DELRAY BEACH | At St. Vincent Ferrer School in Delray Beach, two religious sisters share the same first name, Elizabeth: Sister Elizabeth Halaj and Sister Elizabeth Kulesa. They also share the vocation: to teach children the faith with a “joyful love for Jesus.”
At the school and parish, Sister Halaj is known as Sister Elizabeth Happy because of her outgoing, joyful smile and persona, and Sister Kulesa as Sister Elizabeth Kind because of her quiet and kind demeanor. “We like to be called Sister Elizabeth K and Sister Elizabeth H,” Sister Elizabeth H said, as it is easy for the children to remember.
Both sisters were born in Poland and belong to the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception religious order. Their motto is “Through Mary to Jesus.” Their nicknames of Kind and Happy were first given to them at their provincial house in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
The 2023 theme for the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Palm Beach is “Faith, Excellence, Service.” Catholic education excels in academia, athletics, service and teaching of the basic tenets of the faith, fostering the formation of well-rounded, productive adults in society.
Sister Elizabeth H, religious education coordinator at the school, said, “Teaching as a vocation means, we give them knowledge. We give them values. We give them faith. Teaching the faith sets a foundation of sharing blessings with others.”
She added, “The giving of oneself to help others is an important message for children to learn, that they can receive more from giving instead of taking. The world gives children today so many wrong messages, and we give them the truth.”
A consecrated religious for 30 years, Sister Elizabeth H said, “We talk about the commandments and the importance of going to the holy Mass on Sunday. We go to church every Friday and they fully participate as lectors, servers and with the collections. Prayer is a big word for them, so I tell them you can talk to Jesus about anything you like. He is real.”
Sister Elizabeth K, a third-grade teaching assistant and consecrated religious for 45 years, said, “Religious set an example for the children. They see the witness of the sister doing God’s work, and they are excited to hear that you are helping God. The children really enjoy listening to the Jesus story. They are very young, and their hearts are open for God.”
Both sisters talked about their calling as Catholic school teachers, a profession that used to be dominated by religious sisters. Sister Elizabeth K said, “When I was in second grade, I was excited to hear about the Jesus stories and what he did for us to forgive our sins. That was the beginning of my vocation. I wanted to help Jesus to help people see what he did for us.”
As a child, Sister Elizabeth H wanted to be a clown because “I wanted to make people happy,” she said. The beginnings of her religious calling occurred before her first Communion when her cousin became a cloistered nun. “I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to be a sister.”
But that desire was put on hold when she was 9 years old. While walking with her brother, a drunk driver hit them. She was fine, but her brother died. “I did not understand why God took my brother,” Sister Elizabeth H said.
It wasn’t until her high school years that she realized she had a religious vocation. Her family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she spent many hours in Eucharistic adoration at St. Anthony Church.
“It was the place of my close relationship with Jesus and the place where my vocation was growing and developing,” Sister Elizabeth H said. “There was no more doubt. Jesus was asking for my whole undivided heart, and my answer was yes.
“We are blessed to have adoration,” she said. “We take the children to the chapel for adoration, and sometimes we see some parents take them right after school.”
Julie O’Brien, director of early childhood education at St. Vincent Ferrer School, said, “I have been teaching at the school for 18 years and I love it (Eucharistic adoration).”
A recent adult visitor to the school was impressed with the manners of a young student before the Friday children’s Mass. The boy said, “Please, go ahead of me, ma’am.” The visitor said, “Thank you, but you can go.” He replied, “No, I have been taught to respect my elders.”
Sister Elizabeth H said with a smile, “Those are the things that should be put in the article to let people know the children are taught to respect their elders. A Catholic education is very important.”
For more information about the school, visit www.stvincentferrer.com or call 561-278-3868. To learn about Catholic education in the diocese, go to www.diocesepbschools.org or follow the Office of Catholic Schools on social media.