Sister Stephanie Dolyniuk, a Sacred Story
During Advent the University of Notre Dame website posted a series of sacred stories. Members of the Notre Dame family, staff, faculty, students and alumni related stories of their faith life. As I listened to them, I thought that each of us has a sacred story, actually lives a sacred story.
Sr. Stephanie’s sacred story began in rural Billings County in western North Dakota. Her mother’s loving care was a deeply formative gift for Stephanie. Her mother’s prayer life became the model for Sr. Stephanie’s prayer. Sr. Stephanie noted that at the time she entered our community she knew a special relationship with God due to her mother’s influence. Her mother’s faith led Stephanie to an enduring trust in a loving God, a God who promises to make all things new, a God whose creation enriched her faith. Her faith was formed as well by the faith of her family and the worship and culture of her Ukranian heritage. She often spoke of the richness of the Ukranian liturgies. In her room she had her own little iconostasis, a collection of icons. She was proud of her father’s role as head cantor at the Sacred liturgy. These gifts remained with her all her days.
Sr. Stephanie’s sacred story was confirmed when she became a member of the community of Annunciation Monastery. Her fondness of the Rule of St. Benedict and its emphasis on community demonstrated benefits of a vibrant community in which members love each other in Christ-like manner. Her ministry assignments became opportunities to share her gifts. She enriched liturgies with her musical talent of guitar and voice. While serving at Corpus Christi parish she initiated ways of aiding the homeless and those in need, creating a food pantry in the parish. This Gospel ministry continued in Las Vegas where she ministered to the homeless and prisoners. With a spirit of Christ-like service she advocated for the poor, expressing in her unique way the beatitude: Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice. Her persistence and trust in God gave her confidence she would receive the help she needed to serve others. She had a sense of justice and worked tirelessly to bring relief to those she served.
Sr. Stephanie lived the beatitude of bringing mercy to the sick, the home-bound, the hospitalized with regular visits. Her sacred story was lived through her funeral ministry as she brought comfort to the dying and to those who mourned. The reading from Revelation which was just proclaimed was a living motto for Stephanie: “God’s dwelling is with the human race. God will dwell with them and they will be his people and God will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
Sr. Stephanie’s sacred story reveals her love of people. Her family meant everything to her; her older siblings were recipients of her love and solicitude. Her extended family, nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, was a source of grateful joy and love. She extended care to her brother Tony. The bond with her sister Betty was precious; Betty was just two years older than Stephanie. They lived together in a small apartment in Bismarck as young working women. Years later, after Betty suffered a stroke, Stephanie went to Las Vegas to offer care to Betty. When Betty moved back to Bismarck, she visited her daily and offered vigilant comfort in Betty’s last days. Stephanie made friends easily and maintained friendships with loyalty and sincere attention.
While in Las Vegas Sr. Stephanie assisted a group of faithful Catholics establish a small mission church in the desert of Sandy Valley, Nevada. They formed a church community which today brings together others with sacred stories and strengthening their faith in a loving God.
Sr. Stephanie’s sacred story includes love of God’s creation, especially animals. Living alone in Las Vegas and Dickinson, she treasured the companionship of her cats, Sophie and Cricket. Frequently she voiced concern for animals, wild and tame, in the cold of winter or extreme heat of summer, noting that animals need water.
Stephanie loved to tell stories, some sacred, others humorous. Who in this assembly has not heard her escalator story? Although she denied it, the escalator story was embellished with each telling! Among the sacred stories there were frequent events when Stephanie was aware of God’s presence in her ministry to the poor, particularly when she needed to provide food or clothing for the homeless. Her interaction with the poor was an encounter with Christ, an expression of God’s love for everyone.
Her faith formation and sacred story continued throughout her life. The charismatic renewal activity in Bismarck supported her relationship with Christ. I believe Sr. Stephanie’s faith allowed her to be “alive at the depth of herself…that what is deepest of her heart’s desire is her truest self where Jesus creates a new person.” (Carroll Stuhlmeuller). The charismatic renewal brought her her heart’s desire in deepening her relationship with Christ.
There were times she and I debated the reality of purgatory. She believed purgatory was a time of purification, prior to the joy of Heaven, which I didn’t deny. I told her, however, I felt that suffering endured in this life is a purgatory, a purification and those who accept suffering, not necessarily as a gift from God, but as part of the human condition, accepting suffering as Christ accepted suffering and death on the cross. Such as these will go straight to God when they die. Stephanie truly endured physical suffering in the last months of her life. I believe that in and with Christ, Sr. Stephanie went straight to God, where God makes all things new, where Sr. Stephanie’s sacred story continues in God’s loving presence and we pray she sees the divine face of God proclaimed in the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
We pray too, that her celebration of Epiphany, continues a celebration of Stephanie’s sacred story in true Ukranian style with loved ones, music, singing and dancing and sharing tasty foods, like cheese buttons. May unending peace and joy in God’s loving presence be yours, dear Stephanie.