Former Madonna president, consecrated life delegate receives rare papal honor

Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, CSSF, delegate for consecrated life for the Archdiocese of Detroit and former president of Madonna University in Livonia, receives the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (”For Church and Pope”) medal awarded by Pope Francis during a March 21 prayer service at St. Colette Parish in Livonia. (Photos by Rosa Maria Zamarron | Special to Detroit Catholic)

Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, CSSF, receives papal ‘Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’ medal in recognition of her six decades of service 

LIVONIA Even after six decades of service, Sr. Rose Marie Kujawa, CSSF, has always looked at the bigger picture. 

Whether it was her 14 years as president of Madonna University in Livonia, or the five-plus years she’s spent as Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s delegate for consecrated life in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Sr. Kujawa says any contributions she’s been able to make have been a result of great teams around her.

On Sunday, March 21, those teams saw Sr. Kujawa receive a rare papal honor for her lifetime of service to the Church, as Pope Francis awarded the Felician with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal.

Archbishop Vigneron bestowed the award upon Sr. Kujawa during a brief midday prayer service at St. Colette Parish in Livonia before 150 of Sr. Kujawa’s friends and colleagues. The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (Latin for, “For Church and Pope”) medal was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 for those who have demonstrated distinguished service to both the Church and papal office. 

A closeup of the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” medal, which depicts the apostles Peter and Paul.
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron awards the medal to Sr. Kujawa during a private ceremony March 21 at St. Colette. 

In a letter to archdiocesan curia staff, Archbishop Vigneron said he experienced a “sense of gratitude and joy” in awarding the medal to Sr. Kujawa “in recognition of her many years of dedicated and selfless ministry to the local and universal Church.”

Sr. Kujawa, who made her final profession of vows in 1968, taught at St. Valentine, Bishop Borgess and Ladywood High School until 1976, when she was assigned to Madonna College to teach mathematics with additional responsibilities in the planning and development office. 

Beginning in 1979, Sr. Kujawa served as academic dean and vice president at Madonna until 2001, when she was appointed the university’s sixth president. In 2015, she accepted the archbishop’s invitation to become his delegate for consecrated life. 

Over the years, Sr. Kujawa also served on several boards such as the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, Orchard Lake Schools, SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary, Marywood Nursing Care Center and St. Mary Hospital. 

“My first encounter with the Felician Sisters was when they were my first teachers at St. John Cantius in southwest Detroit,” Sr. Kujawa told Detroit Catholic. “They engaged me in their teaching, and even if I didn’t understand that concept at the time, I wanted to imitate what I saw.” 

Sr. Kujawa greets well-wishers after the prayer service. During her tenure at Madonna University, the Felician-run college expanded its international profile and added programs in American Sign Language, among other accomplishments. 

After finishing eighth grade at St. John Canisius, Sr. Kujawa knew she wanted to join the Congregation of Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice, attending the all-girls Felician Academy on Detroit’s east side before heading to the Felician-run Madonna. 

It was at Madonna where Sr. Kujawa, a mathematics major, knew she was destined for teaching. But the 1966 graduate never imagined she’d one day end up as president of her alma mater. 

“Early on, I knew our community was hoping I’d become academic dean, which was the chief academic officer at the time,” Sr. Kujawa said. “It never occurred to me to be more than that.” 

But providence had other plans. Madonna was growing and was on pace to become a university, and Sr. Kujawa was asked to chair the committee tasked with making that happen. She became academic vice president when the school started offering master’s degrees in 1982. 

In 1991, Madonna College become Madonna University, and in 2001, Sr. Kujawa became the school’s sixth president.  

During her tenure, the school expanded its international profile, establishing teaching programs in Taiwan and China and business degrees in the United Arab Emirates while at home establishing the school as one of the premiere teaching colleges in southeast Michigan, particularly for those looking to go into Catholic education.  

Only a handful of individuals to receive the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” medal in the Archdiocese of Detroit’s history, Sr. Kujawa’s contributions to the local Church extend far beyond her individual accomplishments, the archbishop said. 

“I never think in terms of just one (accomplishment) when I was president; I look at the whole calculation, whether it’s all of the students or all of the faculty,” Sr. Kujawa said. “The major accomplishment is to have a vibrant university where students are becoming well educated or where faculty find great satisfaction in teaching.” 

Sr. Kujawa said she’s particularly proud of the university’s sign language program, which expanded to make an American Sign Language interpreter available for every deaf student on campus. Madonna also implemented an ASL curriculum to teach sign language to non-deaf students. 

During her tenure, the school also constructed a $22 million LED-certified Franciscan Center on campus, complete with 13 science laboratories, TV studio for the broadcast and cinema arts program and a cafeteria. 

In 2015, Sr. Kujawa stepped down from her position at Madonna to become delegate for consecrated life in the Archdiocese Detroit, working with various religious communities and orders in southeast Michigan and supporting them in their vocations.  

“I felt I had given Madonna University all the services I could in leadership,” Sr. Kujawa said. “To be a delegate for consecrated life in the Archdiocese of Detroit was a magnificent opportunity. I have a strong desire for spiritual foundation and a desire to serve people  — sisters, brothers, priests and religious communities. I treasure these last five years of service within the Archdiocese of Detroit.”