Raffaella Maria Stroik, 23, of St. Louis, MO (formerly of South Bend, IN) died by accident on November 14, 2018 as she was walking along the lake at Mark Twain State Park near Florida, MO where she went on a private retreat. It was a park that she had visited a number of years ago.
Raffaella was born on December 16, 1994 to Duncan and Ruth (Engelhardt) Stroik in South Bend, IN, and has lived in St. Louis since 2017.
From the beginning Raffaella Maria Stroik loved people and pirouettes. Her passion for Swan Lake and The Nutcracker inspired her family, while her devotion to technical excellence educated her friends. While she was studying at St. Matthew, Trinity and St. Joseph High School in South Bend, where she loved the humanities, she also began to play the violin. Inspired by her older sister Gabrielle she fell in love with ballet. At Southold Dance Theater she had wonderful friends and teachers who goaded her on, including Erica Fischbach, and she filled her summers with ballet intensives across the U.S. But this was only half of the story: she once told her mother that all she wanted to do in life was to dance and go to Mass, and that is how she tried to live.
At Indiana University she was able to pursue a bachelors in Ballet performance under the direction of Michael Vernon, Christian Claesens, Sasha James, Shawn Stevens, and Jacque Cesbron. During her time at IU, Raffaella, thanks to her ambition and drive to push herself physically and artistically, had the chance to perform leading roles in Giselle, Swan lake, Serenade, Dark Elegies, the Nutcracker, Concerto Barocco, and Emeralds, just to name a few. She also had the privilege of being coached by noted teachers and choreographers including Darla Hoover, Daniel Duell, Paul Boos, Maria Calegari, Donald Mahler, Nilas Martins, Michelle Gifford, Kyra Nicholes, and, most importantly, the late Violette Verdy, who was Raffaella's biggest font of inspiration. Also during her time at IU, she minored in Italian and was a voracious reader of the Divina Commedia as well as books on theology. After graduation, Raffaella was invited to the St. Louis Ballet by Gen Horiuchi, artistic director, and moved to the Rome of the West. There she enjoyed dancing in Cinderella, Faure Fantasy, Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, the Nutcracker, and La Vie. She challenged herself to excel in ballet and share the love and joy of God with others.
Raffaella was a faithful Catholic, daily communicant and enjoyed attending the March for Life. She loved her friends at Anima Christi, the Young Adults Group at the St. Louis Cathedral, and spent hours praying to Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. She claimed this gave her the strength to love and serve those she met.
Raffaella was fearless and adventurous. She liked to swim in the ocean, surf, and hike the lakes at Notre Dame. She took pleasure in travelling to New York and Rome and other great cities where she could experience great art and interact with people. Raffaella also loved to go into nature to hike and to pray and to make spiritual retreats.
Her desire was to make the world a more beautiful place by caring for people and speaking the language of ballet. She sought to redeem the culture through excellence in dance, drama and classical music. She tried to learn from exemplars in ballet and in art, such as her namesake, so that she could develop as an artist. She told people numerous times that “when I dance, I seek to share the joy of Creation. I feel close to God and try to share Him with the audience.” Like her heroes, Raffaella sought to express timeless values. This is because she believed that “beauty will save the world.”
Raffaella is survived by her parents, Duncan and Ruth Stroik; three sisters, Gabrielle (Thomas) Johnson of Chicago, IL, Maria Maddalena Stroik, and Maria Grazia Stroik all of South Bend, IN; two brothers, Giovanni Battista Stroik and Pietro Francesco Stroik, both of South Bend, IN; paternal grandparents, John and Bebee Stroik of Reston, VA; a niece, Beatrice Johnson, and a nephew, Richard Johnson both of Chicago, IL; and many beloved aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.
She was preceded in death by her maternal grandparents, Charles and Grace Engelhardt.
Visitation will be from 2-8 p.m. Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at Kaniewski Funeral Home, 3545 N. Bendix Drive, South Bend, IN, where a rosary will be prayed at 6:00 p.m.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 21, 2018 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, on the University of Notre Dame Campus, with Most Rev. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades officiating. Burial will follow in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Notre Dame, IN.
Memorial contributions may be made to: Southold Dance Theatre, 914 Lincoln Way West, South Bend, IN 46616 or the Women’s Care Center, 360 N. Notre Dame Ave., South Bend, IN 46617.
To send online condolences, please visit www.kaniewski.com.
Elegy for a Ballerina: It is only Love that matters
Raffaella Maria Adelaide Stroik, 1994-2018
Your Excellency, thank you for celebrating the funeral Mass, and I know that it means a lot to the Stroik family. On behalf of the family, thank you for coming to celebrate the life of our sister, our friend, our dear Raffaella’s life, but more importantly to pray for the repose of her soul.
My name is Fr. Joseph Jiang. I am the associate pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri, where Raffaella often attended daily Mass. Raffaella belonged to our young adults group, and I had the unique privilege to be her spiritual director. We all know that Raffaella was very beautiful and graceful, but I had the unique privilege to beholding her soul. She was one of the few souls whom I have met and struck me profoundly by their love for God, yet was totally unaware of the fact of how much they actually do love God. I often marveled at the beauty of her soul, her utter innocence and purity expressed through that angelic smile. God created this innocent lily not to delight the eyes of the world, but to delight himself, and those who were privileged to encounter this angelic soul, cannot help themselves, but giving thanks to God, and wanting to love God more. I was confiding to our Archbishop last week, Archbishop Carlson, “She was so close to God, I do not think I could be ever that close to God as she was”. The Archbishop said, “Do not say that.” “But Archbishop, that is the truth.” I said; and then the Archbishop said to me, “Then ask her to pray for you!” I have already begun, as so many of her friends from St. Louis, to ask for her intercession.
