By Julian Routh | News Editor
UPDATE (4:56 PM September 20): The Rev. Daniel Walsh spoke to The Duke, saying Vojtko was allowed to stay at the Laval House for a month with daily meals. Read the full story here for all the updates on the university’s treatment of Margaret Mary Vojtko, including reaction to the Post-Gazette column and statements from Daniel Kovalik.
UPDATE (4:45 PM September 18): In response to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette‘s opinions column by Daniel Kovalik posted online today, Duquesne University Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry Daniel Walsh issued the following statement:
“I was incredulous after reading Daniel Kovalik’s op-ed piece about Margaret Mary Votjko. I knew Margaret Mary well. When we learned of problems with her home she was invited to live with us in the formation community at Laval House on campus, where she resided for several weeks over the past year. Over the course of Margaret Mary’s illness I, along with other Spiritan priests, visited with her regularly. In addition, the University and the Spiritan priests at Duquesne offered several other types of assistance to her. Mr. Kovalik’s use of an unfortunate death to serve an alternative agenda is sadly exploitive, and is made worse because his description of the circumstances bears no resemblance to reality.”
An adjunct professor who taught at Duquesne for over 25 years died Sept. 1 from complications of a heart attack she suffered in August.
Margaret Mary Vojtko, 83, taught French classes in the university’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures before school officials told her she was not being asked to return for the Fall 2013 semester, friends and family said.
Vojtko suffered from ovarian cancer and was undergoing treatment since a recurrence last year, according to nephew John Vojtko. She had just completed her first week of treatment on Aug. 16, the day she went into cardiac arrest.
After the heart attack, Vojtko was put into the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at UPMC Mercy Hospital for 12 days. According to John Vojtko, Margaret Mary was “able to breathe on her own, but never regained consciousness.” Under the advice of the physician who oversaw Margaret Mary’s care, John Vojtko transferred his aunt to hospice care at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield, where she died three days later.
John Vojtko said he drove Margaret Mary home from Duquesne the Saturday before she suffered the heart attack.
“She was transferring her materials at her desk, her textbooks and all of her teaching materials,” Vojtko said. “We took those things to storage. Afterward, we stopped for some lunch and I took her to her home.”
In the spring, Vojtko was notified she was not going to be hired for the fall semester, adjunct professor and friend Joshua Zelesnick said.
Department chair Edith Krause declined to say why Vojtko was not asked to return, but did offer her condolences.
“I regret very much her sudden passing,” Krause said. “I have respected her dedication to her students and to the profession.”
Zelesnick said he got to know Vojtko personally during his adjunct faculty union organization efforts.
According to Zelesnick, Vojtko would sometimes sleep overnight on the couch in the department because she would “lose energy all of the sudden” as a result of chemotherapy. She was also afraid of falling on her way to the bus, which could have been “life threatening” because of the blood clots in her legs, Zelesnick said.
“[Vojtko] said she was doing this because she was too weak and didn’t want to miss her classes and her students,” Zelesnick said. “This was a recurring problem. She didn’t want to miss work.”
Zelesnick said Vojtko told him she was escorted off campus once after she was caught sleeping. After that, she would regularly pass the night at an Eat n’ Park and come back to Duquesne on the bus the next morning.
Over the last winter Vojtko’s furnace broke and she couldn’t afford to fix it, so she rarely stayed at home, Zelesnick said.
Vojtko, who was not married and did not have children, refused to stay at other people’s houses because she was “such a proud woman,” Zelesnick said.
Margarita Winikoff, one of Vojtko’s colleagues in the department, said Vojtko was a “very dear lady” who expressed herself in an “eloquent manner.”
“Whenever I came across Margaret, we had a very nice gentle relationship,” Winikoff said. “I respected her. I loved her and I love the memory of her.”
Margaret Mary’s funeral was held on Saturday at Epiphany Catholic Church in Uptown.