Sister Agnes Eugene Cordak
As I was preparing Sister Agnes Eugene’s commentary, a quote from the prophet Daniel kept crossing my mind. “And those who have taught many people to do what is right will shine like the stars forever,” (Daniel 12:3). In astrology, stars are regarded as influencing someone’s fortunes or personality and in “pop culture,” stars are to be looked up to as models. Additionally, for me, stars are just “there,” quietly shining forth in the night sky. All of which seem appropriate descriptors of Sister Agnes Eugene – a quiet educator who influenced countless children and enjoyed doing for others whenever she could, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Agnes Eugene Cordak, who passed away on Monday, October 18, 2021, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 96-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for 80 years.
Sister Ann continued: Born February 1, 1925, to Henry and Josephine (Jean) Pryatel Cordak in Chicago, and baptized Gloria, she was preceded in death by her younger brother Eugene. An older sister Pearl died in infancy and Eugene’s twin, Elaine, died before her first birthday. She is survived by many dear and faithful nieces, nephews and some “greats.” In the family, she is called Auntie Sister or Auntie Gloria.
Gloria was educated by the Sisters of Providence in elementary and secondary schools in Chicago. She loved learning and was “very smart,” finding out somehow that her IQ was the highest in her class. It wasn’t all study and no play, however. She loved playing with her cousins and the neighborhood kids: Red Rover, Kick the Can and baseball. Tobogganing in winter, the Chicago beaches in summer. She also loved playing with dolls – at one count, she had 24 of them! Her mother often made Gloria’s outfits and she would make a matching one for her doll as well.
Gloria maintained that it was because of her Sister of Providence teachers that she decided to enter religious life. She did so in September of 1941, pronounced her first vows on August 15, 1944, and made her perpetual profession of vows on January 23, 1950. She received the religious name of Sister Agnes Eugene (Eugene after her brother and Agnes because she “just liked the name”).
She earned a bachelor’s degree in education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master of science degree in education from Indiana State University, adding a second master’s degree in history from ISU about seven years later. Her degrees, combined with her great love of learning, laid the foundation for her teaching career, which spanned 31 years and included elementary and high school students in Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. I’m sure that the international travel that she did with her mother to Hong Kong, the Middle East and Europe also contributed to her well-rounded education.
Sister Agnes Eugene compiled not one, but two “memory books,” which give us a sense of her life “in her own words.” In one of them, she wrote: “My contribution to our world has been my love for and care of children.” And she noted that if she were to give advice to new teachers, she would tell them: “Love your children – they know when they are loved.”
Galesburg was Agnes Eugene’s first mission. Sister Carol Nolan was a student there and started violin lessons in the seventh grade. She had to practice right inside the convent front hall, at the foot of the stairs. She recalls, “Agnes used to tease me, and after a while, I started snubbing her. Pretty soon, she brought me down an apple as a peace offering. We always had a special relationship after that.” Carol was amazed in later years to learn that Agnes Eugene was barely 19.
Interspersed within her years of teaching, Agnes Eugene held various administrative positions such as local treasurer for the Motherhouse community, coordinator of transportation at the Motherhouse, bookstore manager and later director of maintenance at Mother Theodore Guerin High School in River Grove, Illinois.
These various positions give a sense of her organizational skills and determination to get things done. One of her elementary teachers told her, “What is wrong with you is that you are too independent!” Her independence carried into her retirement years and her years of ill health. She did not give up easily, literally almost dragging herself from one place to the other. She always expressed gratitude for her care, however, and for what others did for her. She had done her share of assisting our sisters in health care, particularly her beloved Sister Mary Pius, to whom she was very devoted and attentive. Agnes Eugene even brought determination to waiting for an elevator. If it did not come immediately, she would knock on the door, evidently determined that the knocking would bring it sooner!
Agnes Eugene dearly loved her family and the feeling was certainly mutual. A favorite quote hanging as a plaque in her bedroom read: “Family – where life starts and love never ends.” Her love of family was very evident and she spoke fondly not only of her parents and brother, but of nieces, nephews and some “greats.” Her memory books are filled with their photos.
Many sisters remember family members as well. When visiting Agnes Eugene, they always came loaded with homemade goodies to be shared with all the sisters. These are some of the nieces and nephews’ memories:
“Visiting Auntie Sister was always so much fun. She was so kind to us and the rest of the sisters spoiled us with treats and soft drinks. It was great!”
“I don’t remember too much from our childhood visits because I was so young, but as I got older, I loved her visits. She’d always listen to us and had such interesting things to say.”
“I loved her a lot and will really miss her. She was such a good person and a wonderful aunt.”
“She was a kind and accepting person and really attracted children. I remember her at Cierra’s 10th birthday party, sitting at the table surrounded by kids telling them stories and answering their questions. They were captivated by her.”
“Sister Agnes Eugene was my best cheerleader and gave me the incredible gift of unconditional love and acceptance throughout my entire life.”
And finally, “You know the world would be a much better place if the Sisters of Providence ran it. Look at the impact that Auntie Sister and all her fellow sisters have had on the local area and around the world.”
Sister Agnes Eugene was indeed a star – to the children she taught, to the family she loved and to the sisters whom she quietly served, in her retirement years, especially.
One of the questions asked by inclusion in the memory book is: “What is the best thing about being a Sister?” Her answer? “Just being one. I have loved being a Sister of Providence.”
How significant then that she was now joined not only her parents and other beloved family members, but also our foundress Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and a host of other deceased Sisters of Providence “to shine like the stars forever.” May they all rest in God’s peace.
Funeral services for Sister Agnes Eugene took place on Wednesday, November 3, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A Wake took place at 10 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Agnes Eugene to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Agnes Eugene in the comment section below.
Sister Agnes Eugene Cordak
In Indiana: Teacher, St. Mary, Richmond (1946-48); Teacher, St. Joseph, Hammond (1950-52); Teacher, St. Ann, Terre Haute (1954-55); Teacher, St. Andrew, Indianapolis (1955-56); Sacristan/Local Treasurer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1968-70); Teacher, Gilbault Home for Boys, Terre Haute (1971-72); Teacher, Terre Haute Schulte High School, Terre Haute (1972-73); Driver, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1981-82); Manager/Buyer for Personal Supplies, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1982-84); Coordinator of Transportation/Buyer and Manager of Supplies, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1984-86); Gift Shop Staff, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1997-98); Resource Center Staff, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1999-2001); Coordinator of Transportation, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2001); Resource Center Staff, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2001-05); Residential Services/Volunteer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2005-2011); Prayer (2011-2021).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Joseph, Galesburg (1944-46); Teacher, St. Angela, Chicago (1956-58); Teacher, St. Leo, Chicago (1958-62); Teacher, St. Andrew, Chicago (1962-66); Teacher, St. Francis Xavier, Wilmette (1966-68); Bookstore Supervisor/Manager, Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1977-80); Teacher, St. Dennis, Lockport (1980-81); Teacher, Cathedral High School, Chicago (1987-90); Substitute Teacher, Cathedral High School, Chicago (1990-91).
In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, St. Ann (1948-50).
In Massachusetts: Teacher, St. Rose, Chelsea (1952-54).
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