150th Anniversary:
December 25, 1861 - December 25, 2011

December 25, 2011 marked the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions. In commemoration of this event, a video entitled "Treasuring Our Past, Shaping Our Future" was produced. The video presents the life of our foundress, Euphrasie Barbier, outlines the history of the congregation, and concludes with where we are now and where we hope to be in the future.

Treasuring Our Past, Shaping Our Future Video:


The Story of the RNDMs in Canada 1898-2010

The RNDMs were founded in Lyons, France, in 1861 by Euphrasie Barbier. From France, women who joined Barbier went as missionaries to New Zealand as early as 1865. From then on departures from Lyons for the missions took place at regular intervals. At the time of Barbier’s death, on January 18, 1893 in Sturry, England, the Congregation numbered 205 professed Religious. Please visit www.rndm.org for more information about the international RNDM community.

This history of the Canadian RNDMs will be a chapter in a book about the RNDMs internationally, which was published in 2012. The table of contents below will help you navigate through this exciting account.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Canada: the Story Begins
  3. Grande-Clairière, Manitoba
    1. Grande-Clairière Video
  4. RNDM Foundations in Manitoba and Ontario
    1. Brandon
    2. Ste Rose-du-Lac
    3. St Eustache and Letellier
    4. Elie
    5. St Joseph and Winnipeg
    6. Portage la Prairie and Fort Frances
    7. Bilingual Schools
  5. RNDM Foundations in Saskatchewan
    1. Lebret, 1898, and Wolseley, 1904, Saskatchewan
    2. Regina, Saskatchewan, 1905
  6. Foundations in Canada 1925 – 1954
    1. Teachers and Sustenance
    2. Further Reaches of RNDM Educators
    3. Provincial Superiors 1915-1930
  7. Canada divided into two Provinces in 1930
  8. Provincial Unification - 1956: Province of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary
  9. French Founding Dynamism
  10. A Historical Watershed – Vatican Council II
  11. Sisters from Canada in overseas ministry 1968-2010
    1. Post-Vatican II Ministries
    2. Ministry with the Mentally Challenged
    3. Ministry with First Nations in Canada’s North
    4. Work With Refugees
    5. Other Modes of Mission
    6. The Grace and Gift of Fewness
  12. Conclusion


Introduction

Euphrasie Barbier

"To tell the story of anything, you have to tell the story of everything." 1

In making this claim, Thomas Berry was referring to the elements and processes involved in creating and sustaining the amazing 13.7 billion years of our evolving cosmos. So, while applying his insight to the years that the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions have lived and served in Canada is to shift the locus to an infinitely smaller stage and time frame, Berry’s perception is nonetheless illuminating. As in creation and eco-systems, so within history and the diverse cultures humans create in time, everything is connected.

We see this dynamic with some clarity in the events of the late nineteenth century, which shaped the decisions to send RNDM Sisters from France to the vast territory which had been constituted as the Dominion of Canada. In France, successive waves of anti-clericalism led to religious being expelled from the country in an era when the fledgling Dominion was actively recruiting European settlers. The settlers needed teachers for their children, and the services of religious women to help preserve faith and culture as they settled in this new world. French was spoken in Canada, and teaching was done in French. This confluence of events opened exciting new possibilities for our Sisters in France.

Fr. Jean Gaire (1853-1925), a native of France and diocesan priest who came to the Canadian prairies in 1888, made regular visits back to France and Belgium hoping to entice colonists to come to these prairies. Gaire became acquainted with our Sisters living in Armentières on one of his trips, and extended the invitation to come to Canada. Gaire believed that the survival and expansion of a living Catholic culture in North America depended on language almost as much as on denominational education.2 Within this worldview, a strong tie was established between French language, culture and faith, and the protection these could be in a threatening and Protestant world.

A further factor in the push of colonization was that the vast prairies to which our Sisters came were sparsely settled, and the fledgling central government of the Dominion (situated many hundreds of miles away in Ottawa) was nervous about people coming up from the United States and claiming the land. Therefore the government supported the work of the colonizers in bringing European settlers to Canada, thereby ensuring the land remained in the jurisdiction of Canada.

Thus events in the old and new worlds converged to create an historical space in which fresh possibilities emerged on both sides of the Atlantic. In faith, the pioneer Sisters saw the hand of Providence at work in their lives, opening up a whole missionary vista for French speaking RNDMs in a land searching for French colonists, and needing French-speaking missionaries. Once arrived from France, the Sisters had further challenges to meet.3 They had to recognize, negotiate, and adapt to political, economic and educational changes in the old and new worlds, which would continue into the twentieth century, and shape the contours of the RNDM mission in Canada into the twenty-first century.

The aim of this chapter is to offer an overview of the principal foundations and works of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Canada. Since thirteen of the houses were established within the first twenty-five years, the early years were clearly energetic and optimistic ones. As an example, we will focus attention on Grande-Clairière since it was the first foundation, bearing the hopes of the Congregation for this new mission field, and serving as a template for those that followed.4 We will note the contributions the Sisters made as educators in their various locales.

We will then look beyond the years of foundation to the time of stabilization as the works and life of the Province became more established and institutionalized.5 We will also look at how from the beginning, the French-English dynamic has shaped the Province as well as Canada as a whole.

