Sister Karen served children, religious community

Notre Dame Sister Karen Rolenc, who spent much of her 66 years of religious life serving children and her religious community, died Oct. 10 in Omaha. She was 88.

A vigil service is set for Oct. 14, 7 p.m., at the Notre Dame Chapel in Omaha. A funeral Mass will be held Oct. 15, 10 a.m., at the chapel, with interment at Calvary Cemetery, also in Omaha.

Born Rita Marie Rolenc on her family’s farm near Brainard, Nebraska, she was exposed to the Notre Dame Sisters from an early age through her aunts, Sisters Pauline and Loretta Polak, and her sister Dorothy Ann, now Sister Anita Rolenc. Sisters Joan Polak, Josita Hanus and Alma Janousek are cousins.

She graduated from the former Notre Dame Academy in Omaha in 1952 and entered religious life in 1956, professing first vows that year and final vows in 1958. 

Beginning in 1966, Sister Karen served at the Pine Ridge Reservation in Porcupine, South Dakota. There, she oversaw the sale room at Christ the King Church, which sold used clothing, shoes and household items for low income people. 

In Omaha, Sister Karen worked at Saint James Daycare Center working with young children from 1974 until the center closed in 1980. From 1980 to 1986 she was employed at Child Saving Institute working with children ages 2-4.

From 1986 to 1990 she served at the Creche Child Care Center in Omaha, becoming the center’s education coordinator in 1987. In 1991 she earned an associate degree in Applied Science/Early Childhood Education from Metropolitan Community College and, that year, became coordinator for the former St. Richard Parish’s day care center.

 From 1980 until her retirement in 2005, Sister Karen also served at her order’s motherhouse, first as assistant coordinator then being elected coordinator in 1998. She was responsible for overseeing kitchen, housekeeping, maintenance, telephone duty and other functions, and “was known to roll up her sleeves and assist in cleaning and maintenance duties,” according to a written tribute by her community.

She was also a skilled cook and seamstress, and baked hundreds of kolaches for Notre Dame Sisters fundraisers, it said.

“Sr. Karen had the unique talent of a compassionate presence. In her own words, this presence was ‘just to be there; attentive – notice when one is needing help; caring, flexible – be ready to stop and help where needed; love – whatever I do, do it with love. Let God use me. I don’t have to be perfect.’”

Sister Karen was preceded in death by parents, Agnes and Joseph Rolenc; sister, Pauline Voboril; brother-in-law, Morris Cook; grandniece, Kimberly Maum. She is survived by the Notre Dame Sisters; sisters, Marcella Cook, Notre Dame Sister Anita Rolenc; brother-in-law, Robert Voboril; numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. Memorials to the Notre Dame Sisters.

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