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Sister Mary Laetitia Okoniewski, St. Hedwig product, celebrates 100th birthday

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

Sister Mary Laetitia Okoniewski, OSF, celebrated her centenary birthday with her family, friends and former students on Aug. 24 at St. Joseph Villa in Reading, Pa. The following day, she celebrated the occasion with her Bernardine Franciscan Community in their convent chapel.

Born in Chester, Pa. on Aug. 24, 1919, Mary was the second child of Valentine and Mary Okoniewski. The family soon moved to Wilmington where her father was a prominent photographer and studio owner on Linden Street for 57 years. Twelve children were born to this couple, parishioners of St. Hedwig Parish, who captured a loving, devout spirit. Mary graduated from St. Hedwig Elementary School and St. Paul Commercial School in Wilmington.

Entering the Bernardine Sisters of Reading in 1943 and receiving the name Sister Mary Laetitia, she soon earned her undergraduate degree from Villanova University and her master of arts from Notre Dame. Sister taught in the educational system in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. She became dean of academic affairs and instructor of English at Alvernia College in Reading. Sister was elected by her community to be provincial superior in 1970. She later worked for the chancery for the Diocese of Metuchen before she retired.

Sister Laetitia’s sister, Bernadette, followed her into the Berdardine Franciscan Sisters and received the name Sister de Lourdes. In the 1980s she ministered in the Diocese of Wilmington as principal of St. Mary Magdalen School. The two sisters served together, once in mission, and eventually lived community life together in Connecticut, Chester and finally at St. Joseph Villa where the younger sister was the older sister’s local minister and caregiver.

Sister Laetitia still possesses her cheerful disposition and profound love for the Lord. At the 100th birthday celebration, the traditional Polish song “Sto Lat” (One Hundred Years) was sung with the additional phrase “Jeszcze raz” (One more time).