Finally, we will look at the unprecedented impact that Vatican II had on the Canadian Province, the dynamics for destabilization and transformation the Council unleashed, the choices made at that time in terms of the Sisters’ life and mission, and the shape of the religious life all that ferment and fidelity has produced and is producing.

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Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Canada: the Story Begins

"Imaginative work...is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners...But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in midair by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering, human beings, and are attached to the grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in." 6

The RNDMs who came to Canada long ago attached the Congregation to life “at all four corners” as they faced the challenges of the frontier in a rudimentary and sparsely populated land. Their joys, faith, sufferings, and imaginative work have spun a durable web for those who followed after, and their example shines brightly down the pathways of time. We will therefore look closely at the first RNDM mission on Canadian soil, to get a sense of the contours and context of this foundation, and the spirited example it provided for subsequent missions.

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Grande-Clairière, Manitoba

The village of Grande-Clairière was founded in 1888 after the previously mentioned Father Gaire arrived in Manitoba and filed a property claim which the territorial government made available to “homesteaders”.7 It was to this property and this village that he invited our Sisters. And it was here, after nine days at sea, sixty-nine hours by train (most of it “in a third class compartment, sitting on a plain board without being able to change position”) and an hour by horse and cart that Marie St Paul, Marie Madeleine de la Croix, Marie Ste Valerie and Marie de L’Eucharistie arrived.8 Describing their arrival one of the Sisters wrote:

"Could we not call this our triumphal entry? No conqueror experienced more satisfaction than our little group when on August 11 at 1am we at last arrived at the post assigned to us by holy obedience, i.e., in front of the poor rectory...The house was the picture of the most complete destitution...In the hazy glimmer of a wretched lantern, the interior revealed undisguised poverty and discomfort...In the three so-called rooms or nooks on the first floor, where we were to sleep, the beds consisted of four planks nailed to the wall and covered with a rough straw mattress." 9

Despite the rawness of their lodgings, these women saw their arrival as a hopeful new beginning. The life of the Sisters was hard and demanding, yet they seemed to maintain a pragmatic spirit and remarkable good humour through the various vicissitudes. Describing their early days at Grande-Clairière, one of the Sisters wrote:

"Fervour and cheerfulness were our faithful companions in spite of an inopportune but inevitable guest, who by God’s permission took a seat at our table – I mean scarcity of food...There was hardly any bread left and there was no bakery in Grande Clairière; we had no meat and hardly any vegetables...Our good Mother Marie Madeleine of the Cross, never at a loss, began to knead a few handfuls of flour to make a kind of Métis bread without yeast Needless to say, it did not sin by levity." 10

The Sisters in Grande-Clairière suffered greatly from the cold of the first winters. Their housing was inadequate to the rigours of the climate, and they had nothing in their previous experience to prepare them for the bitter cold. As one Sister wrote:

"The Canadian winter with its rigorous cold soon arrived. We had not the least idea what it would be like and did not take the prudent measures common to the country people. A violent wind, gentle at first began to blow. We paid little attention to it since we had not the experience of a blizzard in these vast plains. We were, therefore, surprised when we saw Father Gaire rushing in with all the old cloths he had picked up in his own house trying to block the holes in our walls...While politely thanking him, we could not help being amused at such precautions which our inexperience thought unnecessary. But soon we understood..."11

Given all they suffered from the cold in those early years, the Sisters nonetheless named their convent “Our Lady of the Snows”.12 Their hope was that this humble beginning might be the foundation stone for what would be a new RNDM Province on Canadian soil.

Subsequent foundations followed a similar pattern, and were undertaken with a similar spirit. A request was made by a cleric, an assessment made by the Congregational superiors, and Sisters assigned to launch the chosen initiative. From the beginning the focus of the Sister’s work was directed primarily to the education of children, particularly girls.

We will now examine a chart of the Canadian foundations, the dates opened and closed, and the Sisters who were the founding members of those communities. After this diagrammatic presentation, we will offer a brief narrative on the beginnings and apostolate of these houses in Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

Grande Clairiere History Video:

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Chronology of Foundations, 1898-1914

