Monica Kurkowski was born on May 4, 1878 in Chicago or Germany. Her parents were Francis, a wood carver, and Katherine Kurkowski, who had changed their surname to Kurk after they arrived in the United States. They were originally from German-partitioned Poland. The family were part of the St. Stanislaus Polish parish and Stanisia attended its elementary school. She attended the Academy of Our Lady before she left her home to study with Tadeusz Żukotyński in Europe while still a young girl. Żukotyński, an artist born in Poland, taught Stanisia to paint religious art, including murals.
She returned to the United States in 1893 and three years later, following a religious calling she had felt since she was a young girl, moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and entered the novitiate of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Stanisia spent the next three years in training as a member of the religious congregation, at which time she took her religious name. In March 1899, Sister Mary Stanisia took her permanent religious vows at St. Mary's in Michigan City, Indiana. That year she painted The Sacred Heart of Jesus, her first known painting.
Stanisia taught art at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Marinette, Wisconsin and gave private art lessons beginning that fall. She taught there until 1905, when she was assigned to St. Mary's Academy in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where she spent the next two years. In 1907, Sister Stanisia was assigned to the Academy of Our Lady in Chicago, where she studied as a girl. She established an art studio, large enough to create murals, and created and was director of the school's Fine Arts program.
Beginning in 1916, Stanisia advanced her artistic skills at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She studied painting murals with John W. Norton, landscapes with Frank Peyraud, figure compositions with Wellington J. Reynolds, and portraits with Leopold Seyffert. Albin Polasek taught her sculpture. Stanisia graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1919, having exhibited in each of the school's annual shows. The 1917-1918 SAIC catalog was illustrated with her painting, Her Great Grandmother's Wedding Gown. Stanisia studied under Robert Clarkson between 1915 and 1922 and studied in Provincetown, Massachusetts one summer with Charles Webster Hawthorne.
Stanisia was a painter who created portraits, murals, and religious-themed works. She painted a large central panel for an altarpiece at the Basilica of St. Hyacinth, based upon a work designed by Zukotynski there. It is perhaps the earliest large panel of her career. She also did works for the Churches of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Holy Cross in Chicago, which are built in the so-called Polish Cathedral style.
In 1926, she exhibited four paintings at the Eucharistic Congress in Chicago, which was held to promote of Catholic Eucharistic art. The exposure resulted a significant increase in commissions. Around 1926 Stanisia completed a Stations of the Cross cycle on the South Side of Chicago for St. Margaret of Scotland Church. She created about fifty works of art, including portraits and murals, over the next four years.
In 1929 she established an art department at Mount Mary College, an institution of her congregation in Milwaukee, while continuing to direct the program in Chicago. She established the Art Guild of Chicago the following year, based at the Academy in Chicago.
Some of her paintings are: Portrait of Bishop John F. Noll, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend; St. Theresa; Sacred Heart of Jesus. The American Art Society commissioned her to paint a portrait of Pope Pius XI, which hung at the former Holy Family Academy in Chicago. In 1934, she also painted a portrait of Edward Kelly, Mayor of Chicago, and in 1933 of Governor Horner of Illinois.
Stanisia was one of many nuns who integrated their spiritual life with their interest in art. This resulted in the creation of purely American Catholic art, with its own icons and practices.
Her work was exhibited in 1925 at the Eucharistic Congress. In 1930, her work was exhibited at the Gallery of Wisconsin Art held by The Milwaukee Journal. She won a silver medal at The Warsaw International Fair of 1932. In 1935, her work was shown in Evanston, Illinois at Davis Galleries.
- Adrian College, Michigan
- Holy Cross Church, Chicago
- St. Joseph's Hospital, Chicago
- St. Margaret's Church, Chicago
- St. Paul Cathedral, Minnesota
- College of Cardinals, Washington, D.C.
- Jozef Mazur
- Polish Americans
- Polish Roman Catholic Union of America
- Polish Cathedral style
- Roman Catholicism in Poland
- "Sister Stanisia". Illinois Women's Artist Project. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
- "Stations of the Cross - History". Chicago, Illinois: St. Margaret of Scotland Parish. Retrieved October 20, 2014. Taken with author's permission from Robert Cozzolino (2001). "Sister Mary Stanisia". Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary. Bloomington: Indiana: University Press. pp. 833–836.
- "Sister Mary Stanisia". Museum of Wisconsin Art. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
- Cozzolino, Robert (2001). Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary "Sister Mary Stanisia". Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. pp. 833–836.
- "Sister Mary Stanisia - Exhibitions". Museum of Wisconsin Art. Retrieved October 20, 2014.