked him. That’s when everything started rolling. God was so patient with me. He kept waiting. Even as a little girl, I had this intense desire to give Him my whole heart, but I didn’t know what that meant. Later on, in my teenage years whenever we would pray for vocations, I wanted to hide under the carpet, hoping nobody saw my red face at that point.
I fell in love with the Lord. He was kind, beautiful, and loving. I never experienced that love before, the love that I was craving for so long that the world couldn’t give me. I was distracted with so many things that it took a lot of silence and seriousness to be open to what God had to say.
I was discerning at that point with my spiritual director, who mentioned the Dominicans because he knew that I liked to study. I said, “Dominicans. Where are any Dominicans? I don’t see any Dominicans around.” I searched the internet thinking, “I’m going to tell Father, ‘I’m not sure where you’re thinking about.'” God had a sense of humor because our community was the first one to come up, and I saw these beautiful, young sisters running around with a frisbee, praying the Rosary, and having Eucharistic Holy Hour. I thought, “That’s the life I’m living right now.” I saw that a discernment retreat was coming up shortly, and I signed up and went. That was the weekend that John Paul II was canonized.
I thought, “I prayed to you [St. John Paul II] so many years ago. I feel like this is slowly starting to come together.” The following day when we were in Mass at our chapel in Ann Arbor, I felt like I was home.
Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz: That is beautiful. I cannot thank God enough for you and giving you the graces and leading you the way that He has and your beautiful parents and your brother. [I am thankful for] all the richness that you bring to our community, which is important for us. God bless.