*Denotes French-speaking communities

HouseDate of
Opening
Date of
Closure
Founding Members
* Grande-Clairière, MB
Our Lady of the Snows
18981923M. St Paul Dutronquoy(Fr)
M. Madeleine de la Croix Chapuis (Fr)
M. St Valerie Annoite (Fr)
M. de L’Eucharistie Palatin (Fr)
Brandon, MB
St Michael’s Academy
18992005M. St Paul Dutronquoy (Fr)
M. St Ethelreda Hocken (Eng)
M. St Clemence O’Reilley (Irish)
M. St Anne Jaiillet(Fr)
Lebret, SK
St Gabriel Archangel
18991998M. Imelda du Saint-Sacrement Couvert (Fr)
M. St Euphemie Briscoe (Irish)
M. St Raymond Crosse (Fr)
M. du Coeur Agonisant Grimley (Irish)
Lebret, SK
St Gabriel Archangel
18991998M. Imelda du Saint-Sacrement Couvert (Fr)
M. St Euphemie Briscoe (Irish)
M. St Raymond Crosse (Fr)
M. du Coeur Agonisant Grimley (Irish)
* Ste Rose du Lac, MB
Notre Dame de Fourvière
19001972M. Imelda du Saint-Sacrement Couvert (Fr)
M. St Ildephonse Picaret (Picavet) (Fr)
M. St Pierre Damien Buisson (Fr)
M. St Adelaide Grimley (Irish)
*St Eustache, MB
St Madeleine
19011984M. St Albert Monchaux(Fr)
M. Pia de Jésus Wicht (Eng)
M. St Eusébie Lesur (Fr)
M. St Ida Prüm (Fr)
*Letellier, MB
Virgo Fidelis
19021961M. St Irenée Goubert (Fr)
M. de la St Trinité Goutelle(Fr)
M. St Ethelreda Hocken (Eng)
M. de la Ste Croix Rondel (Fr)
M. St Jeanne Hannoff (Fr)
*Wolseley, SK
St Raphael’s
19041983M. de L’Eucharistie Palatin (Fr)
M. St Ethelreda Hocken (Eng)
M. St Alix Ollier (Fr)
M. Louise de Jésus Synave (Fr)
Regina, Sk
Sacred Heart Academy
19051969M. St Gabriel McCormick (NZ)
M. St Germain Perès (Alsatian)
M. St Françoise Peter (Alsatian)
M. St Bertha Suter (Swiss)
*Elie, MB
St Martha’s
19052001M. St Eusébie Lesurr (Fr)
M. St Alix Ollier (Fr)
M. St Léocadie Déconink (Fr)
*St Joseph, MB
St Martin
19091979M. St Eusébie Lesurr (Fr)
M. St Marcel Michel (Fr)
M. St Marthe Blay (Irish)
Winnipeg, MB
St Adélard’s – later called St Edward’s
19092007M. St Gabriel McCormick (NZ)
M. St Laurence Molloy (Cdn)
M. des Sts Anges (Cdn)
Portage La Prairie, MB
St John Baptist
19141939M. St Isabelle Plante (Canadian)
M. St Ethelreda Hocken (Eng)
M. St Laurence Molloy (Cdn)
Fort Frances, ON
St Jude
19141999M. St Ildegerge Barry (Irish)
M. St Reine Pagé (Cdn)
M. St Marcel Loiselle (Cdn)

Until 1940 the Sisters carried out their works of education and service primarily in these thirteen foundations. There were also two foundations in which the Sisters invested themselves, and from which they withdrew relatively soon.

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Figure 2 Attempted early Foundations, 1898-1901

*Denotes French speaking

HouseDate of
Opening
Date of
Closure
Founding Members
Lac Croche, SK
Holy Heart of Mary
18981900M. Sainte Irénée Goubert (Fr)
M. St Euphemie Briscoe (Irish)
M. St Pierre Damien Buisson (Fr)
M. St Pauline Leuridan (Belgian)
*Fannystelle, MB
St Francis Regis
19011901M. St Anatolie Patrigeon (Fr)
M. de la St Trinité Goutelle (Fr)
M. de la Ste Croix Rondel (Fr)
M. Antoine of Jesus McGann (Irish)

Of the ninety-eight Sisters in the Province in 1923, when the Sisters marked their silver jubilee of foundation, fifty one came from the Mother House in Lyons, one came from New Zealand, and forty six were Canadians. There were also nineteen postulants and novices.

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RNDM Foundations in Manitoba and Ontario

Brandon

Six of the first foundations in Manitoba were in primarily French locales. However, the second Canadian foundation was in the largely English town of Brandon.13 Brandon is about forty miles northeast of Grande-Clairière and had around 5000 inhabitants when four RNDMs arrived in August, 1899. They had come to re-open classes in the parochial school attached to St Augustine’s church, which had been closed for some years after the withdrawal of the Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus.14

Besides St Augustine's school, the Sisters also initiated a senior day and boarding school, St Michael's Academy, where teaching was entirely in English. Initially their only income came from music and art lessons as well as a weekly fee for laundering altar linens and the priests’ clothes. For the first decade, the Sisters teaching in the parish school received very little by way of recompense for their labours.

In April 1900, two Sisters arrived from Christchurch, and were welcomed with great joy–for the “help given to our Canadian province by the reverend Mothers from New Zealand was most precious, not only because it strengthened the bonds of Sisterly love between the two provinces but also because the Sisters who came were models of sincere piety, religious spirit and devotedness.” 15 They also gave much needed help in the growing educational enterprise.

As early as 1904, some young women from the Brandon area, as well as one from Grande-Clairière, indicated their desire to become members of the Congregation. They would go to the novitiate soon to open in the next foundation, Ste Rose-du-Lac.

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Ste Rose-du-Lac

The parish of Ste Rose-du-Lac, about 85 miles from Brandon, was canonically erected in 1895 when Father Eugene Lecoq, OMI, became parish priest and immediately set about providing a school for the children of the district. In 1899, returning from a trip to France, Lecoq agreed to escort the third group of Sisters coming to Canada, who were destined for Brandon and Lebret. He subsequently contacted the General Council, and in the following year four Sisters were sent to Ste Rose to open a convent under the patronage of Our Lady of Fourvière.16 The Sisters moved into a small house that had been built for them, began two bi-lingual classes, and within a short while received boarders at the convent as well.

