A devout prayer life kept her from despair, and praying with the poor gave her renewed strength.
Josephine Dudzik was born in 1860 to a loving family in Plociz, Poland. She had a big heart, always wanting to care for those in need.
As Dudzik grew up, she continued to serve the poor and needy of her community and was always on the lookout for opportunities to exercise charity towards others. Her sister remembered how “[Josephine] could not bear to see people in need without coming to their aid. She would share her supper with a poor girl. She took food to a sick neighbor. She aided another by sitting her with her children so that the neighbor could attend Mass. With money she saved, she bought medicine for others.”
After graduation she emigrated to the United States with her family and settled in Chicago. Dudzik immediately became engaged in the parish life of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church and joined the Secular Third Order of St. Francis. Like Francis, she had a heart for the poor and desired to help them any way possible.
Then in 1893 there was a great financial crisis in Chicago and her pastor advised her to found a new religious community. After much prayer and discernment she established on December 8, 1894 the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago. Their mission was to help the elderly, infirm and those most in need.
Now known as Sister Mary Theresa, she immediately went to work. She was extremely selfless, always caring about other people. Mary Theresa once said, “I felt the misery and suffering of others, and it seemed to me that I could not love Jesus, or even expect Heaven if I were concerned only about myself.”
With this type of self-sacrificial mindset she built the St. Joseph Home for the Aged and Crippled, where her sisters abided by a strict schedule of prayer that sustained them while they tended to the many needs of their residents.
The sisters were themselves very poor, but despite their poverty, were able to rely on God to provide for all their needs. Sr. Mary Theresa was later able to open up the St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum, where her sisters took care of numerous children.
She bore all her sufferings with a joyful heart, offering them up to God, trusting in his providential plan. A devout prayer life kept her from despair, and praying with the poor gave her renewed strength. She wrote, “Despite all cares and worries, I never felt weary. My greatest joy was kneeling to say the evening prayers and Rosary with the residents. I rejoiced when I saw how fervently and willingly they prayed.”
Sr. Mary Theresa died on September 20, 1918 in Chicago and left a lasting legacy of care for the poor. In 1979 her cause was officially opened and in 1994 John Paul II gave her the title of “venerable.”
Check out our series on the Saints of the United States.