Dominican sister is dedicated to Catholic education
By Peggy Moraczewski
Commitment and dedication are two words that come to mind when the name Dominican Sister Mary Jean Olsovsky is mentioned. As a child attending St. Mary’s Catholic School in Taylor, she was taught by the Dominican Sisters of Houston and recalls being drawn to religious life as early as second grade.
“The Dominican sisters stood for something special, apart from the world, but still working within it,” she said.
Loving parents instilled a hard work ethic in their four children while raising them on a farm outside of Taylor. Sister Mary Jean said her mother and aunt played a definitive role in her spiritual development, while her father set a “wonderful example” of the kind of person you would want to become.
Admiration of the Dominican sisters never diminished and following high school, she entered the convent and professed her first vows in 1962. Equipped with an undergraduate degree from Dominican College in Houston and a master’s degree in private school administration from the University of San Francisco, she has dedicated her life to the Catholic education of youth.
Her teaching career began at Queen of Peace Catholic School in Houston, but it was in her first administrative role at Holy Rosary Catholic School in San Bernardino, Calif., where the pastor emphasized the significance of providing a “truly Catholic” education for students. It is a message she has carried in her heart ever since.
Spending the majority of her career in school administration, Sister Mary Jean has served as principal at St. Helen Catholic School in Georgetown, for the last eight years. Upon acceptance of this position, she set the following goals: to take the school to full accreditation, build a strong relationship between the parish and school, and build a rapport between the parish religious education department and the school. But, primarily, she wished to build a strong Catholic identity.
Linda Holmstrom, development director at the school, said Sister Mary Jean has exceeded her goals.
“One of Sister Mary Jean’s goals for St. Helen Catholic School is for everyone who enters the school to immediately know it is a Catholic school ... The educational program that Sister Mary Jean has teamed with her staff to establish allows students to not only learn about their faith but also to practice it on a daily basis while they work to strengthen their academic knowledge and skills ... she allows her love of God to flow through her to others to create a nurturing family atmosphere at the school,” Holmstrom said.
The school has more than tripled in size since 2003 when Sister Mary Jean arrived and she speaks with delight of the St. Helen Catholic School Lions. While classroom technology has changed drastically with iPads and MimioTeach Interactive Whiteboards, developing the mind, body and spirit of every student is accomplished in a multitude of ways.
For instance, staff and students prayed the outdoor Stations of the Cross during Lent and are taught respect for the sacred grounds. The entire community attends Mass on Friday mornings and fifth through eighth graders do volunteer work. The school also held a fun run/walk this spring, called, “Get Fit for God.”
Sister Mary Jean’s dedication to the spiritual development of the children is even reflected in her attire. She wears a modified habit in order to be a witness for the children and encourages them to, “be the best you can be.”
After more than 50 years, Sister Mary Jean will be taking a step in a new direction as she retires from her administrative educational ministry at the end of the school year. She will miss the teachers and children immensely, but is looking forward to time for reflection and spiritual renewal. Currently, she is busy organizing her office for the (unnamed) new principal and prays for a smooth transition.
Bertha Zavala, who is Sister Mary Jean’s administrative assistant, is “honored to have worked for such a wonderful person.”
“Sister Mary Jean truly lives the Gospel values that we try to instill in our students, especially the value of compassion,” Zavala said.
Sister Mary Jean enjoys embroidery, gardening, baking, hiking and traveling. She spoke of an adventure with six of her religious sisters, rafting down the Colorado River to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and hiking out during the night to avoid the severe heat. She also recalled a momentous three-week Dominican pilgrimage through Spain, France and Italy.
She said she will sincerely miss her St. Helen Catholic School Lions, even their mascots Tiki and Bootz, two feral cats.
“Watching the students grow and become successful young adults is one of the most rewarding things in my life,” Sister Mary Jean said.
Father Brian McMaster, pastor of St. Helen Parish thanks Sister Mary Jean for her service to the St. Helen’s community.
“Sister Mary Jean has been a pillar of leadership and a spiritual anchor for us. Personally, I am grateful and indebted to her for her collaboration and guidance during my first year as pastor at St. Helen’s. The parish and school community are going to miss her,” he said.
However, the school is excited that two Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, will begin teaching there in the fall.
The Dominican Sisters of Houston have been educators in Texas since the 1880s. For more information, visit