In October, 1901 a girl from Ste Rose asked to be received as a postulant. The Sisters felt great joy in this request, seeing it as “the first flower that our adopted country was to offer to Our Lady of the Missions” 17 In 1902 the decision was made to open a novitiate in Ste Rose, for the religious formation of those young women Providence would send. As previously noted, other young women also began to arrive, and for twenty-two years Ste Rose was the Novitiate House. The first clothing ceremony was held in June 1903, and by 1906 there were fourteen novices and postulants. Thus the indigenization of the congregation began.

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St Eustache and Letellier

The next foundation was in the little French and Métis village of St Eustache, the centre of a large wheat growing area. In 1901, four RNDMs arrived to take charge of the school. St Eustache had the benefit of a large property, a bountiful garden, and an open prairie vista. Many Sisters who became ill were sent to St Eustache to recuperate by taking in “the fresh country air”. Like those who preceded them, these Sisters too “were perfectly sheltered from all excess of luxury and comfort”.18 Over the years many young women from St Eustache and the surrounding Catholic villages have become Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions. In 1922 the Novitiate was transferred from Ste Rose-du-Lac to St Eustache.19

The sixth Canadian foundation was in Letellier in 1902. This village, almost entirely Catholic, was twenty-five years old and a flourishing parish. Parishioners had been petitioning the bishop to have Sisters come and educate their children, and so Bishop Adélard Langevin OMI (1855-1915) asked and two Sisters came. In the beginning, they lived in a room above the school, but within a year a convent was built and boarders were admitted.

A spirit of adventure and good humour is evident in the early writings of the two pioneer Sisters. For example, they indicate that after moving to a room above the school, which would serve as their living quarters, they “took up their regular life”:

"That very morning, they named themselves first and second cook, because they could not decide which would have the honour of that employment... Both tried to show their talent for cooking by sharing the preparation of their first meal... prepared with care, consisted of a tasteless soup and potatoes cooked without salt (they had forgotten to get any). In compensation, the meat was salty enough because they had fried it without first removing the salt. Both declared that the meal was a real success, the food in keeping with the spirit of mortification which should never be left out." 20

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Elie

Elie is a small French Canadian village about six miles south of St Eustache. Because of the success of the Sisters in St Eustache, the people of Elie began asking for the Sisters to come to their village as well. So the Sisters went. Here too they initially lived in rooms above the classrooms they would teach in by day. Days after their arrival they opened two classrooms to children from ages six to seventeen years. Almost all of the students were bilingual Catholics, and classes were taught in French and English.

One of the great difficulties in Elie was the lack of good drinking potable water. In summer the Sisters would collect rain, and in winter melt snow and ice. In summer, as soon as the sky got dark announcing the coming of rain, the Sisters set out tubs, pails and basins–anything that would hold water- around the house. This worked reasonably well, unless there was a strong wind, in which case these containers were blown off in all directions into the open prairies and the next day the Sisters had to take to the fields to find them.

Tragedy struck on New Year's Day 1912, when the Sisters suffered the complete destruction by fire of their house. The crib in their small chapel caught fire and the absence of sufficient water meant the building was burnt to the ground. To add to their distress, the day was bitterly cold. When the Sisters arrived from St Eustache, they found the little community in a neighbouring house, having lost everything, not even possessing “mantle, scarf, or long sleeves”.21 The Elie Sisters went to St Eustache where they stayed for a week, and on returning to Elie, they stayed in the rooms they had formerly occupied in the school building. All the convents of the Province came to the help of the sorely tried community and in 1915 another convent was built.

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St Joseph and Winnipeg

The village of St Joseph, founded in 1877, is one of the oldest French Catholic parishes in Manitoba. After the foundation of Lettelier, four miles from St Joseph, two Sisters had travelled during the week to teach in St Joseph. When the decision was made to open Elie, this practice could not be continued due to lack of personnel. However, in 1909 following the persistent appeals of the people and the parish priest, the Sisters returned to St Joseph, and resumed the work of education.

A week after the Sisters took up residence in St Joseph, another group of three Sisters arrived in Winnipeg to open a parochial school in the newly established parish of St Edward's in what were then the western limits of the city. Once again, the Sisters initially lodged in the school building itself. Three days after their arrival the school was opened with forty pupils in Grades 1 to 4. In the following year one more Sister came to join the community and two more classes were added. The school continued to grow, and in 1923 the convent was built.

The convent was called “St Adélard’s” as a tribute to Bishop Langevin who, as we have seen, played such a large part in the era that our Sisters came to Canada. Langevin’s dealings with the Sisters were paternalistic and authoritarian, but kindly. His support, zeal and deep faith were greatly appreciated by our founding Sisters.

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Portage la Prairie and Fort Frances

As the First World War was beginning, RNDMs founded two more convents. In July 1914 St John the Baptist convent was opened in Portage la Prairie, a city mid-way between Winnipeg and Brandon. For years Bishop Langevin had been petitioning for religious to serve in this city where Catholics were a small minority, and finally the RNDMs accepted the foundation. They opened a small private school, and while enrolment was never very high, it gave the Sisters meaningful work and a minimal income. To survive, the Portage Sisters depended on the financial support of the other convents.

