After sixteen years of service in Panama, Sister Jane Zawadzki was awarded The Master Key to the Locks of the Panama Canal. Now after more than forty years she holds more important keys…to the hearts of her many friends in Panama.
Five years after receiving this award, Sister Jane experienced the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 to capture General Manuel Noriega. With other Maryknoll Sisters she went to Gorgas Hospital to visit victims of the attack, and to minister to others living temporarily in a high school. When Panama’s jurisdiction over the Canal Zone territory and functions were finalized on December 21, 1999, she was present for the historical occasion.
Friendly and outgoing, she is teased about slow tours through Panama City as she always meets people she knows from teaching in elementary school and visiting families for twenty years. She remembers her students, their parents, siblings, spouses, children and grandchildren so doesn’t rush but takes time to chat as friends do.
In 1988 she switched ministries from teacher to parish minister and with two other Maryknoll Sisters assumed responsibility for the pastoral care of Las Mañanitas, a rapidly growing area at the southeastern end of Panama City with poor, migrant people from isolated rural areas. Although seminarians came at times on weekends, there was no priest assigned until a year after the Sisters arrived. Beginning with visits to all the homes, the Sisters stirred interest in bible study groups which led to the formation of Basic Christian Communities in many barrios. They developed a catechetical program. Over the years parishioners assumed leadership roles such as Parent Home Catechists, community celebrations of the Word and visitors of the sick. From small beginnings the parish has grown to ten sectors, each with its chapel. Presently Sister Jane is responsible for the Community/Chapel of San José. That chapel was built by the people with a lot of hard work and activities to raise funds for the construction. She works with a group of very dedicated women and men, meeting monthly to organize all the activities. They oversee the liturgy, catechetical program, sacramental preparation, youth group, Parent Home Catechists, visiting the sick and working with women. These members of the Basic Christian Communities are the bedrock of the parish. She feels that she and the people have grown together, they are family. “I hope that the people in the Basic Christian Communities live the message of the Gospel, that it becomes a part of their being. They are living in community and love what they are doing. So do I!”
A Brooklynite, Sister Jane entered Maryknoll in 1950 and was assigned to the isolated mining town of Siuna, Nicaragua in 1956. After language study she taught in the primary grades of the Maryknoll school and the city girl learned horseback riding in order to visit the families. The school was a sign of hope for the parents she visited who had no education and saw the school as a brighter future for their children.
Celebrating her Golden Jubilee in 2000, she gave thanks for life with the people of Nicaragua and Panama who taught her so much.
Sister Jane currently resides at the Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining, NY, where she is an active member of its Chi-Rho Community.