December 20, 1924 – March 6, 2023
“My greatest joy has been to teach and care for little children. They have been the sunshine in my life, and I have thanked God many times for the privilege of teaching them about Him.”
Born December 20, 1924 in Detroit, Violet was the third of six children of Charles and Olga Galea Mizzi, who had come to the United States from Malta. Violet’s mother often spoke with gratitude and admiration for the Sisters of Charity who had cared for her as a child. Religion and family were important to her. She was devoted to her extensive Maltese American family and was proud of the tradition that a visit from St. Paul brought Christianity to the island.
Violet’s earliest years in parochial schools in the Detroit area were under the guidance of first, the Adrian Dominicans in elementary grades and then the Sisters of Charity in high school. After the tenth grade her education was interrupted when her older sister Eileen needed help in the family-operated beauty parlor. To prepare for this job, Violet studied at the Derma-Way School of Cosmetology and became a licensed beautician. For the next four years she gave hair care to women, especially the “Rosie Riveters” of WWII.
At the age of 20 Violet confided her desire to be a Sister to her parish priest. She asked him to recommend some congregations other than the two she already knew. After writing to two, she received an invitation from Mother Euphrasia Sullivan to come to Grand Rapids. She accepted it, arriving at Marywood on September 9, 1945.
During her postulancy Violet was tutored by the Sisters at Marywood to complete her high school requirements. At reception she took her mother’s name, Olga. To earn her B.A., she took correspondence and summer courses for several years.
Her mother’s story of being cared for by the Sisters of Charity inspired Sister Olga’s desire to care for underserved children. This wish was fulfilled when she was assigned to St. John’s Home as prefect of the younger girls. Then in 1950 she started teaching school in Pewamo, Michigan. For the next 46 years she taught in the primary grades in Grand Rapids, Alpena, and Essexville. In summers she often taught Bible school and remedial reading at the Reading Center at Aquinas College. She received training in the Workshop Way® at Xavier University, New Orleans and adapted some of those methods in her teaching. In the classroom she communicated her love for children and delighted them with opportunities for arts and crafts. She was especially successful with slow learners, and she often served as a master teacher for Calvin College interns. She once reflected: “My greatest joy has been to teach and care for little children. They have been the sunshine in my life, and I have thanked God many times for the privilege of teaching them about Him.”
In September 1962 seven Sisters from St. John’s School in Essexville were in a tragic car crash that killed five of the Sisters and seriously injured two. (The driver of the other car and his passenger were also killed.) Sister Olga was one of two survivors. Both surviving Sisters were seriously injured and were nursed back to health with a year of physical therapy and recuperation at Marywood. “That year was a grace-filled one where I felt the warmth and security of the community. I dare say it was the happiest year of my religious life,” she later wrote. The memories and physical effects of the accident lasted for the rest of her life, and she never completely regained the use of one hand.
For the next fourteen years, Sr. Olga taught at Marywood Academy. Her final years in the classroom were at St. Alphonsus where she taught until 1995. She was the last Sister to teach at that school where the Dominicans had begun teaching over 100 years before. After her Golden Jubilee in 1996 she retired from classroom work and began tutoring young students struggling with reading. In the fall of 1999, the congregation contributed funds to the St. Alphonsus School Foundation for two annual scholarships, one named in her honor, to provide tuition for worthy students.
One of her former students speaks for many when he wrote: “to this day I have a picture of her [Sister Olga] on my desk at home to remind me of the grace, hope, and love that I need to bring to the world every day; and it was because of her. . . . she touched my life with her patience of meeting me halfway as a learner. Every day she was urging me to read more and to think deeper with the text; she made [those words] come alive within my soul as I began to comprehend the written passages with so much clarity. . . it was her gentle voice and caring heart that resonated with this struggling reader.”
In her retirement Sr. Olga began a new apostolate of letter writing to women on death row. She continued her long-standing practice of visiting the sick at Aquinata Hall, providing hair care, and playing cards with friends. She taught in religious education programs and enrolled in scripture classes. At daily Masses she served as a lector and was a Eucharistic minister.
In the summer of 1982 Sister Olga toured New England with a group led by Sister Marie Joseph Ryan, and in 1999 she toured the shrines of Canada with Sister Diana Mylnarchek. Her favorite trip was a cruise of the Caribbean in 1996, including an underwater viewing of tropical fish.
At the time of her Silver Jubilee, Sister Olga wrote: “As a result of being one of the two survivors in the nine-passenger [sic] accident of September ’62, I have tried to live each day to the fullest. Praying the office with the community for the church has been very fulfilling for me . . . also praying for the perseverance of priests and religious.”
She was a prolific letter-writer and cheered many sick or lonely people by visits or telephone calls. She enjoyed playing cards, shopping at thrift stores, and going for lunch and movie with a colleague. Her daily lunch-time recreation was watching reruns of Matlock TV shows. She loved butterflies and flowers, often adorning the convent altar and dining room table with bouquets from the garden.
On March 6, 2023, Sister Olga joined her much loved family and friends, including St. Paul who brought Christianity to her ancestors on Malta. Sister Olga will be remembered for her friendly, faithful, and kind ways with her students, Sisters, family and friends.
Sr. Olga is survived by her sister Eileen Cline, Sterling Heights, nieces, nephews, many friends and members of her Dominican Community.
Entered eternal life on March 6, 2023 at the age of 98 after 77 years of religious life.
We commend Sister Olga to your prayers.
Pray for priests
Sr. Olga spent 29 years teaching and tutoring at St. Alphonsus School in Grand Rapids.
Sr. Olga Mizzi’s joy of teaching is evident in this picture of her with some of her students.
Sr. Olga and Kim Havenger in Nov. 2004. Sr. Olga tutored twice a week at St. James School.
After moving back to Marywood, Sr. Olga (second from the left) continued ministry as a member of the Prayer and Listening Line.