Dominican Sister of Peace Lillian Kapelewski (90) died at Mohun Health Care Center (Columbus, OH) on January 5, 2017. She was born in 1926 in Amsterdam, OH. In 1943 she entered the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs, now the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
Sr. Lillian’s first ministry took her to Somerset, OH, where, for some 20 years, she served as cook for the Dominican priests and novices who resided there. She was a reassuring figure, especially for the young Friars as they adjusted to Dominican life.
She also served as cook for the priests’ dining room at the Columbus Motherhouse, St. Mary’s Convent (New Haven, CT), St. George Hospital (Cincinnati, OH) and finally at St. Andrew Avellino Convent (Flushing, NY). One of her Dominican Sisters commented on her great organizational skills as demonstrated by her coordination of regular meals for groups sometimes numbering in the hundreds.
In 1976 Sr. Lillian requested a change of ministry and accepted a position as a nursing aide at Mohun Health Care Center in Columbus. Her natural skills as well as on the job training led to the ministry which she found most fulfilling – and to which she gave 16 years – Physical Therapy Assistant. She was eventually put in charge of the department.
Beginning in 1997, and for as long as her health allowed, Sr. Lillian ministered as an assistant to the Sister in charge at Mohun Health Care Center and also served as sacristan. She spoke of her sacristy work as a privilege, saying it was the opportunity to assist at the communal liturgy daily that helped to sustain her enthusiasm for religious life.
Sr. Lillian became a resident of Mohun Health Care Center in 2010.
In his homily at the funeral Fr. Stan Azaro, OP, said:
In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about his “Father’s house,” in which there are many dwelling places. Presumably this refers to heavenly, eternal dwelling places. But, while on earth, did Jesus have a home, a special place where he felt welcomed and loved?
Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Yet we know that Jesus laid his head in the house of his parents at Nazareth, and, at least for a while, he and his followers had headquarters in the Galilean fishing village of Capernaum.
But I think Jesus always had a home in the village of Bethany, the home of his three friends, Martha, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. Once I was visiting the Dominican friars in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I spent some time at the National Gallery. It houses a striking painting by the 17th century Dutch artist, Jan Vermeer, called “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary.” It is the only Vermeer painting based on a biblical subject. There is an intimate, domestic atmosphere about it. Jesus is relaxed, quiet, and comfortable. Martha and Mary are also comfortable and at ease in their own home. They’re at the table, and Martha is setting down a basket holding a loaf of bread. Even though Martha is complaining to Jesus that she has been left with all the work while Mary sits and listens, the atmosphere does not seem strained. Just the opposite. This is a quiet family discussion, with each person expressing respectfully what he or she feels.
Sometimes Martha and Mary have been described as opposites, Martha the busy worker and housekeeper, Mary prayerful, reflective, eager to learn. In Christian tradition, Martha and Mary have been considered representatives of the active life and the contemplative life. We Dominicans try to integrate both these aspects into our religious lives.
I believe that Sr. Lillian was Martha and Mary rolled into one. In the footsteps of Martha, she devoted her entire Dominican life to active service of others, especially as a cook for 20 years at the Dominican novitiate in Somerset, OH, and then at other locations in New Haven, CT, Cincinnati, OH, and Flushing, NY.
My own memories of Sr. Lillian are from the summer house we Dominican friars once had at Sea Bright, NJ. From 1970 to 1975, I spent virtually the entire month of August there since I loved the beach. I always loved visiting with Srs. Lillian and Padraic Mary McGuinness in the kitchen.
In 1976, Sr. Lillian moved to Columbus in 1976, residing at the Motherhouse, and working as a nursing aide at Mohun Health Care Center. For 16 years, she was a Physical Therapy Assistant. It was a special joy for her to help Sisters recover from the effects of fractures and strokes. She said, “As I see each Sister improve, I experience within myself much peace and joy.” This expresses very well her prayerful, reflective, contemplative, quiet side. In the contemplative footsteps of Mary of Bethany, in the true Dominican spirit, Sr. Lillian contemplated and prayed, and gave abundantly to others the fruits of her contemplation and prayer in a life of loving service to her Dominican Sisters and Brothers.
John’s Gospel relates another visit of Jesus to Bethany on a much sadder occasion. Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, has died. Both of the grieving sisters, Martha and Mary, greet Jesus on his arrival. Jesus assures them: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha says: “I know he will rise again, in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus then says: “I am the resurrection and the life. They who believe in me, though they die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me, will never die.”
Like the grieving sisters Martha and Mary, we can take great comfort and strength from these words, as we celebrate the long and fruitful life of our Sr. Lillian, and her entrance into eternal life, even as we grieve at her passing from us.
Jesus always had a home in Bethany. Jesus always had a home in Sr. Lillian’s heart. Now she has an eternal home in our Father’s house, in which there are many dwelling places reserved for God’s faithful servants.
Sr. Lillian was preceded in death by her parents Anton and Mary Wilks Kapelewski, and her brothers, Charles, Walter and Antonio. She is survived by her sister-in-law, Audrey Kapelewski.
A Vigil of Remembrance and the Mass of Christian Burial were held on January 17 and 18 at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse in Columbus, OH, with burial following in St. Joseph Cemetery.
Memorial gifts in Sr. Lillian’s memory may be submitted securely online or mailed to the Dominican Sisters of Peace, Office of Mission Advancement, 2320 Airport Dr, Columbus, OH 43219.