Thanks to her dream of serving in the foreign missions, Sister Elaine Czarnezki, SDS became a “global thinker” early on. Her world became much bigger than her hometown of Medford, Wis. in the Diocese of Superior. She was born there in 1928, fifth of seven children to John and Emma Czarnezki.
Elaine met her first Salvatorian at age nine, when Brother Gordian Jungwirth, SDS came to her family home selling The Savior’s Call and Manna magazines. Ten years later, she wrote to Salvatorian Sisters at St. Mary’s Hospital in Wausau, Wis., asking for information about the Congregation. Elaine became a candidate with the Sisters of the Divine Savior when she was 19 years old, and later that year received the name Sr. Cor Mariae when she entered the novitiate. She made first vows on August 13, 1949 and final vows six years later.
Sr. Elaine earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Milwaukee’s Alverno College in 1958, and a master’s in American history from Notre Dame University in 1962. She did post-graduate work at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and later studied Swahili at the University of Syracuse in New York.
Sr. Elaine taught junior high students at Mother of Good Counsel School in Milwaukee and St. Therese School in Schofield, Wis. At Divine Savior High School, she taught for four years and served as principal for two years. She also taught history, political science and economics at Divine Savior Junior College in Milwaukee. A “most exciting challenge” to serve in foreign missions finally came in 1964, when Sr. Elaine was asked to open a girls’ secondary school in Masasi, Tanzania in East Africa. She served at the school as headmistress and later as a teacher.
In 1974, Sr. Elaine completed clinical pastoral education at Deaconess Hospital in Milwaukee. For the next 10 years, she served as a staff member of the Pastoral Care Department, and later became the director of pastoral care at Divine Savior Hospital & Nursing Home in Portage, Wis. In this ministry, Sr. Elaine was a gentle presence among the people she served. In a newspaper profile she was described, “…her presence and actions are a witness to the love of God for His people, enlightening and inspiring others with the values of Christ. This gentle presence of Sister Elaine indicates more than physical presence. Here is a Salvatorian woman who can deeply listen, care, and empathize. She is building bridges in helping others to be in touch with the Father.” In her ministry, she often asked the question, “What is your relationship with God?” It sparked responses that opened hearts to a lived faith life, pain, tears and a whole life story.
In 1986, Sr. Elaine felt called to a new ministry in Holly Springs, Miss., where she joined the social services staff at Sacred Heart Southern Missions. She came to know the poor, elderly and sick in Benton and Marshall Counties, and networked with many different agencies to secure services for them. Beyond the services, she offered hope, love and a presence that lifted their hearts. She also worked with immigrants entering the U.S. and advocated for immigration reform.
After 16 years, Sr. Elaine returned to Milwaukee, where she answered the call to serve as the Coordinator for Peace & Justice for her Salvatorian province. She believed, “living the mission of the Sisters of the Divine Savior means working for justice and peace in varied ways.” In this ministry she educated and offered opportunities for Salvatorian Sisters to live Gospel values by responding to local, national and global justice issues.
Even after moving to our Salvatorian Sisters Residence (SSR), Sr. Elaine continued to think globally by encouraging participation in the Province Lenten projects and developing ways to promote the culture of solidarity within her SSR community. Sr. Elaine had strong and bold ideas on political and social issues, and expressed them freely without “telling you how to vote.” She also advocated for other Salvatorian Sisters who needed assistance, especially the late Sr. Lawrence Bergs, SDS.
Sr. Elaine once said, “Each ministry has helped me to understand the gift of God’s love at different times in my life. My vocation has been a gift and I have been blessed in religious life. I have learned that God is always walking with us in good and painful times. I was never alone.”
Sr. Elaine felt the presence of God when her Salvatorian Sisters gathered to pray with her on January 2, 2016. She died that afternoon at the age of 87 and professed for 66 years.