In Salina, Kan.

(Published Jan. 30, 2009)
When Sister Pauline Kukula reads a certain passage from the textbook for the eighth-grade religion class at Sacred Heart Junior/Senior High School, she doesn’t give any single word particular emphasis. But one word resonates in everything else she says.

“When members of the Church teach, heal, serve, work for justice and live as Christ did, they are evangelizing as he did,” the passage reads.

And Polly — a nickname from her childhood in Claflin, Kan., that has been retained by her friends and family — would like you to notice that “teach” is listed first among those vocations.

Teaching has been her calling since 1960, when she began as a first-grade teacher in Chicago. She has also taught in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and in Great Bend and Beloit, Kan., and is now in her 38th year teaching in the Salina Catholic Schools where she teaches Religion to about 100 seventh- and eighth-grade students in six classes every day.

She is the sole Sister of St. Joseph of Concordia now teaching full time in the Diocese of Salina, a distinction she values, particularly in Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 26-30).

Being in a community this long, Sister Pauline knows the joy of being “recycled.” Among her students today are many children of former students, and some earlier students have grown up to work alongside her as teachers at the Salina school.

“There is always a sense of pride in me when I introduce her as a member of the community,” said Sister Anna Marie Broxterman, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Leadership Council who has worked with Sister Pauline for 10 years on the annual summer Discovery Camp, a program at the Concordia Motherhouse for junior high age girls. “What a gift she brings not only to the students who benefit from her teaching, but to us, her community members, because she carries on a tradition of excellence in teaching that has been our hallmark throughout our 125 years in Kansas.”

That excellence — along with love and respect for each student — is clear even in Sister Pauline’s authority in the classroom: “Who would want to be that stereotype of the nun with the ruler?” she asks as she makes a stern face.

But she can’t sustain the mock seriousness.

“Aren’t they wonderful?” Sister Pauline asks as seventh-graders troop out of her classroom after a lesson on the Apostles. “Each and every one is precious.”