–by Sylvania AdVantage Staff

An open house was held on Nov. 8 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Sophia Center, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of St. Francis and a member of the Franciscan Services Corporation. The organization has been helping children, adolescents and adults from the Mother House of the Sisters of St. Francis at 6832 Convent Blvd. Recently a wing of the Canticle Center of Lourdes University, 5335 Silica Dr., has been dedicated for use by the growing Sophia Center counseling and testing programs.
The faith-based, non-denominational, not-for-profit organization offers a balanced, integrated, synergistic approach to achieving inner health and well-being. Current day services include individual, group, marriage and family counseling, testing, educational consultation, massage and hypnotherapy, workshops, in-services and special presentations.

The organization was launched in 1993 by Sister Rachel Nijakowski, OSF, Ph.D., who serves as executive director. She already had her master’s degree in psychology and was teaching at the then Lourdes College, when she was encouraged to get her Ph.D. degree by Lourdes President Sister Ann Francis Klimkowski.

“I spent several months interning at private agencies while working on my doctorate. People who had insurance or the financial where-with-all to afford treatment could be helped but there were no programs for the poor or marginalized,” she recalled. “I wanted to change that.”

When Sister Rachel returned to the Lourdes campus in 1990 with a passion to start an organization to work with those in need, she found an ally in the Sisters of St. Francis’ Congregational Minister, Sister Ruth Marie Kachelek. “She encouraged me to start an organization that employed a holistic approach to mental health, incorporating mind, body and spirit, way before that became a popular mantra,” Sister Rachel remembered.
The Sophia Center, meaning “wisdom of God,” started as a counseling and psychological testing center with Sister Rachel and social workers Sister Sharon Pollnow, CSA, LISW, MA, MSW and Bonnie Schrock, MA, LSW. “Through the years, we have added child therapists, drug and alcohol counselors, a massage and hypnotherapist and a geriatric therapist to meet the needs as they arise. However, we continue to emphasize a holistic approach to mental, physical and emotional well-being,” Sister Rachel stated. “Our clients also can integrate their faith into the counseling situation if they so desire.”

She continued, “We built our practice to take insurance and private pay and depend on word of mouth along with physician and pastoral referrals to grow our client base. We also cultivate community partnerships and pursue grants to raise funds allowing us to serve the poor and marginalized.”

“Helping the poor and marginalized, especially women and children continues to be my passion,” she emphasized.