Obiturary: Sister Gwen Koza, SNDdeN
Sister Gwen Koza SNDdeN
May 4, 1927 – December 29, 2020
Mildred Gwendolyn Koza was the oldest child of Thomas and Mildred Koza. Gwen’s father died before Gwen’s third birthday, leaving her mother with Gwen and a newborn baby. Mrs. Koza left Gwen with her paternal grandparents in Michigan City, Indiana and returned to her hometown of Chicago. There Mrs. Koza started a beauty shop to earn money to support herself and her children.
Gwen stayed in Michigan City with her grandparents, Joseph and Francis Koza, and her two aunts, Alma and Dorothy. Her grandfather worked as a prison guard. Both Alma and Dorothy were teachers in the Michigan City Public Schools. Dorothy would be Gwen’s third grade teacher, and Alma went on to become a school supervisor and then superintendent of Michigan City Schools. Later, Gwen expressed gratitude that her father’s family imparted to her “their deep faith, hopefully some of their deep goodness and generosity.” She remained close to her father’s family throughout her life, and often spoke of her “treasured” aunts.
Perhaps it was the Koza deep goodness and generosity that led Gwen to reach out in friendship so easily to those around her. When she was nine, Gwen met the Van Allen family. Martha considered Gwen another daughter and made her welcome in the Van Allen home any time of the day or night. She became Gwen’s “Aunt Dolly”, and Maryann, Arthur and Gwen Van Allen became life-long friends.
Gwen’s first experience of Catholic school was when she started seventh grade at St. Mary’s in Michigan City. By the time she was ready for high school, her mother had married Mariano Gloriosa. It was decided that Gwen would join Mariano, her mother and younger brother Paul in Chicago and attend Notre Dame High School. Gwen did her part to help with family finances by taking a job as a grocery store clerk and cashier during her sophomore year, working after school, on Saturdays and in the summer.
Gwen met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Notre Dame High School. She liked them as teachers, and their example of joyful service resonated deep within her. As Gwen began to feel drawn to religious life, it was natural that she would think about joining the Sisters of Notre Dame. She was accepted into their candidacy at Maryhurst in Columbus, Ohio for the 1944-1945 school year. Gwen finished her secondary education at St. Joseph Academy in Columbus while experiencing life in community with other young women interested in religious life and the Sisters who were part of the Maryhurst community. At the end of the school year, she felt the path for her to grow closer to Christ was religious life, so she made preparations to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. She returned to Chicago, taking a summer job typing railroad boxcar inventories. In August she traveled to Mount Notre Dame in Reading, Ohio and entered the Postulate of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
In a questionnaire before moving on to Novitiate, Gwen was asked why she “left the world.” She responded: “To perform any service I am capable of rendering, all for the greater Glory of God.” Gwen was given the name Sister Rose Julia and after pronouncing vows she began 18 years of serving third through eighth grade students in numerous parish schools in Ohio and Illinois. Gwen moved a lot, but her needs were simple. She wrote, “Where there is need and I can effectively serve and am accepted, I am happy.” One constant was her skill as an excellent math teacher, so much so that Gwen was sent to Notre Dame High School in Chicago to teach Algebra and Geometry. It was decided she would earn a Master’s degree in teaching mathematics. Gwen finished the degree and returned to teaching high school math. She and her superiors started investigating doctoral programs in Math thinking her skills might better be used at the university level. But then she spent a summer volunteering as a tutor for adults trapped in poverty at Marillac House in Chicago. The people she served there deeply touched her. Gwen realized how many adults were struggling to learn and build on the basics so they could improve their lives and the lives of their children. She felt called to focus on adults in community college settings, believing that it was there she could best make a difference. Gwen wrote, “Please continue to keep me in prayer that whatever it is, wherever it is, I perceive and follow faithfully what will best serve our Good God.”
Gwen’s desire to follow took her to the Phoenix area where she not only taught in local community colleges but also worked part time for the Arizona Foundation for the Handicapped as teacher, home manager and Director of Skills Development for the mentally handicapped. Next her desire to follow God took Gwen to Florida where she would spend almost twenty-three years teaching in community colleges while caring for aging family members, neighbors and friends.
