Some could argue Sandra Makowski has reasons to be angry and even a little mean. However, the nun who has dedicated the past 50 years to God and the Catholic Church has instead become an advocate of kindness. She recently published a book about the topic called “The Side of Kindness” and is spreading good cheer in hopes of uplifting the human spirit.
Sister Makowski has faced hardship in her life. Her sister was killed at a young age in a car accident. She dealt with the adversities of being a woman working in the Catholic Church. Even her latest effort to publish her book was almost thwarted by a publishing deal gone wrong.
Despite all that, Sister Makowski has never used her life’s difficulties as an excuse to be cruel. She remains kind and she wants others to share her spirit.
“I think I am the luckiest person in the world. I’ve had wonderful parents and people who love me” said Makowski. “How could I ever be anything but grateful for all God has blessed me with? Especially when serving so many who suffer because they have no one who cares for them or forgives them or listens to them. Isn’t that why in the end I became a sister?”
Makowski grew up attending a Catholic grade school in Binghamton, N.Y., where she was enamored with the sisters she remembers as happy and kind. After graduating high school at 17 years old, the next step seemed natural, according to Makowski.
“I wanted to be happy like they were and I wanted to live with a group of people who seemed so happy together and were so kind,” she said. “Kindness and happiness, that’s what I wanted for myself.”
In 1965, Makowski and her twin sister, Carole Jean, joined the community of the Sisters of St. Mary in Buffalo, N.Y. In 1981, Sandra Makowski lost her sister.
During a drive from Buffalo to Sumter, where Carole Makowski was to begin a new position as a school principal, a tractor-trailer struck the vehicle carrying her and three other nuns. The two sisters in the back seat were killed, including Carole.
It was a heartbreaking loss for Sandra Makowski. However, she found some solace in a phone call from one of the surviving sisters.
“She told me that the night before, my sister had a dream that she had died,” she said. “She told her it was so beautiful and it was so peaceful.”
Sister Makowski went on to get her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in religious education as well as her canon law degree in Washington, D.C., thanks to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which opened the studies to women.
She became the first woman of the Buffalo diocese to hold a tribunal judge position and she held the position for 21 years until 2006, when she was hired by the Diocese of Charleston.
She was promoted to chancellor in 2009, becoming part of a select group of women chancellors in the country. Bishop Robert Guglielmone appointed Makowski to the position.
“Looking and seeing there are so many areas in the church where women can be in position of responsibility and I thought she has the qualifications, so why not?” said Guglielmone.
During her tenure at the Diocese of Charleston, Makowski began writing columns for a weekly email to employees. They included messages such as the power of saying “good morning” and being aware of your tone of voice. She included, at times, humorous anecdotes from her own life at home and work.
The columns focused on consideration and were called “Consider This.” After writing 44 columns over the course of about a year, Makowski realized they all had a common thread: kindness.
“They were received well because they were light, in a sense,” said Bishop Guglielmone. “They were suggestions about how we can do things better if we are kinder to each other.”
Makowski said she was tired of hearing more and more stories of meanness and cruelty.
“Why does it (kindness) seem to be on the endangered species list instead of what it means to be human?” Makowski said. “I don’t see it that much anymore.”
That’s why she was inspired to publish her columns of kindness in a book last year. Even that task proved challenging for Makowski, who said the original publisher went bankrupt. She lost more than $4,000 she had raised to publish the book.
However, through the kindness and encouragement of her friends, Makowski didn’t give up and she raised more money and found another publisher, which printed her stories as “The Side of Kindness.”
The book’s title comes from Makowski’s perception that many people feel they must take sides in life.
“This person against this person. Black against white. Republican against Democrat. What side am I supposed to take?” she poses.
Her answer: “The side of kindness.”