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Rosalie Marie Major, OSB
(a.k.a. Sister Mary Bernice, O.S.B.)

Reflection written and read by Sister Christine Kouba, OSB
Wake Service May 18, 2021

Sister Rosalie Marie Major was born in Chicago on September 26, 1917 to Albert and Zofia Major. She was baptized “Rosalie” at St. Adalbert’s Church on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October7th. (Marie was her confirmation name). She was the fifth child in a family of seven siblings, one of whom was adopted at three months of age after a train wreck left him orphaned.

Rosalie attended a Chicago public elementary school in her neighborhood as well as taking ballet and folk dance lessons with a dance instructor who lived at a distant Chicago neighborhood. However, as a youngster, she was able to travel by herself on a streetcar across town to meet her trainer. Later, with her brother Tony, she learned acrobatics and the two of them performed regularly wherever they were invited in theaters or public parks. She enjoyed her life in Chicago being immensely proud of her parents who came from Poland and with an enterprising spirit were successful in business owning a variety store in the Harrison Park area. She felt grateful for the many opportunities she had in Chicago.

Being a lively teen ager who loved meeting new people, she became friends with a young group at St. Vitus parish who spoke highly of Father Hilary Jurica, OSB, the weekend assistant priest at St. Vitus from St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle. Her friends were captivated by him because of his interest in engaging youth to take Saturday adventure trips to the Chicago zoo, museums, parks or even places of vocational interest. She began to join her new friends and it so happened that Father Hilary became her mentor as well as being influential in introducing her to the Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Lisle. This connection set her on the path in becoming interested in religious life. Subsequently, she enrolled at Sacred Heart Academy for her high school education and after graduating in 1936, she entered Sacred Heart Monastery to discern her vocation by living the traditions of the Rule of St. Benedict with the Benedictine Sisters. After two years, she decided to stay on, trusting in God’s love and mercy by professing her first vows in 1938 and final vows in 1941.

Sister Rosalie received her B.A. degree in elementary education from DePaul University in Chicago but continued to do coarse work along with teaching wherever she was assigned to teach. It is notable that teaching primary children would be her life’s major ministry as she proved to be a conscientious teacher who focused on the wellbeing of every child. Her teaching in parochial schools spanned twenty-five years in the following Illinois schools: St. Michael, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Vitus in Chicago, St Joseph Orphanage and St. Joan of Arc in Lisle along with St. Ambrose in Crest Hill, as well as St. Paul School in Fort Worth, Texas.

After her parochial Schools’ experience, she ventured into preparing herself for the Montessori method of education. She began taking correspondence courses for her certification from the Saint Nicholas Training Center with faculties in London, England and Edinberg, Scotland. Then she continued by attending the Lausanne Montessori School in Memphis, Tennessee watching demonstration lessons and did laboratory practice of the Montessori method. In 1968, with her academic background, she was ready to teach and was hired for the Montessori Schools in Winfield and Elmhurst.

In 1970, the Montessori School method began to be looked for by interested families in Lisle and plans were made to rent unused space in our monastery building for the first phase of the school operation. Sister Rosalie was chosen to be the directress. When the school was gradually in full session, it showed signs of superior achievement with Sister Rosalie in charge. President Howard Reese of Reese Group, Inc., who had two children in the school, wrote a letter of congratulations to the board of directors, stating Sister Rosalie’s performance: “Sister Rosalie has provided a needed and rare combination of many talents. She was respected by all factions involved in our struggles during the time we were attempting to create a new Montessori learning environment. Her goal was to provide the focus on the students’ welfare which was clearly instrumental in the success of the school.”

Sister Rosalie continued to be the directress until 1975 when the school would move from our monastery location due to plans for our new construction and expansion. However. Sister Rosalie would not be going to the new place but due to her outstanding leadership, The Lisle Montessori School was renamed: Rose Hill Montessori in honor of Sister Rosalie and relocated to 1203 Lisle Place, in Lisle; where the Rose Hill Montessori is still thriving today giving 3 to 6 year olds a strong academic foundation for lifelong learning.

Though Sister Rosalie’s formal classroom teaching was completed, she would continue to do other important ministries in her future with ready enthusiasm. As a loving and charitable religious sister, she was able to touch many people in various needs everywhere she went. Dr. Enas was looking for a receptionist who would welcome patients as well as do office work. He was pleased to find Sister Rosalie who did her work with such joy and energy that everyone there took on the same spirit. After her stint for a few years being office manager, she found out Dr. Enas would be leaving his practice to research cardiac decease internationally. Again changing her position, Sister Rosalie came to takeover miscellaneous duties in the monastery with a willing heart. Her first desire was to learn how to use the computer to be able to email her relatives in Poland. Then, she began taking charge of monastery guests, taught Francisco how to use the dish machine and helped him wash dishes, made welcome banners for the new residents’ doors and visited the new residents, led the residents in praying the rosary every afternoon in the chapel, became a companion to the residents for Bingo games, taught our international Sister-students American protocol, and found even other ways to be active. When she could no longer walk around, she luckily inherited a motorized scooter and then would go speeding through the long hallways to resident rooms. Though she never drove a car in her life, she became a competent scooter driver and loved it. She even ventured to drive outside in the summer months always arriving at our Lady of Lourdes Grotto with confidence.

May 16, 2021, on the glorious feast day of the Ascension of our Lord, she too rose to the heights of Heaven to be with God for all eternity. How blessed and joyful her soul must be now after suffering earthly pain of her body. At a hundred and three and a half years old, she is leaving us a legacy of Benedictine hospitality. As St. Benedict says: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” Well, that is exactly what she did for she knew that Christ would say to her when she died: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matt 25:35). In her dying moments, friends and family members would tell us how much she meant to them and how much they appreciated her hospitality, always wondering if they were fed and had a place to stay, would console them at times of suffering, carrying them on in prayer with a tender heart.

How often she told us community members: “We have so many blessings here at Sacred Heart Monastery.” We all agreed knowing that she herself was one of our most gracious blessings.”

From the Archives

Sister Rosalie is a native of Chicago’s west side. She is the fifth child of Albert and Zofia Major who immigrated from Poland when they were teenagers. The family totaled seven children, one of whom was adopted at three months of age after a train accident left him orphaned.

During her elementary school years, Sister Rosalie made the acquaintance of a Benedictine priest, Father Hilary Jurica, O.S.B., who was influential in introducing her to the Sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery. After eighth grade, she visited the monastery for two weeks and was attracted by the lifestyle of the Benedictines. Sister Rosalie attended Sacred Heart Academy and entered religious life in August of 1936. She made her simple vows in 1938 and her final vows in 1941.

Teaching was to be Sister Rosalie’s life work, forty-three years in all! She received a B.A degree in Elementary Education from DePaul University and did graduate coursework at the University of Dallas, Loyola and Maryknoll. Her first twenty-five years of teaching were in a variety of Catholic schools in Chicago and Texas where she was twice one of the pioneering Benedictine teachers. The second chapter of her teaching career was spent in Montessori schools at the primary and elementary levels. Rosehill Montessori in Lisle is her namesake.

Sister loves folk dancing and had performed acrobatics from a young age. During her years of teaching, she was involved with children in these areas and arranged many stage performances for special occasions. She also taught religious education classes to the children of the servicemen at Carswell Air Force Base. In addition, she worked for five years at St. Joseph Orphanage (now Benet Academy), caring for young girls and teaching 3rd and 4th grade.

At the monastery, Sister Rosalie initiated the rosary devotion nineteen years ago and enjoys sharing this time with the residents of Benedale Center. Now retired, she prepares welcome banners for new residents who come to live at the Villa St. Benedict’s assisted living facility. Too, she sends residents birthday cards and makes corsages for them for their birthdays. She delights in visiting with and singing with her neighbors at Villa St. Benedict.

You will often find Sister Rosalie at the computer emailing friends. She loves to keep up on current events, helps out at the reception desk and enjoys listening to classical music. She gives thanks to God for the blessings He has bestowed on her throughout her religious life as a Benedictine.