Gwen enjoyed reading, bike riding and swimming. She described herself as a “news junkie” who followed local, national and international politics. Gwen light-heartedly said, “I’m very good at sleeping. I’m also a “neighborhood” person – the phone never needs dusting, usage takes care of that, but getting things in the mail…that’s another story.” She was notoriously lax about meeting deadlines for forms and written reports. She also acknowledged her “spirit of adventure” and described herself as beginning an academic year bright and full of energy, but by the end would be barely hanging on because she involved herself in so much she became exhausted.
Gwen’s sisters in community experienced her as one who was open to and took an interest in each Sister as an individual. She was humorous, hospitable, compassionate and caring. Over the years she served as cook, sacristan and receptionist in community. A woman nourished by deep prayer, one of the highlights of Gwen’s life was attending the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. She had the ability to create community around her: involving herself in Cursillo and prayer groups, showing the same interest, hospitality and care to new neighbors and coworkers as she did her Sisters. For years she would welcome another Ohio SND and her aging mother for holiday celebrations in Palm Beach. Gwen’s interest and care continued when she joined the Mount Notre Dame Health Center Community in 2002.
At Mount Notre Dame, Gwen found ways to be of service to her Sisters including creating beautiful birthday cards on behalf of the community. When she could no longer make the cards, she turned to prayer as her way to serve her Sisters and the world. Gwen always valued staying in touch with family and friends, and she continued to do so through email, telephone and the occasional letter. She described living at the Health Center as “full of delight”, and deeply appreciated the opportunity for daily Mass, the good care and great people who surrounded her. Gwen also acknowledged the cross of aging, “Meeting others my age with worse memories hardly consoles.”
We thank God for the gift of Gwen’s life and for the myriad ways she made God’s goodness known to those around her. We rejoice with her as she joins so many loved ones in Heaven. We hear her voice in Psalm 116:
I love the Lord, who listened to my voice in supplication,
who turned an ear to me on the day I called.
Gracious is the Lord and righteous; yes, our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple; I was helpless, but he saved me.
Return, my soul, to your rest; the Lord has been very good to you.
For my soul has been freed from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
(Psalm 116: 1-2, 5-9)
Born May 4, 1927 in Hammond, Indiana
Parents: Thomas Koza (born in North Judson, Indiana) and Mildred Stevens (born in Chicago, Illinois)
Brother: Paul Koza
Baptized on May 18, 1927 at St. Victor Church, Calumet City, Illinois
Confirmed in June, 1938 at St. Mary’s in Michigan City, Indiana
Entered August 14, 1945 at Mt. Notre Dame
First Profession: January 24, 1948
Final Profession: August 13, 1953
Bachelor of Science in Education from Our Lady of Cincinnati College, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1960
Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics from the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1971
1948-1949 St. Mary School, Hamilton, Ohio
1949-1950 St. Victor School, Calumet City, Illinois
1950-1952 St. Robert Bellarmine School, Chicago, Illinois
1952-1954 Mt. Notre Dame Academy, Reading, Ohio
1954 St. Robert Bellarmine School, Chicago, Illinois
1954-1956 St. Alexander School, Villa Park, Illinois
1956-1958 Sts. Peter and Paul School, Reading, Ohio
1958-1961 St. James School, Wyoming, Ohio
1961-1962 St. Peter Canisius School, Chicago, Illinois
1962-1963 Sts. Peter and Paul School, Reading, Ohio
1963-1966 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School, Reading, Ohio
1966-1970 Notre Dame High School, Chicago, Illinois
1970-1972 Student, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio
1972-1976 Bishop Hartley High School, Columbus, Ohio
1976-1978 Mesa Community College, Mesa, Arizona
1976-1978 Scottsdale Community College, Scottsdale, Arizona
1978-1979 Maricopa Junior College, Phoenix, Arizona
1979-1997 Adjunct/Assistant Professor, Palm Beach College, Palm Beach, Florida
1995-1998 AmeriCorps Library Program, Palm Beach Literacy Coalition, Delray Beach, Florida
1998-2003 Pastoral Visitor, North Palm Beach, Florida
2001-2003 Caretaker, North Palm Beach, Florida
May, 2003-2015 Community Service, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio
2015-2020: Ministry of Prayer & Presence, Mt. Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio