Teachers know they have made an impact on their students when those students attend their birthday parties. When Sister Mary Fidelma Kakol turned 100 in October, her former students packed the Blessed Mary Angela Care Center to wish her well.
Sister Fidelma has spent an amazing 82 years as a Felician sister, and another four years being taught by them at Villa Maria Academy, which acted as a boarding school back in the 1930s. Now suffering from dementia and often non-verbal, this centenarian represents a lifecycle of a typical religious sister.
First, she met the sisters when they taught her at Transfiguration School in her native Olean. In eighth grade, a sister directed her to Immaculate Heart of Mary Academy, which acted as a boarding school. Right after graduation, the former Sophie Kakol entered the Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent and prepared to be a Felician Sister. On Aug. 12, 1944, she professed her final vows in the order.
The most common ministry for sisters is teaching, and Sister Fidelma was no exception. She taught kindergarten at Our Lady of Czestochowa in North Tonawanda. She went on to teach at several schools in the diocese. She was even able to return home to Transfiguration in Olean for a year. She also served as an organist and led the boys' choir at St. Stanislaus Parish in Buffalo.
"She could play the piano extremely well," said her sister who is also a Felician, Sister M. Henriella.
In 1958, Sister Fidelma was asked to assist with training young ladies for religious life and received the title vice mistress in the Novitiate of Holy Name of Mary Convent in Toronto. After a year, with travel crossed off her checklist, Sister returned to Buffalo to teach in and outside of the city. She had the ability to get students interested in the cultural and educational world around them. Her students remember her as a kind and polite teacher who was capable of holding their interest. Prepare the next generation to take care of the world? - check.
In 1975, Sister became involved in parish ministry, serving at St. John Kanty's in Buffalo for 12 years. Then, as is typical when a sister has trouble with mobility, Sister Fidelma served her sisters as the receptionist at Villa Maria Convent. She later became director of the convent. In 2008, due to failing health, she became a patient of the Felician Health and Wellness Center, now known as the Blessed Mary Angela Care Center, being cared for by her fellow sisters.
"She's been in this care center for some time and they go through some activities," said Sister Henriella, who reads to her sister every night. "I'm not able to attend those activities, but I think that does a lot for her to see different things in the world. So, I told the librarian if she could get some easy books from our library. She brought me five books. I would take one book at a time, and she would read. But they were easy books."
In preparation for her diamond jubilee in 2011, Sister Fidelma was asked to write a short piece about herself. She wrote, "I am grateful for the many sisters I lived with over the years. I am especially happy to have my blood sister, SM Henriella, living next door and visiting me every day in my later years. I am happy to be living for this celebration and for the care I receive to help me live well. Knowing that God and the community take care of me, I have no worries. In my life as a Felician Sister I was happy to use my musical gifts in the classes I taught and in Church for services."