Also in 1914, barely two weeks after Portage la Prairie, the Sisters opened a house in Fort Frances, at the western edge of the province of Ontario, in the diocese of St Boniface, near the Canada-U.S. border. Here too, the primary work was education, and within weeks of their arrival, the Sisters opened a school. With excellent teaching reports from the school inspectors, the number of pupils steadily increased and the school’s reputation grew.

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Bilingual Schools

The schools in Ste Rose-du-Lac, St Eustache, Elie, Letellier and St Joseph faced particular challenges. These communities were primarily French-speaking, and the schools officially bilingual. However the public schools had to follow the syllabus set by the Department of Education in English. In order to preserve the French language among French Canadians, a special association, Association d'Education des Canadiens-Français du Manitoba was founded in 1916 which set its own programme of studies, and sent its own inspectors, usually priests. Thus the Sisters had a double programme to teach and two sets of Inspectors to accommodate. If caught teaching in French by the English Inspector there was always the danger of losing their teaching certificate. So the Sisters learned to teach with an eye out for the Inspector, and a plan in place for the students to quickly hide their French books.

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RNDM Foundations in Saskatchewan

As previously indicated, the first Saskatchewan mission was to Lac Croche in 1898 where the Sisters remained until it became evident that their expectation of living as members of an independent congregation was not acceptable to the Oblate Fathers in charge of the mission. As Marie de la Ste Trinité recounts:

"The kind of administration to which they (the Sisters) had to submit was not consistent with our customs nor with the way of life in our congregation...the Sisters were to be the employees under the immediate and sole direction of the missionary priests, who acted in the capacity of official agents. They [the priests] were in absolute control, looking after the finances and arranging everything, so that in spite of the most sincere good will and constant efforts at conciliation, after a prolonged trial of seventeen months, it was recognized that, in the designs of God, this lot was not to be ours." 22

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Lebret, 1898, and Wolseley, 1904, Saskatchewan

When the Sisters arrived in Lebret there was already a layman teaching in the public school and the Sisters had no teaching certificates so it was only in 1905 that the Sisters began teaching in the public School, and by 1923 High School classes were offered and a Sister became principal.23 In Wolseley the pattern was much the same except that parish children were taught along with the boarders in the convent. Though none of the Sisters had a teaching certificate, classes were given in both French and English. When the province of Saskatchewan was formed (1905) its initial legislation allowed for the establishment of government-supported elementary schools for minority religious groups where their numbers warranted it. Thus St Anne’s School was opened in 1910 and the Sisters began at once to teach there.

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Regina, Saskatchewan, 1905

Though Archbishop Langevin had invited our Sisters to come to Regina to teach in St Mary’s School which had been established by the Oblate Fathers, there was no position available in 1905. Furthermore, none of the Sisters had a teaching certificate, so they opened a private school for seven young girls. A larger house enabled the Sisters to expand to two classrooms and Sacred Heart Academy was born. By 1909 construction had begun on land purchased near what would be the site of Holy Rosary Cathedral. Other sections were added to the building in 1914 (enabling secondary school classes), and in 1924 (making possible the initiation of university classes).24 A “business class” was also opened and graduates were generally well-placed and recognized for the excellence of their preparation. In 1913 the Sisters were hired to teach in the Regina Separate Elementary School, at Holy Rosary School, and in 1924 they began teaching at St Mary’s School.

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Foundations in Canada 1925 – 1954

For a time, the Province seemed to enter a period of stasis; then new foundations were again launched.

Foundations 1925-1954

HouseDate of
Opening
Date of
Closure
Founding Members
St Mary’s19251960M. St Germain
Sacred Heart College, Regina,
SK
19261988M. Imelda du Saint-Sacrement Couvert (Fr)
M. Gabriel Redon (Fr)
M. St Andrew Adams (NZ)
Sioux Lookout, ON
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Convent
19401975M Thérèse de l’Enfant J. Desrosiers (Cdn)
M St Seraphie Bruen (Irish)
M Ste Louise Jalbert (Cdn)
Wapella, SK
St Andrew’s Convent
19421948M. St Germaine M St GenevieveBelliveau (Cdn)
M St Bruno Fannin (Irish)
M Roberta of S. H. Morrissey (Cdn)
Ville Jacques Cartier, PQ
St Joseph’s Convent
19481970M Leo de C. Desrosiers (Cdn)
M Gabriel Redon (Fr)
M Ste Lucille de J. Gervais (Cdn)
Saskatoon, SK
St Joseph’s Convent
19501992M St Andrew Adams (NZ)
M St Benedict Furlong (Irish)
Mary Eymard Byrne (En)
M St Philip Leslie (Cdn)
Ville Jacques Cartier, PQ
Notre Dame de Fatima
19521957Marguerite Marie Loiselle (Cdn)
M. St Wilfrid Dandeneau (Cdn)
M. St Charles Nadeau (Cdn)
St Blaise19541966M St Adelaide Granger (Cdn)
Marguerite Marie Loiselle (Cdn)
M St Irénée Neerincx (Cdn)

In 1926 the Sisters in Regina bought a sizable piece of land at south end of the city, and opened a second convent which they named Sacred Heart College. The Canadian Novitiate, which had previously been operating in Ste Rose du Lac and later St Eustache was transferred there. College classes were moved to the new facility and the University of Ottawa granted Junior College status for third and fourth year arts.

