For more than 40 years, even after her official retirement from Cardinal Stritch University’s special education faculty, Professor Emerita Sister Gabrielle Kowalski, OSF, Ph.D., ’64, ’69, ministered to generations of students, sharing with them her decades of experience and knowledge and her lifelong love for people with exceptional needs. On Jan. 26, 2016, Sister Gaby died at age 78, leaving behind a legacy in the field of special education but also an imprint on those who loved her, admired her, learned from her and worked alongside her.


Among those who spoke at her funeral Mass and following her death, many shared beloved memories of her kind and gentle soul, her distinctive laugh, and her … They also shared their great admiration for her tireless advocacy, extensive knowledge and infinite compassion:


 “Sister Gaby was so present, and that’s the word that I will most remember about Sister; she was always present with us, always fighting for what’s best for children, always fighting for what’s best for children with intellectual disabilities. …She was a strong, strong voice in the Special Education Department, not just at Stritch, but at the state level and at the national level.” – Dr. Freda Russell, ’09, dean of Stritch’s College of Education and Leadership


“I just wanted to express to you how much a part of the fabric Sister Gaby was at Stritch. I have used a mantra that I have stolen through the actions of Sister Gaby, and that is the notion of ‘humble in spirit and bold in action.’ Sister Gaby embodied the humility of Franciscans in all that she did, from her research, her scholarly work, and her national acclaim which very few people were aware of, and she did it with one foot in front of the other, just kept on pursuing the advocacy of those that were less fortunate. So, indeed, it was my privilege to serve with Sister Gaby. She was gentle, kind, had a great laugh, but she taught us all a lesson, and that is that lesson of humility and perseverance. I am going to continue to do my best to embody the values and behavior Sister Gaby brought forward.” – a funeral reflection by Dr. James Loftus, president of Cardinal Stritch University.


“I came to Stritch in 1997 and I worked with Gaby very closely for the first year. She was my mentor and mentors don’t go away. She remained my mentor. After the first year, I went to the leadership department. ..what I learned about Sister Gaby was she was everything a leader was. She was authentic, she was present, she was humble. Gaby was a servant, a soldier at all times. She influenced so many people. You look at the numbers here (at her funeral Mass) – let’s multiply it and multiply it and multiply it. So many people are who they are because of Sister Gaby. But I’d like to add one word I remember most about Sister Gaby. Her essence was that of Franciscan.” – a funeral reflection by Dr. Kris Hipp, professor emerita at Stritch


“The Special Education Department at Stritch has lost its shining star . … Sister Gaby was a very dedicated individual in everything she did at the University, whether that was heading a committee or whether teaching or working with the graduate students on their research papers, her whole life was special education, especially her dedication to those with intellectual disabilities. And she lived it out. A lot of faculty are involved in research, but Gaby really lived her dedication beyond just the subject. She was, in fact, a guardian to two adults with intellectual disabilities. That speaks volumes to who she was as a person. …She was just brilliant. I always remember at meetings she would ask the important or tough questions or challenge us to think about what we were doing for the students in the department or as related to the mission of special education and how we were going to better prepare our students for that important teaching role.” -- Dr. Marna Boyle, professor of special education


Read (and hear) all about Sister Gaby – in her own words and through the perspectives of others:


2012 Fall issue of Stritch Magazine story: “Embracing those on the margins of society: Sister Gabrielle retires after 40 years”


We of Nojoshing biography, written in celebration of Sister Gaby’s life by Sisters Marie Colette Roy, OSF, ’60, ’61, and Marcia Lunz, OSF, ’67


“Our Stories” autobiography, written by Sister Gabrielle and published by Dr. Meneo Afonso in 1998