As Mother’s Day approaches, many of us think about our mother, grandmother, and maybe a motherlike female who took care of us in ways we treasure. We enjoy the stories our family and friends tell about these women who have touched our hearts with their unending love. Sister Renee Kopacz has joined our shared story table by telling her story about her mom, Rose Elizabeth Kopacz.
Two words come to mind when Sister Renee thinks about her mom: loving and compassionate. While growing up in the Kopacz family, Renee says, “Religion was a big part of my family. My mother and father taught us to be very good Catholics.” Growing up around St. Stanislaus Kostak parish, Niagara Falls, New York, she attended St. Stanislaus grammar school and later a Catholic high school. Each week began with Sunday Mass, and throughout the week, the family attended religious and social functions under Mom’s rules. Renee says, “That was your life, the parish life.”
Her mom and her dad provided their children with a loving, caring, and supportive environment. It was her mom whom Sister Renee first approached about religious life. Nervously, she said, “Mom, you know I’m going to enter the convent.” Then, with tears in her eyes, her mom expressed her concern about Renee “liking good times and little children too much.” In those days, most parents wanted their daughters to marry and have children. After talking things out, Renee says, “She gave me a big hug, and we both cried tears of joy.”
The qualities Sister Renee’s mom emulated as a parent helped S. Renee in her ministry as a Sister of the Divine Child kindergarten teacher and principal. “I think my mother taught me how to be like her,” she says. “If you are not loving and compassionate to younger children, they won’t warm up to you. They know they are loved if you care about them for real.” Following her mom’s strong Catholic faith made it easy for S. Renee to include prayers before meals and snacks and share the Gospel stories at the children’s level. “The students took the love of Jesus to heart; every day, we introduced Jesus to the children. One of my students is now a Jesuit priest. I’m so proud of him! That affirms your ministry.” Renee may not have been a mother to her children as her mother once pined, but God opened a door for her to love many kindergarteners blessed by her love and compassion and who, in turn, greatly blessed Renee.
Sister Renee’s vocation began with her mother’s “heart of gold.” And, although Rose Elizabeth Kopacz passed away in 2006, on the exact day her mom passed away, 50 years earlier, Renee still feels her mom’s presence when praying. St. Therese of Lisieux once said, “The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the heart of a mother.” As Renee reflects on her mom and her “heart of gold” before Mother’s Day, she feels blessed by the masterpiece God so generously sent her.