Marilyn Marschall Antonik: Breaking Boundaries, Creating Hope
Breaking boundaries, creating hope is the identity statement used in the logo of the Sisters of Providence. It could also serve as the identity statement for Marilyn Marschall Antonik.
“Breaking boundaries, creating hope speaks to me because I’ve always been kind of a boundary breaker. I do believe we have to be people of hope these days. It’s so important to be not just Pollyanna positive, but to really create hope,” said Marilyn, whose connection with the Congregation began in 1949 as a student at Marywood School for Girls, Evanston, Ill.
Marilyn learned how to break boundaries and create hope by watching her parents, who volunteered in many parish and civic activities in their hometown of Wilmette, Ill. During her time at Marywood, she watched as sister-teachers created hope in their young charges.
“I had great admiration for these women. I admired their spirituality, their professionalism. They were great teachers. I remember their goodness and their genuineness,” continued Marilyn.
After graduating from Marywood, Marilyn enrolled in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. In 1955 — during her sophomore year — Marilyn entered the Congregation, receiving the religious name Sister Peter. Reflecting on her entrance, Marilyn shared that she was deeply affected by the sisters’ example and commitment to teaching.
“In those days, if you really wanted to do good, this is what you did [enter a religious congregation]. It wasn’t a driving urge to be a teacher, but a desire for a life of service. And at that time I thought this was the best way to live a life of service,” said Marilyn, who later earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
As a Sister of Providence, Marilyn taught in high schools in Indiana and Illinois. It was during her time at Providence High School, Chicago, that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. This terrible tragedy and the entire Civil Rights Movement greatly affected Marilyn.
“At that time,” said Marilyn, emphasizing that there has been dramatic change in the Congregation since those days, “it was very difficult to do the outreach ministry to the poor and the needy that I thought needed to be done because of the community rules. As sisters, we were not able to be involved in the [local] community.”
Thus, by 1968, Marilyn was beginning to ask herself if she should leave the Congregation. One year later, while working in the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) office of the Archdiocese of Chicago, she made the very difficult decision to leave.
“I just felt that I could better live out a life of ministry outside of community than within it. That’s kind of the same reason I entered,” she softly laughed.
“The good news is I left with a lot of love in my heart for the sisters and they in turn for me. I’ve always had a very positive relationship since the time I left. I’ve always felt free to go back,” she continued.
Two years after leaving the Congregation, Marilyn married Joe Antonik. The couple, who reside in Chicago, now has two grown children and four grandchildren. Today Marilyn spends a lot of time with her precious grandchildren, the love and joy of her life. During her time of raising her family, Marilyn continued to reach out to the marginalized by serving as a teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL) or a coordinator of ESL teacher- volunteers for 27 years at Oakton Community College, Des Plaines, Ill.
Now retired, Marilyn and Joe worship and volunteer in two parishes: Old St. Patrick’s Church in downtown Chicago and Saint Mary of the Woods Faith Community on the north side. Their volunteer activities include such areas as the environment, peace and justice, tutoring at the Salvation Army, women’s spirituality groups and fair-trade activities.
It’s rather ironic that Marilyn and the Congregation took different paths to ultimately reach the same goal: to break boundaries and create hope.
Marilyn, not forgetting how the Sisters of Providence influenced her life, has financially given back to the Congregation. She supports various ministries of the sisters and she has also remembered the Congregation in her will.
“I’m concerned about effecting change, not just charity. We need both. I’ve always done charity and we’ll probably always need it. But we also need to address change of unjust systems that make charity so necessary. So anything we can do to bring about a more just and caring world by changing unjust systems challenges me,” said Marilyn.
Spoken just like a woman who breaks boundaries and creates hope!