It has been mentioned several times that that when the Sisters first arrived in Canada they were not “qualified teachers”. It became evident that teaching certificates would have to be earned and the Sisters began to attend classes for future teachers at “Normal Schools”. In southern Saskatchewan potential teachers attended Normal School in Regina. During the Second World War however, this building was taken over by the military and teacher-training had to be sought in Moose Jaw, about 41 miles west of Regina or out of the province. Two or three pairs of Sisters went to Moose Jaw for this training. However, it was difficult to live in a convent of a different community and to travel to and from Regina every weekend.

So when the superiors received an invitation from Bishop Francis Klein in Saskatoon to teach in the Separate Schools it seemed a good opening to make a foundation and have a home for Sisters attending Teachers’ College or the University of Saskatchewan. Accordingly, in 1950 ten eager “foundresses” moved into a fine house facing on the Saskatchewan River. The six young Sisters went to College for the year, one Sister taught music, and the others maintained a warm family atmosphere in the house. As had been anticipated, in the following years many Sisters studying at the university both during the year and in summer schools lived in the house and numerous others taught in the elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools of the city.

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Teachers and Sustenance

Through the “Great Depression” of the 1930’s teachers’ salaries were very small. Sometimes a teacher received only $300 a year as salary and often enough some of that was paid by a rent-free “teacherage”, a small house on the property, or by produce from the parents of the students. This was equally true in city schools and began to improve only in the late 1930’s. This improvement was not always extended to the Sisters who were teaching in government-run schools and most were expected to survive on “minimum wage” since they had no children to support and lived together under one roof.

During World War II when teachers in Regina were scarce, school principals (all of whom were laymen) began to demand that the Sisters be paid on the regular salary scale both as a matter of justice and because they (the Sisters) also were expected to improve their education and keep themselves healthy. Sisters’ salaries were finally raised to compare favourably with their lay counter-parts. After the War ended, however, there was a rapid increase in population and new schools had to be built. Once again the Sisters were expected to revert to lower salaries. Once again stern negotiators on the teachers’ side stepped forward to speak for the Sisters and gradual improvement came.

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Further Reaches of RNDM Educators

Sisters at prayer

Much attention has been given to formal education in the classroom in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. However, in virtually every convent there was at least one music teacher and sometimes several. Children were prepared for examinations and competitions at every level. Choirs were formed in schools as well as parishes, and concerts were a regular feature.

Drama was also considered important; plays were prepared both for “private consumption” and for presentation at festivals, competitions and celebrations. Public speaking and debates were encouraged and formal elocution lessons given. Drawing and painting were taught and we still treasure many lovely pieces of art made by Sisters and/or their students. In addition, fine hand work (knitting, crochet, tatting, embroidery) was encouraged, and considered a necessary component of a girl’s education. Not always so popular but considered necessary in preparing young persons for life, was training in table etiquette, table setting and “proper decorum”.

Religious education held high priority and from 1930 to 1970 the Sisters zealously carried this priority into country parishes during the summer months. These sessions of “vacation school” were intended to help prepare children for the sacraments and reinforce the lessons their parents were hopefully giving at home. Two by two, usually for two-week sessions, Sisters visited families and taught classes in what were often not very favourable situations. The contributions thus made by RNDM s to the faith of persons living in rural areas of Manitoba and Saskatchewan is often remembered and cited as a significant missionary moment.

In addition, Sisters were involved in organizing and directing various pious societies such as Sodalities of Our Lady, Legion of Mary, Forty hours devotions, Leagues of the Sacred Heart and so on. Whatever means were at their disposal, the Sisters utilized them to help their students grow “in age and grace”.

Having looked at some of the impacts Sisters have had on education in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, we will now briefly look at those who served in leadership and administration, thus creating a climate where apostolic activity could blossom.

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Provincial Superiors 1915-1930

Family Name Religious Name Years in Office
Catherine Couvert (Fr)
Pauline Dutronquoy(Fr)
Catherine Couvert (Fr)
M. Imelda du Saint-Sacrament
M. St Paul
M. Imelda du Saint-Sacrament
1915-1919
1919-1925
1925-1930

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Canada divided into two Provinces in 1930

Sacred Heart Province–Saskatchewan

Family Name Religious Name Years in Office
Ellen Barry (Irish)
Gertrude Adams (NZ)
Ellen Barry (Irish)
Emilie Filiatrault (Cdn)
Josephine Dengler (Cdn)
Muriel Beliveau (Cdn)
M. St Ildegerge
M. St Andrew
M. St Ildegerge
M. St Fernand
M of the Incarnation
M. St Genevieve
1930-1936
1936–1939
1939-1947
1947-1950
1950-1954
1954-1956

St Mary’s Province–MB, ON & PQ

Family Name Religious Name Years in Office
Philomene Monchaux(Fr)
Rosianne Desrosiers (Cdn)
Catherine Couvert (Fr)
Rosianne Desrosiers (Cdn)
Josephine Dengler (Cdn)
Emilie Filiatrault (Cdn)
M. St Albert
M. Thérèse de l’E. J.
M. Imelda du Saint-Sacrement
M. Thérèse de l’E. J.
M of the Incarnation
M. St Fernand
1930 - 1936
1936-1940
1940-1943
1943- 1947
1947-1950
1950-1956

In July 1956, the two Provinces united as the Province of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, with the Provincial house at St Edward’s in Winnipeg and Regional Superiors in Saskatchewan and Québec. In 1968, the practice of having two regional superiors who had been responsible for Quebec and Saskatoon respectively was discontinued.

