Home Our Diocese Bernardine Franciscan Sister Laetitia Okoniewski, a graduate of St. Hedwig School longtime...

Bernardine Franciscan Sister Laetitia Okoniewski, a graduate of St. Hedwig School longtime educator and administrator, dies at 101

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Sister Mary Laetitia Okoniewski, left, and her sister, Bernadette, or Sister de Lourdes.

READING, Pa. — Sister Laetitia Okoniewski, 101, a member of the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters Third Order Regular of St. Francis, died Sept. 15 at St. Joseph Villa in Reading, Pa., where she had lived since 2014. Sister Laetitia grew up in Wilmington and was a member of St. Hedwig Parish as a child.

She attended the parish school and St. Paul Commercial School in Wilmington. She entered the Bernardine Sisters in 1943 and graduated from Villanova University and the University of Notre Dame before beginning a career in education, congregational leadership and diocesan administration. Her ministry included assignments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., as an elementary and secondary teacher, college instructor, college dean of women, director of aspirants/postulants, college academic dean, superior, provincial superior, superior general, associate vicar for religious, director for religious, mission effectiveness and as a local minister.

She came from a large, prominent family that moved to Wilmington from Chester, Pa., shortly after her birth. Her father, Valentine, was a photographer and studio owner in Wilmington for 57 years. He and his wife, Mary, had 12 children.

Sister Laetitia’s sister, Bernadette, followed her into the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, receiving the name Sister de Lourdes. She was the principal at St. Mary Magdalen School in Wilmington in the 1980s. The sisters served together, once in mission, and eventually lived community life together in Connecticut, Chester and finally at St. Joseph Villa. There, Sister de Lourdes was the local minister and caregiver for her older sister.

Family, friends and former students convened in Reading last year to celebrate Sister Laetitia’s 100th birthday. At the celebration, the traditional Polish song “Sto Lat” (“One Hundred Years”) was sung, with the phrase “Jeszcae raz” (“One more time”) added.

In addition to her sister, Sister Laetitia is survived by another sister, Leona Papagno of Elkton, Md.; a brother, Albin Okoniewski, of Wilmington; and many nieces and nephews. Funeral services will be private. A memorial Mass for family and friends will be held at a later date.