PAT POLANECZKY'S faith was stronger than a freight train, as her family put it, and her prayers were legendary among those who turned to her for comfort.
She would pray with friends and strangers alike - over the phone, in the produce aisle at the Thriftway, at the prison where she once led a prayer circle for inmates. She once even prayed with a woman from Sears who called the house to confirm a phone order and in whose voice Pat detected a need.
"I heard my mom talking for a half hour with this woman, and when she was done I said, 'Mom, who was that?' " recalled her daughter, Daily News columnist Ronnie Polaneczky. "She said, 'Oh, it was the woman from Sears. She's having a hard time.' "
Pat Polaneczky, who was described as a "walking prayer wall" and whose greatest joy was laughing and sharing God's love with her husband and nine children, died Monday after a long illness. She was 84 and lived at Springhouse Estates, in Lower Gwynedd, Montgomery County, with her beloved husband of 57 years, Aloysius "Al" Polaneczky, 82.
Before that, the couple lived for five decades in Oreland, where she was a devoted parishioner of Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church.
Pat was born July 28, 1926, in Philadelphia, the youngest of four children. She graduated from Little Flower High School in 1944.
She met her husband at a talent show at St. Stephen's Church, in Germantown, where she sang "Danny Boy" while he accompanied her on the accordion.
When she saw tears in the eyes of the church pastor, she thought he had been disappointed with their performance. On the contrary, the Irish-born pastor was deeply moved by her beautiful voice and Al's sensitive playing. Afterward, Pat and Al dated and married, becoming sweethearts for life.
When Pat was a child, she and her sister were placed for a time in the Gonzaga Home for Girls, while their widowed mother struggled to find work in the post-Depression era. Pat recalled those years at "the orphanage" as some of her happiest, and credited the nuns who helped raise her with instilling in her a love of God and an appreciation for life's simplest and most important gifts.
"On the coldest days, she'd say to us happily, 'Kids, isn't it good to have heat?' " recalled Ronnie. "With so many children to raise, money was tight. We'd ask her, 'Mom, are we poor?' She'd say, 'We have each other, our health, good food and a roof over our heads. We're as rich as kings.' "
Pat was as straightforward when it came to instilling in her brood an appreciation for their sibling bonds. When her children would scrap with each other, Pat would force them to kiss and make up, saying, "You kids are going to love each other if I have to beat it into you!"
"The lesson took hold," laughs another daughter, MaryLou Rittenhouse. "Years later, we are each other's best friends."
While motherhood was Pat's greatest job, she also worked outside the home. She was a nurse's aide, a telephone saleswoman, a secretary and a clerk at Strawbridge's, in addition to volunteer stints as a Cub Scout den mother.
Says her husband, "She was the sweetest woman I ever knew. I still don't know what I did to deserve her."
Pat also is survived by four other daughters: Peg Polaneczky, Pat Federowic, Franny Paul and Rosemary Jenkins; three sons, Al Jr., Mike and Joe; a sister, Mary Donovan; and 23 grandchildren.