Sister Regina Ciukaj, CSC

(January 27, 1936 - January 16, 2014)

Word has been received of the death of Sister Regina Ciukaj, who died at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 16, 2014, in Saint Mary's Convent, Notre Dame, Indiana.

Sister Regina was a delightful, simple religious who could light up a room with her beautiful smile. The humility and simplicity of Sister Regina can be seen in the record of ministry Sister submitted to the archives office for her 20 years of service at St. Mary’s School in Niles, Michigan. It reads simply, “Is a teacher at St. Mary’s School.” This certainly does not reflect the reality of the gift of self she gave to the school. However, two letters in her file tell the real story; one is from Bishop James A. Murray of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, and the other is from Frank C. Wippel, superintendent of schools. The bishop wrote in part, “May I take this occasion to express my personal appreciation for you, for the example you have shown, and for the encouragement and support you have given in St. Mary School. I am sure you are filled with gratitude to the Lord for giving you the opportunity to touch so many lives.” This praise was echoed by the superintendent when he wrote from personal experience, “I have always enjoyed my visits to your classroom. The environment which you created was conducive to learning, and I recognize that the students grew spiritually and academically under your direction.” These wonderful commendations reflect the impact that Sister Regina had on the lives of all the students and parents she nurtured during her 52 years of ministry in the elementary schools of the Midwest.

In every school where she taught or was principal, Sister Regina was noted foremost for her love of the children. The love she had for them and their parents colored everything she did, and they loved her in return. They recognized that she was fair in dealing with every situation; no one felt that decisions were arbitrary because standard procedures were always followed. She taught the students, even her little second-graders, that you are free to choose but you also are choosing the consequences of your choices, a very deep concept for the little ones. They understood, however, and this knowledge surely serves them well in life.

Sister Regina was famous for her organizational skills and the establishment of norms for procedures. Everyone knew the consequences of their actions and that all sides would be heard impartially. She had excellent people skills.

While principal at Holy Redeemer School in Burton, Michigan, Sister Regina demonstrated her ability to teach at all levels when she offered the parents concrete suggestions for creating a successful environment for students’ learning. In brief, they are: 1) tell them every day that you love them; 2) give them a chance to share what is happening in their lives; 3) read to them; 4) provide a schedule/routine; 5) be sure they get enough sleep each night; 6) be an example; and 7) help them grow spiritually. A tall order offered in 1978, but guaranteed even today to produce students with self-worth and integrity. Every place she ministered became a success story. Because she was a private, self-effacing person, she turned aside praise and directed the credit to others. In 1990, on her individual information sheet for the congregation, she wrote, “My gifts are very ordinary — love of children, friendly, honest, open-minded about most things, helpful, and a good listener.” Most would not characterize these wonderful gifts as ordinary, but Sister Regina would.

This remarkable religious carried these qualities into retirement where she continued to value interacting with each person she met. These encounters enriched her life and gave her insights which she cherished. The close-knit relationship she maintained with her family flowed naturally from her Polish heritage, as did her work ethic. It was a blessing for her to be assigned to various missions that were within driving distance from her roots in Chicago, Illinois. To Sister Regina’s delight, family members took advantage of this proximity and visited often. The devotion she had for family extended to her Holy Cross family as well, and her love of community was obvious in the daily interaction with her sisters.

Sister Regina was a deeply spiritual person and valued quiet time for prayer. However, her devotion to the rosary drew her to any public recitation of this truly Catholic prayer. She never missed praying with the rosary society at their weekly gathering in the parish church and rejoiced in this opportunity to honor Mary under the title, Queen of the Holy Rosary. Regina, as a child, was thrilled to have the privilege of crowning the Blessed Mother statue in the May procession ceremony, so now she accepted her own heavenly crown when she joined the Blessed Mother before the throne of God. Sister Regina is resting in peace.


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