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05/19/2019
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Молодiжне Перехрестя (Тисність на обкладинку)

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English \ A Living Angel

"I am a very lucky and fortunate person.

I've been blessed by God

with opportunities to serve others"

Pat Kuzmak


There is no exact definition of what exactly angels are, but in our perception they are associated with sacred amorphous spirits that act as the messengers of God and look over human beings from afar. They are essentially our guardians who bestow their protecting shields in the time of need upon each and everyone.

How would you feel about meeting an angel in real life? Sounds a bit unrealistic, but in fact it is not. There is one angel that by some superior will of God has decided to plant itself among people and guard us while living alongside. This angel is an 81 year old lady named Patricia Kuzmak. Pat has devoted her entire life to serving community and being useful to others.

A native of Denison, Iowa, Pat comes from the humble German-Irish middle class family. Pat was the only child. When she was 12 her beloved father passed away. Pat's mother had a very hard time raising her daughter alone, and very often they both lived off of cereal and popcorn. However even in those days of hardship Patricia never felt deprived. Later, Pat's mother remarried and started a family restaurant business with Pat's stepfather. Since the family was not able to have more biological children, they decided to adopt. They got Pat's sister Marie when she was 9 days old and much later became the foster family to 12 and 13 year old brothers Richard (Dick) and Robert (Bob) who have lost their parents. Pat was very excited to have siblings and until today is very close with them (Marie has since died from cancer, but lives forever in Pat's heart).

Patricia was a good student and took special interest in religion classes. At the age of 18 she decided to become a nun and has joined a Franciscan convent. Her mother was very supportive of the daughter's decision and served as a great mentor to her. Pat enjoyed being a nun immensely. As a music teacher at the convent she taught classroom music and piano lessons in both private and group settings. Patricia has spent 16 years at the convent before she came to the realization that she would be more useful serving others outside the church premises. At the age of 34 Pat left the convent and soon after has found a job as a music teacher in the Chicago area first at a catholic school and 2 years later - at a public school. Being a teacher at a public school was extremely rewarding; Pat felt like she was finally making a difference working with kids from middle class families with a variety of faiths or no religious background.

In July 1971 Patricia met a very special man Wally, who became her husband less than a year later. Wally was 9 years older than Pat and was the love of her life. He was of Ukrainian origin and has always been deeply involved in Ukrainian diaspora in the USA in general and Ukrainian Catholic Church life in particular. His skills of a real estate broker and builder had come in handy when his Ukrainian Chicago parish was looking for a new home in early 1990-s. Wally helped design the construction plans to build the church and assisted with finding the right architect. His big dream was to have a basement underneath the church with ample classroom space for children to study. This dream unfortunately did not become a reality. The construction of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church was finished in 1993. It became a true attraction of the southern Illinois suburb of Palos Park. Wally was elected to be an honorable member of the Church Council and Pat - a teacher of the catechism class at the church.

Pat and Wally were not blessed with children. Pat's students helped fill the void. After retiring from teaching in 1993 Pat spent a lot of time looking after her sick mother-in-law, who moved in with them per Pat's suggestion. She especially needed help after having a stroke. When Wally's mother passed away in 1997 Pat devoted her time to taking care of her own mother as she became needy as well. Pat would often fly or drive to Iowa to help or visit mom. Her mother died in 2003.

With the loss of parents on both sides Pat and Wally recovered by travelling. Pat became a travel agent and had an opportunity to bring along her husband when going to different parts of the world. They enjoyed their trips to France, Russia, Mexico, and Bermuda a lot. But their absolute favorite was the family trip to Wally's motherland Ukraine in 2003. Pat has very fond recollections of their visit to Turka, a little town in Lviv oblast where Wally's father was born, and the river cruise from Kyiv to Wally's mom's native city Odesa.

Wally passed away in February 2009. It was the greatest shock and loss of Pat's life. The parishioners of Nativity of the BVM Ukrainian Catholic Church were very supportive in helping Pat overcome her tragedy. She will be forever grateful for this.

With time Mrs Kuzmak has sold her big house in Oak Lawn and moved into a smaller condominium in Palos Heights to be closer to the Nativity Church. She split her time between volunteering for the parish, administering medication to her blind wheelchair bound elderly neighbor, dog sitting for her friend Rosemary (little Maggie enjoys Pat's company a lot!), occasional waitressing for the local banquet hall Aviana and meeting with friends for tea.

During one of the tea gatherings in February 2016 Pat found out from her close friend Irene Gajecki about the wounded Ukrainian hero Volodymyr Hera who has rescued 400 servicemen defending Luhansk airport on August 31, 2014 in the war zone in the East of Ukraine and as a result became paralyzed. He happened to be on rehabilitation in Chicago and was in need of a place to live. Pat thought for a brief moment about the minimum requirements one had to meet in order to shelter Volodymyr (one floor, no stairs, extra bathroom, extra bedroom) and realizing she is meeting each of them immediately volunteered to take him in. Volodymyr Hera and his father Jaroslav spent half a year living in Pat's condo and very quickly became a part of her family. Volodymyr's girlfriend Olesya, who has arrived a little later, also turned into Mrs Kuzmak's close and dear friend. Pat empathized with Volodymyr, went to different social events with him, showed him around and did all she could to make his stay in the USA as productive as possible. Volodymyr Hera, his father and girlfriend left Chicago in July 2016 after completing the therapy treatment. Now that Volodya is back in Ukraine they keep in touch and talk on Skype every weekend. As a matter of fact, Pat is planning her trip to Ukraine to visit Volodymyr and his family in August this year. When asked if she would host a wounded soldier from Ukraine ever again, Mrs Kuzmak responds "Yes!" without any hesitation.

