2015-02-26 / Local News

Story about murdered nun to be retold on Discovery Channel

Controversy continues over who killed Sister Janina
By Alan Campbell of the Enterprise staff

A delicate subject in Cedar appears destined for broadcast.

Television crews and producer Colette Sandstedt, whose family vacationed in northern Michigan while she was growing up, were in Leelanau County this week filming for an upcoming show for the Discovery television series, “Deadly Women.”

The film crew spent time interviewing county residents and digging into the story of the murder of a nun in 1907 at Holy Rosary Church in Isadore.

“It still is very sensitive,” said lifelong Cedar resident Trudy Galla, who is Planning and Community Development director for Leelanau County.

The crews spent some time interviewing county administrator Chet Janik, who immigrated from Poland to Cedar with his family shortly after World War II.

“A lot of the senior citizens would invite my parents, who had a fresh knowledge of Poland, over to play cards. They still spoke Polish, and my family was probably the last family to immigrate from Poland and stay in Cedar,” Janik said.

Conversations at a euchre table would grow hushed when the subject of the murdered nun came up, and Janik might be asked to leave the room.

“They (Cedar residents at the time) were in their 70s but were in the 20s when the trial went on. We would talk about it when I was a kid, informally. I remember asking a nun about it, and she said it was not proper to talk about,” Janik recalled.

Traverse City resident Mardi Link shed light on the subject with her second book, “Isadore’s Secret: Sin, Murder and Confession in a Northern Michigan Town.”

“I was asked not to write the story,” Link said. “I was told that there would be pickets at the book stores, which didn’t happen, which was disappointing as a journalist.”

Despite an attached stigma, at least locally, the book has sold well since its release in 2009 — even locally.

“The rumor is that people in Leelanau County buy the book and read it while in Florida for the winter,” Link said.

Link, however, said the book is more about triumph of a community as a murder that brought out questionable actions of a priest.

“I hope people know that it isn’t about scandal, but about a community that came together. It’s a beautiful and a vibrant community. I wish that they had waited and reserved judgment,” she said.

The events of the murder, though, do have all the makings for a tantalizing television show.

Amidst rumors that Father Andrew was carrying on with a young nun, Sister Janina turned up missing in 1907. The nun’s remains were dug up 10 years later in the church’s Michigan basement when another priest was leading a project to build a new church.

Link’s book reveals the poor treatment of suspect Sister Stella after evidence led the investigation toward the Polish immigrant who spoke in broken English. She was convicted in a highly publicized — and controversial — trial, but was eventually pardoned by the governor of Michigan.

The other theory of the day was that the murder was committed by Father Andrew to hide a relationship forbidden by the church.

So who killed Sister Janina?

“My feeling is that (Sister Stella) was guilty,” Link said. “I know that is not the sentiment of the community. Every piece of evidence I could find points to her being guilty, but also being remorseful.”

Link continued, “The priest has a pretty good alibi. He was fishing all day in Lake Leelanau and had two friends in the boat with him.”

Janik, however, isn’t so sure, saying that Sister Stella may have been misjudged by the community because she was “not a pleasant person and was quite concerned about the friendship between the nun and the priest.”

Also, members of the jury may have misinterpreted Sister Stella’s outbursts at the trial as those made by a crazy person capable of murder. Sister Stella often repeated the Polish words “pies krew,” which by a strict interpretation means “dog’s blood.”

The words are slang in Polish, meaning something like “hogwash” in English.

“At the trial people thought she was crazy, yelling dog blood ... but the governor looked at the case and pardoned her,” Janik said.

The series “Deadly Women,” which started in 2005, has taken viewers across the globe with shows bearing names such as, “The Mind of a Murderer, I Wanted to Escape the Pain and the Anger” and “See No Evil, He was a Popular and Well Known Guy.”

A 108-year-old murder in Isadore appears headed for a title just as salacious.

Reporter’s note: Lisk will be signing her books from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Horizon Books in Traverse City.

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