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Provincial Unification - 1956: Province of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary

Provincial Superiors of the Canadian Province

Family Name Religious Name Years in Office
Muriel Beliveau
Marie Jeanne Roche
Cecile Campeau
Claire Himbeault
Margaret Brown
Marie Baker
Patricia Morrissey
Sheila Madden
Imelda Grimes
Denise Kuyp
Veronica Dunne
M. St Genevieve
M. Jean d’Avila
M. St Emilia
M. André
M. Winifred
M. Isabel
M. Roberta
M. Brigid
M. Aquinas
M. Denise
M. Brian
1956-1962
1962-1968
1968-1971
1971-1977
1977-1983
1983-1989
1989-1992
1992-1998
1998-2004
2004-2010
2010-Present

After the Sisters came as missionaries to Canada, there was some movement of those Sisters to other missions of the Congregation. However, for the most part Canadians did not leave for overseas mission until 1930 when Marie Agnes Blaquière was sent to French Indo-China.

Canadian Sisters in overseas ministry 1930-1962

Family Name Religious Name Country/Countries Years
Agnes Blaquière
Katherine Boechler
Margaret O’Flanagan
Emilia Filiatrault
Prudence Roddy
M. Agnes
M. St Alphonsus
M. Paula
M. Fernand
M. Cecil
Vietnam
India
India/Bangladesh
France
India
1930-1975
1948-1969
1948-1976
1956-1965
1962-1991

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French Founding Dynamism

A significant dynamic of the Canadian Province is that we were founded from France by French Sisters. In addition the pioneer Sisters came to a country that was colonized by both England and France. For many years a majority of our Sisters were French-speaking, and they lived and worked in Francophone locales. They shared the colonial conviction that the Catholic religion was the central component of a French Canadian identity, and that “la langue française est la gardienne de la foi catholique!”

At the time of colonization, the three groups of people who spoke the inherited French were the Acadians (or “Cajuns)”, the Métis (who spoke “Mitchif”, a mixture of mainly French and Cree) and “les canadiens” (primarily those initially settled in Québec). Among our early Canadian Sisters we had a sampling of each language stream. We cherish their memories for they, along with “nos premières fondatrices françaises”, have left us a rich and unique legacy.

Many “canadiens” from Québec came to the vast prairies, bringing with them their Catholic faith, language, songs, dance, and stories as well as the responsibility of maintaining and passing on the faith, culture and language. They were accompanied by zealous missionaries, mostly members of religious orders. Among these missionaries, was the Oblate Adélard Langevin whom we have previously met.

Langevin cherished the prospect that French Canadians would form a “compact corridor of settlement” from Québec to the Rocky Mountains. In his view, the survival and expansion of a living Catholic culture in North America depended on language as much as on denominational education. Langevin’s vision was of a Canada of ethnic communities, each preserving its language and culture and having the church at the core of its social life. The alternative, he feared, was massive loss of faith resulting from assimilation.

Over the years, Anglophones became the majority in Canada and in the Congregation. However, in spite of the constant threat of assimilation, French persists in the Province and as an official language in Canada. The need for determined vigilance also continues for: “Quand on arrête de se battre on perd tout ce qu’on avait gagné” Such perceived historical responsibilities shape the mind and soul of French Canadians.

As a French Canadian Sister recently stated: “We of French descent are a proud people. We are loud, we are stubborn, we are gifted, we love to laugh, we work hard, and sometimes we enjoy a good fight, but at all times we do love life! And we have kept the faith.”

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A Historical Watershed – Vatican Council II

Sisters creating a sand mandala

“With the opening of this Council a new day is dawning on the Church, bathing her in radiant splendor. It is yet the dawn, but the sun in its rising has already set our hearts aglow. All around is the fragrance of holiness and joy.”25

Canadian RNDMs responded with enthusiasm, sometimes hesitation, and a consistent faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II. Among the decrees the Council promulgated, one explicitly focused on the renewal of religious life.26 This document invited us into two simultaneous processes: 1) a continuous return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original inspiration of the particular religious institute; 2) to adjust our lives to the signs and conditions of the times.

In addition to giving us new ideas, the Council gave us new tools. We were encouraged to read and study Scripture, and for the first time each Sister had her own bible. While annual retreats were part of the yearly rhythm, we were now encouraged to make directed retreats of eight or thirty days and many Sisters energetically did so. Sisters also began to make use of ongoing spiritual direction.

Prayer, both private and public began to change, and we with it. For example we were no longer required to gather as a community in the chapel for “morning meditation” but could choose the place, time and focus of our prayer. We were much involved in and affected by the changes in the liturgy both in regard to the celebration of the sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours. The renewed liturgies emphasized increased participation for all, and we began to experience ourselves more as partners in sacred rites and less as observers. Church music and language changed as we increasingly engaged with the world that God so loved, and sought greater alignment with all creation.