And indeed she means it! On May 8th 2017 Pat volunteered to shelter a paralyzed hero Roman Havrylchak from Lviv, Ukraine. Roman was severely injured on February 12, 2015 as a result of massive shelling of Russia backed separatists in town Debaltseve in the East of Ukraine. The soldier came to the US in a wheelchair accompanied by his mother Kateryna and is currently undergoing intensive therapy treatment in Willow Springs, Illinois. Mrs Kuzmak is thrilled to have her new guests over and is grateful for the opportunity to be able to serve them.

Pat supports Ukrainian wounded heroes because she is convinced that the duty of each human being is to help those who are in need. As a matter of fact, nationality is not key for her. Pat treats all people regardless of their ethnicity, race and color equally as they are all God's children. "God does not ask us what nationality we are", - insists Mrs Kuzmak - "All I do is what a good Christian should be doing, nothing else".

Pat is truly a person of exemplary conduct and virtue. She has two artificial hips and knees, lung problems but you would never hear her complain; instead she is always cheerful and all smiles. Her integrity and charisma are mesmerizing. Mrs Kuzmak is very selfless and humble. She lives to serve others. She is a living angel.

Testimonials

Father Mykola Buryadnyk, pastor at St. Joseph Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago

Mrs Kuzmak is a wonderful Irish lady with a big Ukrainian heart. She is a very gracious, sympathetic, giving and caring person. People like Pat are those that make a difference and inspire others to do good deeds. Humble and selfless are the best adjectives to describe Pat. Mrs Kuzmak is an example of how true Christians should live their life. May the Almighty God bless this kind lady with good health and many years of continued faithful service in His honor!

Rose Cook, Pat's friend

When there is a need in the Ukrainian community people just respond to the need. At Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary the go to person is often Pat Kuzmak. She is a gracious individual who makes friends easily. People just gravitate to her. They know her kind disposition. I find her always welcoming.

When it was time to find someone who might open their house to a soldier who was wounded in the war zone in Ukraine and his father, Pat was quick to volunteer her help. She has opened her heart and her home to a young soldier and his family. Pat worried about his health and went out of her way to help him feel welcome and create a home-like atmosphere. Pat truly has a kind and generous heart. I am so grateful to have her as a friend.

Irene Gajecki, Pat's friend

Pat Kuzmak is a very loyal and dedicated parishioner of Nativity of the BVM Church in Palos Park. After marrying her husband Wally she became a very active member of the whole church community. Among her many duties, she taught catechism for years and led the Sisterhood as a president. Pat is generous with scholarship money in memory of her late husband and assists with the duties around the church.

She is always ready to help in any situation. Being a very caring and unselfishly person, Pat has offered hospitality to the wounded Ukrainian soldier Volodymyr Hera and his father for a lengthy 6 month stay. She gave freely all her time to them, often letting them use her car for transportation, her house and everything that was in it.

Pat cares very much for her family, is constantly connecting with them and supporting their welfare. She is a real, genuine "do gooder". Pat always listens to everybody's problems and helps out in every way she can.

Roman Havrylchak, Ukrainian wounded hero

When my mother and I arrived at Mrs Kuzmak's house she did not simply wait for us to knock at her door, but came outside to greet us with a big smile on her face, which made us feel instantly welcome. Pat struck us as a very level-headed, humble and pleasant lady. She told us right away that we could use all the rooms at her condominium, eat all the food that we find in her fridge, and even gave us the password to her computer!

Mrs Kuzmak does not let my mother clean the house since she has a cleaning lady coming in from time to time but when she happens to see my mom occasionally cleaning, she rushes to help her right away. She would never raise her voice or lose her temper and is ready to drop everything and drive me to the store whenever I may need to buy something. Pat even had a handyman come in and install a shower hose with a shower head in the bathroom to accommodate my needs.

Mrs Kuzmak is very active. She has a lot of friends calling her all the time and visiting. Pat finds time for everyone. She is always inviting us to all the social events that she attends. It is clear that Pat cares about us as though we were a part of her family.

We only know Mrs Kuzmak for a couple of weeks and she has already done so much for my mother and me. We could not be more grateful and appreciative of her kindness, support and sincerity.

Volodymyr Hera, Ukrainian wounded hero

I vividly remember meeting Mrs Kuzmak for the first time: tall thin lady looking at me with a wide and a little uneasy smile. She asked me what my name was, and after I responded it was Volodymyr, Pat got very happy as her late husband's name was also Volodymyr (Wally). She would tell me numerous times afterwards that I remind her of Wally a lot.

