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Baking helps Sister Karlien share a delicious gift

January 31, 2012

By Gary Loncki

Sister Karlien bakes with her niece Rhyse

Since she was a little girl, Sister Karlien loved to bake.

Her mother didn’t bake. It was Karlien and her childhood friend Karen who spent hours mixing dough for cookies, pies and cakes. When she was 13, the two used their skills to bake applesauce and angel food cakes, apple and chocolate cream pies, and spice and chocolate chip cookies to sell in their Rochester neighborhood. The money they raised went to the starving children in Biafra, today part of Nigeria in Africa.

The rule in the Bach home was that children who turned 16 had to get an outside job. No surprise, Sister Karlien went to work at the nearby Johnson French Road Bakery. She started as a clerk, but in time came under the watchful eye of an elderly co-worker who learned how to decorate cakes in her native Germany.  Her German mentor taught her ‒ among other things ‒ the fine points of creating roses, petal by petal, a process that required the ingredients of a steady hand and patience.

A future baker in the making!

When she was a freshman at Nazareth College, Pittsford, her mentor left the bakery and Sister Karlien became the “professional” cake decorator for the bakery. And, from trial and error, she learned the art of making cakes for a variety of special occasions. She loved the job, riding her bicycle three miles from the college to the bakery each day. And she enjoyed the solitude of baking and decorating cakes at the bakery mornings from two until nine.

A perk from working at the bakery: you were encouraged to eat the merchandise so that you could make recommendations to customers, she said.

Her bakery career came to an end when she graduated from college with a degree in theological studies. The example of the Sisters of Mercy who taught her at Our Lady of Mercy High stayed with her, and she entered the Community in 1979. As much as she enjoyed baking, teaching became her passion. She taught for 25 years in Rochester-area Catholic schools and today at her alma mater.

Serving at Rochester’s St. Regis Food Cupboard in Rochester’s inner city, she still finds time to keep an active life. From 2003-04, Sister Karlien found time to hike incrementally 624 miles across the state of New York. In 2010, she bought a used bicycle and with a group of people biked 500 miles across the state of Iowa.  While she enjoyed many different experiences, it is baking ‒ her hobby ‒ that is a consistent thread through her life’s tapestry.

Over the years she has baked and decorated wedding cakes for her brothers and sisters. There have been the birthday cakes for nieces and nephews with a Teenage Ninja Turtle theme and others in the shape of a three-dimensional soccer ball and Teddy Bear.

A beautiful birthday cake for Rhyse.

Sister Karlien has been the baking artist for cakes celebrating professions of Mercy Sisters and birthdays for sisters marking their 90 and 100birthdays. Sisters who celebrate their 100thbirthday get 100 roses on their cakes and Sister Karlien makes them all.

But while she enjoys sharing her gift of baked good with others, it is Mercy that flows from her heart.

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