Priests are called Fathers, because we ought to stand in the person of Christ to reveal the love of the heavenly Father to the world. I am grateful to the priests who ministered to me, in particularly our former rector at the Cathedral Basilica. When he was diagnosed with bone cancer he called me and said to me, “Joseph, I am offering this up to our Lord for you, so that He may free you of your cross.” I look back at Msgr. Pins, and my heart filled with such gratitude, because he became an image of the love the heavenly Father has for me. If this mere man can love me this much, and this is only a glimpse of the love of the heavenly Father for me. How can I ever comprehend the love of the heavenly Father? For such a short time God placed Raffaella under my spiritual care, and I came to admire and love this innocent soul. If this is the grief that I feel about losing her. Duncan, Ruth and all of Raffaella’s siblings, Gabrielle, Giovanni, Pietro, Maria Maddalena and Maria Grazia, I cannot begin to imagine the love that you have for your daughter and sister, and I can neither begin to imagine the grief that you feel in your heart and your soul. Yet this love you have for her is only an image and a glimpse of the heavenly Father’s love for His precious daughter. How could our heavenly Father refuse His daughter who loved Him so much while on this earth. God gifted her to us for 23 years, on this sad occasion, we nevertheless give thanks to God for having given us such an angel. Our hearts are filled with sorrow, not because of our sister, but for ourselves, because we cannot see her anymore. But, friends, do not forget that we are a people of faith, we are going to see her again, and we are going to see her again in heaven!
For us who knew Raffaella well, the Sacred Heart Shrine, which her father, Mr. Stroik designed in the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, and the Blessed Mother Chapel, where we would gather every week for our usual Holy Hour, were her two favorite places to pray. Often, very often, you would find her lingering before the Sacred Heart Shrine and the Blessed Mother Chapel lost in prayer.
Duncan, I do not have to tell you more about the Sacred Heart Shrine, we see Jesus’ downcast eyes, not a look of chastisement, but a gaze of love, but also a begging gaze to love Him in return. With confidence, I can tell you that Raffaella gave God nothing but her love. To me she was a reflection of my good friend, St. Therese. Like St. Therese she was the bride of the King. St. Therese said “It is only love that matters…, because I have never given anything to God but love… He will render love to me” (Complete Spiritual Doctrine of St. Therese, 149). I have confidence that Jesus will render His love in return to Raffaella. The fire which is the merciful love from the heart of Jesus is much more sanctifying than the fire in Purgatory. One look from Jesus will purity her soul in an instant.
My last memory of Raffaella was that Monday morning, November 12, as I was leaving the Cathedral Basilica after the 7 a.m. Mass and confessions, and she was coming to the 8 a.m. Mass. I am sure that she wanted to go to Mass and receive our Lord before she left for her retreat, not knowing that it was to be her viaticum, and our Lord was with her to the very end. As we went through our security footage, what moved me was her standing before the Blessed Mother Chapel completely lost in prayer for three minutes. How would our Mother ever abandon a child who loved her so much?
“Little Therese asked me the other day if she is going to Heaven. ‘Yes, if you are good, Darling,’ I replied. ‘If I am not,’ she said, ‘I suppose I shall go to Hell. If so, I know what I will do. I will fly away to you, because you will be in Heaven—then you will hold me tight in your arms. God could not take me away then!’ I could see her face that she was quite sure God could not do anything to her if she were hidden in her mother’s arms” (The Story of a Soul, 7). Raffaella is safe in the arms of our good Mother, and she will lead Raffaella hand in hand and present her to our Lord who loved her from eternity. How fitting that we celebrate Raffaella’s funeral Mass on the feast of the Presentation of our Lady.
Knowing Raffaella, I do not think that she would be happy if we stop praying for her, and for the repose of her soul. We have to continue to pray for her. I love this touching story from St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests.
“My children, you remember the story I have told you already of that holy priest who was praying for his friend; God had, it appears, made known to him that he was in Purgatory; it came into his mind that he could do nothing better than to offer the holy Sacrifice of the Mass for his soul. When he came to the moment of Consecration, he took the Host in his hands and said, “O Holy and Eternal Father, let us make an exchange. Thou hast the soul of my friend who is in Purgatory, and I have the Body of Thy Son, Who is in my hands; well, do Thou deliver my friend, and I offer Thee Thy Son, with all the merits of His Death and Passion. “ In fact, at the moment of the elevation, he saw the soul of his friend rising to Heaven, all radiant with glory. Well, my children, when we want to obtain anything from the good God, let us do the same; after Holy Communion, let us offer Him His well-beloved Son, with all the merits of His death and His Passion. He will not be able to refuse us anything” (Catechism on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, St. John Vianney). In His great love for us, He let Himself be held hostage, so that our Heavenly Father has to answer our prayer.
God, our heavenly Father, as you revealed to us through St. Therese, You are nothing but mercy and love, and with confidence in Your merciful love, we beg you to open the gates of paradise to our sister, Raffaella. Angels of God, especially St. Raphael, we commend the soul of our sister to you. May you guide and welcome her into your heavenly company.
Rev. Joseph Jiang
November 21, 2018