I was surprised to find out that in spite of her elderly age Mrs Kurmak knows how to use a smartphone and drives a car (and not some minivan, but a pretty good size hatchback). She would often stand by the kitchen stove cooking for me and smiling as though her arthritis and two artificial knees were not a bother to her but rather an asset. I liked to tease her by saying: "Mrs Pat, how are your fake knees doing today?"

She often showed me her books about birds. Mrs Kuzmak adores birds and hates squirrels, but I have no idea why?? I used to joke repeatedly: "How can you like birds and dislike squirrels?" Each time Pat was laughing at my joke as if she heard it for the first time.

She was very much worried about what I liked to eat and even more worried that I won't like what she was cooking for me. But everything she made was delicious.

For some reason she reminded me of an aristocrat lady. Pat always had everything planned out ahead of the time; she regularly balanced her checkbook; her kitchen and entire house were always spotless clean.

Mrs Kuzmak has a huge desire to learn Ukrainian language to be able to understand and talk to Ukrainians who are close to her. She likes Ukrainian people because we talk a lot, and when we want to say something important we almost scream not because we are angry but because we want to get a message across. Pat even mentioned that she enjoys Ukrainian disorganized habits. She thinks it is more interesting to live that way J

Despite her age, Pat is not a homebody. She is constantly on the go visiting interesting places, meeting with friends and attending various events. Mrs Kuzmak is taking care of her blind neighbor Gloria. On Easter my father offered to invite Gloria to Pat's house and organized her transportation. Mrs Pat was so excited because her neighbor did not leave her house for years! Pat was thrilled that with my dad's help Gloria had a chance to share Easter celebration with us.

Pat went sightseeing with me. She showed me Chicago downtown area; we have been to the last floor of the tallest skyscraper together.

During my stay at Mrs Pat's house I have learned one very important thing - no matter what, you should always be kind and compassionate to people. This is how Pat is. She, on the other hand, has learned from me, my girlfriend Olesia and my father that you should do what you want, eat when you want, go to bed when you feel like it and go out whenever an opportunity presents itself.

Thank you for everything, Mrs Pat! Your name is engraved in capital letters in my Book of Life.

Father Teodoziy Ilnicki, pastor at Nativity of the BVM Ukrainian Catholic Church in Palos Park

Pat Kuzmak is a very faithful parishioner of Nativity of the BVM Ukrainian Catholic Church in Palos Park, IL. Her generosity and devotion to the parish are very much appreciated. Pat takes an active part in the Sisterhood activities and is a dependable, well respected member of the Church Council. We are honored to have Pat Kuzmak as an integral part of Nativity of the BVM family, and pray for the God's blessings of healthiness, longevity and mercy to be bestowed upon this worthy lady.

Mariya Katrych, Pat's friend

Mrs Kuzmak is a very special person. She is sensitive to people's problems, and is always eager to help. I have never met anybody in my life that is as selfless as Pat is. Whatever she may do, she does not expect a reward or praise in return; Pat does good deeds because she enjoys making other people happy. Her goal in life is to serve others, and she does a marvelous job at it! If there were more people like Pat on the earth the world would be a much better place to live in. I am much honored to know this amazing lady, and wish her best of luck in everything she does.

Natalie Kulchytsky, Sisterhood president

Pat Kuzmak is a woman filled with a heart of gold and compassion for people.  She is soft spoken and one of the most sincere ladies I have ever known.  She has great love for children and enjoys teaching them kindness, sincerity and life values.  Pat is respected as a teacher and as a friend.  She is a lady of dignity, style, intelligence and love, and it all shows right when you meet her.  

Rosemary Lambert, Pat's friend

In February 2016, my amazing friend Pat Kuzmak welcomed two strangers from Ukraine into her home for a six-month stay.  Although she seemed just a bit apprehensive in the beginning, she warmed to the task and before long the "guys" were a part of the family.  

I have never known anyone to welcome strangers with such complete trust and openness.  She did her best to learn to speak to them in their native tongue.  She tried to learn preparing Ukrainian food, but finally left that to her guests who were more experienced with cooking.  The longer her visitors were with her, the more attached she became to them and they - to her.   Pat helped them find their way to China town for chiropractic treatment until they were comfortable going on their own.

By April Pat's guests were acclimated to living in Oak Hills. They had their own schedule, going to school, visiting friends, and sometimes Pat went along with them.  It was clear that she was having a wonderful time with her new family....and they were the family!  The summer flew by and Pat made sure that they saw plenty of Chicago highlights.  As July came to an end, Pat was dreading their departure.  It was a sad day when they left, but I know she continues to Skype with them and hopes to go to Ukraine for a visit sometime this year.

Annette Matt, Pat's friend

Pat Kuzmak is my very dear and close friend. We've been together through a lot, and have very strong friendship. I get goosebumps when I think about her, and how much good she has done throughout her life. I had eye surgery a couple of days ago, and she cancelled all her plans to take care of me and put drops in my eye. This meant so much to me! I am truly appreciative of her constant support and guidance. Pat makes this world a much better place and I am so honored to have her as my best friend.

Written by Nataliya Serafym

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