The Stations of the Cross have particular meaning for the friends of Sister Karen Klimczak.
It was 10 years ago on Good Friday that she had participated in a service at an East Side church before going home to the Bissonette House, where an ex-convict living there killed her.
More than 100 people gathered for the stations Friday afternoon at that church – SS. Columba-Brigid Catholic Church on Hickory Street – where words from Sister Karen’s journals and personal photographs she had taken of local institutions were projected onto a screen to create a modern-day journey to Calvary, where Christ was crucified.
The solemn service commemorating the decade since her passing yielded tears, memories and inspiration to carry on the many good works the nun had performed in her life.
“This has been a healing process for me, a great gift from God to see how so many are responding to the spirit of God, reaching out and risking in ministering to others,” said Sister Jean Klimczak in reflecting on how her late sibling continues to motivate others.
Matt Boyle held a life-size wooden cross, the same cross Sister Karen and others would take turns carrying to different sites in downtown Buffalo that tied into the Stations of the Cross on Good Fridays. He recalled how during the 2006 service he and Sister Karen recited prayers for the seventh station – Jesus condemned to death.
“At the end of that station, Sister Karen and I urged everyone to sign a pledge that if they were ever the victims of a violent death, they would not want the death penalty pursued against the perpetrator,” Boyle said. “She’d also told me that the ex-convicts were making dove signs that stated, ‘I leave peaceprints,’ but that she was concerned about the distribution of them. She didn’t know if people would put them on their lawns.”
That night she was killed by one of the ex-convicts she was helping at the Bissonette House, which she had founded as a residence to help recently paroled men transition back into society. Parolee Craig M. Lynch spotted her cellphone in her room and stole it. But before he could slip out undetected, she returned and he took her life by suffocating her in what he described as a crack-cocaine-induced craze. He was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
In the days after her death, Boyle said, thousands of people wanted the doves to place on their front lawns.
“I think Sister Karen would have seen God’s divine providence. He had a plan and worked something positive through what was the ultimate tragedy,” Boyle said. “She is a martyr.”
And while she was alive, Sister Karen knew well the struggles in leading a life of faith and service, a fact borne out by the reflections from her journals that were shared Friday. In one passage, she wrote:
“My heart is heavy … why so many turning to drugs? Why so many resorting to criminal activity? Why those I feel closest to am I being betrayed by? Help me Lord … help me to be okay with all the struggles. Help me, Lord, to become stronger in You … am I not relying enough on You? Help me through these trials. Help me say yes to You and help me, Lord, especially realize You are in charge!!”
The example of Sister Karen’s life continues to result in meaningful actions to assist the disenfranchised, said Cindi McEachon, executive director of Peaceprints of WNY, who was at Friday’s service.
There are now two houses for former prisoners and Peaceprints of WNY is looking to open apartments and expand into Rochester, McEachon said. “It never ceases to amaze me the depth of Sister Karen’s awareness surrounding the issues of re-entry.”
A number of other events to celebrate Sister Karen’s life are planned in the coming weeks and months. They include:
• A play about her life, “This Little Light of Mine,” will be performed at 4 p.m. April 10 in SS. Columba-Brigid Church, 75 Hickory St. Ticket information can be obtained by emailing email@example.com.
• A Memorial Mass for Sister Karen will be offered at 4:45 p.m. April 14 in the chapel at Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, followed by dinner at 5:30 p.m. and a 7 p.m. presentation of the play. For dinner reservations, call 805-1438.
• Peaceprints of WNY’s annual dinner and fundraiser will be held at 6 p.m. April 15 at Kloc’s Grove, West Seneca. For more information, call 856-6131.
• And, Arun Gandhi, the grandson of India’s Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi, will speak on the topic of “Legacies of Nonviolence from Gandhi to Sister Karen” at 3 p.m. April 24 at Immaculata Academy, Hamburg. Ticket information can be obtained by calling 362-9688.