The Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce presented Sister Elizabeth Oleksak, founder of Genesis Spiritual Life and Conference Center, with its 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award at the Chamber’s Annual Meeting and Awards Banquet November 20. The evening event was held at Shaker Farms Country Club, Westfield.
Pictured above celebrating with Sister Elizabeth Oleksak (third from left) at the Greater Westfield Chamber’s award event were seven other Sisters of Providence: (from left) Sisters Kathleen Popko, Mary Caritas Geary, Ruth McGoldrick, Madeleine Joy, Julie Crane, Margaret McCleary and Senga Fulton.
Presenting the award, Chamber Executive Director Kate Phelon commented,
When I learned ‘Sister Betty,’ to us in Westfield, was the winner I couldn’t wait to notify her… . she is more than deserving of this recognition. She epitomizes youth through her energy, spirit, and passion in everything she does, and is quite a role model for all of us.
The night of the award, Sister Elizabeth opened saying, “I am honored, humbled and awe struck to receive this award and to be in the company of Ann Lentini (last year’s recipient) and so many others who have also contributed so much to our City.”
She added, “Today I share this award with my Sisters in community who supported and continue to support Genesis’ ministry of hospitality. They have been a source of encouragement and strength throughout the years.”
She recalled Sister Mary Caritas Geary, SP President in 1975, approving her opening the spiritual life center. “I would not be here today,” she explained, “if it were not for Sister Caritas, who took a chance with me. And, also, for Sister Ruth McGoldrick who I invited to accompany me in this venture. We journeyed together for 25 years strongly believing in our Genesis ministry. Ruth continues to be a strong supporter of Genesis and a dear friend to me.”
The Genesis founder also expressed gratitude by name for the Sisters of Providence who were involved at Genesis over the years, making special mention of Sister Kathleen Popko. “While I have been at Genesis for 43 years living with Sisters who have come and gone as members of our local Manna House community, Sister Kathleen (in residence there for 42 years) has witnessed our growth, challenges and endeavors. I am deeply grateful and blessed for her friendship and support.”
She went on to praise the crucial roles the dedicated staff, volunteers and Executive Director Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Walz play to enhance and extend the Center’s mission. To the executive director, she said, “With your leadership, you are bringing Genesis to a new and exciting moment of growth.”
Sister Elizabeth served as administrator of Genesis for 26 years, from its founding in 1976 until her retirement in 2002. She continues her ministry on the Genesis Board, as a retreat director, spiritual director, BioSpiritual Focusing Facilitator, Genesis historian, and overseer of the Genesis gardens.
An eco-spirituality resource person, Sister Elizabeth played a pivotal role in the Sisters of Providence’s 2009 decision to place 26 acres of agricultural property in a land trust named Land of Providence, Holyoke. She hosts Westfield’s community gardens at Genesis and in 2016 established the Genesis Arboretum to commemorate the Center’s 40th Anniversary. An ArbNet Level 1 Arboretum, its 400 specimens of woody plants include 35 that comprise its Core Collection.
She received Saint Mary High School’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015, and the year prior, the Westfield Rotary’s Paul Harris Award.
Sister Elizabeth closed her acceptance speech saying,
Truly Genesis is Holy Ground—where we believe God’s love is present and active and in the lives of all persons, therefore all are related and sacred; and since creation is ongoing, each person has the capacity for awakening and healing, which can impact all levels of our global community.
Other Chamber 2019 award recipients that evening were Westfield G&E and Whip City Fiber, Business of the Year; and the Westfield 350 Committee, Nonprofit of the Year.