However, Sr. Josephe Marie’s own story is also one of struggle and faith over many years, and helps one to see how a religious who seems as meek as her slight build, could attract and form a proverbial army of Davids against a legal Goliath. And win.

A School Sister of Notre Dame for 47 years, Sr. Josephe Marie recalled her childhood relationship with her mother as difficult. She said she was often beaten for circumstances brought about by an adventurous nature.


The Bakalas and Sr. Josephe Marie Flynn enjoying looking at photos of the children when they were younger at their home in West Allis, earlier this year. Pictured from left are Sr. Josephe Marie, David, Christopher age 8, Regina, and Lydia, age 9. (Catholic Herald photo by Matt Dixon)

“I would climb the dresser using the drawers pulled out, and it would, of course, fall over on me,” she said. “She would get after me with a belt then, but as much as I knew I needed to get away from her, I had a great longing for her love.”

Schooling at Holy Cross Parish in Milwaukee introduced her to women in religious life, and she “fell in love with the sisters there, they were just so wonderful,” Sr. Josephe Marie recalled.

However, the family moved shortly thereafter to rural Washington County and she continued her education in a small schoolhouse in Monches where she became interested in writing, was encouraged to write competitive essays, and was even published. She liked the boys, which caused a conflict for her future plans as a nun.

“I would walk in the woods and talk to God, praying over what I should do,” Sr. Josephe Marie explained. “I came to the understanding that I wanted to do something really special for God, even if it was hard.”

She recalls the decision to enter religious life as one that helped her distance herself from her mother while pleasing her as well. At age 14, she entered the convent aspiranture in Prairie du Chien, and after high school moved to Notre Dame of the Lake (now Concordia University), took her first vows in 1961, and final vows in 1966.

Her religious vocation led her to teaching on the grade and high school level as an art teacher and theology teacher – she earned a master’s degree in theology from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas – a facet of her life that touches her, as former students from as far away as Escanaba, Mich., and Seattle, Wash., still keep in touch.

Sr. Josephe Marie served as the liaison for charismatic renewal in the Milwaukee Archdiocese in the late 1970s and 1980s, a position that required much travel and many speaking engagements across the country.

However, her religious journey was not always easy. Recalling a “dark period,” she said she felt “abandoned by God. Although I was fruitful in dealing with people, I felt like I was losing my faith.”

Deep prayer and helpful spiritual guidance by her spiritual director led Sr. Josephe Marie to realize that she still had many unresolved anxieties from her strained relationship with her mother. She now credits the experience for deepening her relationship with God.

“I have a deeper sense of God’s spirit. God is faithful, personal, tender, marvelous – awesome!” she said emphatically. “There is a brand new steadiness in my life.”

In early 2005, after serving nine years, Sr. Josephe Marie resigned as director of adult and family ministry at St. Mary Parish in Hales Corners due to health concerns.

She had known the Bakalas, and said that she and Regina connected because of similar experiences with losing or feeling separated from their mothers. Regina had lost her mother as a young girl – coincidentally or not, her mother’s name was Josephine.

“To me, she is like a mother,” Regina said. “Each time she came to see me (in prison), it was such a consolation … she means so much to my family.”

When Regina was abruptly taken into custody during the evening of Tuesday during Holy Week of 2005, David contacted Sr. Josephe for help, but initially asked her to keep the potential deportation a secret.

After “praying up a storm,” she realized this should not be kept quiet, and David agreed. She was soon helped by a team of fellow parishioners, including Bob Mutranowski and Tracy Borgardt. Within a few weeks, media were contacted, legislators and legal help were enlisted, and a Web site ( was developed to help collect funds and keep people informed.

Although she gave credit to the team who worked a miracle, the feeling was obviously mutual.

“Sr. Josephe had an unbelievable ability to calm and comfort everyone … she worked tirelessly,” said Mutranowski, adding, “She is as tough as a bulldog if someone tells her it can’t be done.”

Equal to her tenacity was her faith, according to Borgardt.

“I would worry over the ‘what if’ of Regina being sent back, but Sr. Josephe had such faith, I don’t think she ever felt that would happen,” she said.

Despite overwhelming odds, Regina’s case was reopened, and David and Regina were granted asylum in a joint hearing held in April of 2007. They now can apply for permanent residency, and after five additional years, can become American citizens.

Sr. Josephe’s love of writing led her to write a book on the Bakala’s story.  She is now working with an agent to find a publisher. While this latest calling has been as exhausting as it has been exhilarating, she felt her vocation has been greatly rewarding.

“Everything I’ve really wanted to do, I’ve done – teaching, travel, retreats, conferences, parish work and now writing. My life has been so enriched by the people I’ve served,” she said.  “Knowing I’ve helped people’s lives, it’s just amazing. Being invited into their sacred spaces is a privilege.”