As our ways of praying changed, so did our language about God. As our images of God evolved, so too did our images of ourselves. Speech about God was also no longer dominated by the theologizing of white European males. Rather, a rich profusion of new theological voices began sounding from all over the world, reminiscent of the Pentecost experience. Indigenous liberation theologies based on the reflections of the poor began emerging in South America, and spread to Asia and Africa. Around the globe women's theological voices began rising with vitality, naming long neglected, subjugated and/or formerly unknown dimensions of God and of life. All of this had an impact on Canadian RNDMs, and as we came to recognize more clearly our differing theologies and ecclesiologies, we learned patience with one another. It became increasingly evident that our long walk towards transformation would need to be undertaken by more than one path, and in the company of many sisters and brothers. The Council declared conscience “the most secret core and sanctuary” of a human person, and expected, at least implicitly, that we would make good moral choices.27 Many Sisters began to consciously seek out further tools for practicing discernment, and living more discerning lives.

As the spirit and intent of Vatican II increasingly entered into the psyche and soul of Canadian RNDMs, some Sisters recognized the need to transform the system itself.28 They realized how inadequate it would be to simply become equal partners in an oppressive system, and the need to shake the foundations became yet more evident. For other Sisters, any prospect of shaking foundations was suspect and frightening.

Many changes were necessary in order to make our community life more human and liveable, and “experimentation” was the explanatory term which launched many of the changes. For example, we experimented with living in “fraternities” (small communities without a “superior”), changing timetables, modes of prayer, personal budgets. Gradually there were breakthroughs regarding the strict interpretation of semi-cloister and the limitations it placed on us as an apostolic community. We became more relational among ourselves and with others.

A contentious aspect of this experimentation in Canada centred on the issue of “the veil”. While we were quick to modify our religious garb as early as 1966 we continued wearing a veil. By way of experiment prior to the 1969 “extraordinary general chapter” some Sisters, in collaboration with the Provincial leadership, made further modifications to the religious habit including removing the veil. Then, from the 1969 Chapter came word that the Sisters involved in this experiment had to put the veil back on immediately. Most did. But for a variety of professional and personal reasons two Sisters could not do so. They communicated their loyal dissent to the Superiors and to the Sisters as best they could. But the veil issue became an arena of great suffering for the individuals, for the Province, and for Superiors General. It was a difficult time for the Province.

Constitutions and Directives also needed to be changed. When new Constitutions were approved in 1978, we took them to heart, and various retreats were offered to help us deepen our capacity for living of them.

Individually and communally, Canadian RNDMs participated in sessions for human growth and development to enhance relational skills, to become better communicators and “skilled participants”. We began giving newly appointed Sister-superiors opportunities for training for their new service. We purchased a summer vacation house at Lake of the Woods where Sisters could rest and re-create together.

In the 1970s, the Province set up a “contingency fund”, which took a long view of our financial future and the sustainability of our missions. As Sisters’ salaries improved, mortgages and debts were paid off, and plans for the long term care of aging Sisters were put in place. We were able to financially share more with the Congregation, and Sisters took increased personal responsibility for the use of money.

The Sisters who came here more than a hundred years ago had certainly come to a foreign and difficult mission. But as time went on, while sending a few Sisters overseas, we gradually “settled in”. This changed when the 1966 General Chapter challenged every RNDM Province to initiate a foreign mission, and in 1968 the Canadian Province sent three Sisters to Peru.

Although the Canadian province were responsible for the Peruvian foundation, sending personnel and providing the financial resources required, today Latin America, like the other post-Vatican II foundations is responsible to the Congregational Leadership Team in Rome.

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Sisters from Canada in overseas ministry 1968-2010

In addition to Peru, there are numerous Canadians who have served in other overseas locales, and they, along with the Canadians who have gone to Peru.

Sisters from Canada in overseas ministry 1968-2010

Name Religious Name Country/Countries Years
Mary Jeanne Roche
Loretta Bonokoski
Irene Oliver
Margaret Dawson
Teresa McCutcheon
Marilyn LeBlanc
Louise Oberhoffner
Patricia Orban
Bertha Chartier
Margaret O’Flanagan
Denise Kuyp
Marion McGuigan
Elizabeth Moriarty
Betty Iris Bartush
Sandra Stewart
Veronica Dunne
Josephine Gelowitz
Sheila Madden
Germaine Guénette
Diane Belisle
Claudia Stecker
Aileen Gleason
Claire Himbeault
Bich Hong Doan
M. Jean D’Avila
M. St Clara
M. St Monica
M. St Donald
M. Edmund
M. Hyacintha
M. Angela
Patricia Mary
M. St Gabriel L.
M. Paula
M. Denise
M. St Bertrand
M of Lourdes
M. St Adele
 
M. Brian
M. St Martha
M. Brigid
M. Gerard Majella
Maria Goretti
 
M Gerald
M St André
M. Joseph
Peru
Peru
Peru
Peru; Bolivia
Peru
Peru
Italy
Peru
Peru
Liberia; Samoa
France
Italy
Peru
Australia
France; Senegal; Papua New Guinea
Senegal
Italy; Peru
Bequia; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Philippines
Peru
Peru
Philippines
Kenya
Philippines
Philippines
1968-1994, RIP
1968-present
1968-
1969 - Present
1970-1993
1970-1999
1973-1978
1973-1992
1976-77; 1985-87; 1989-92
1977; 1979-1982
1981-82
1981-1987
1984-Present
1985
1983-1984; 1984-1985; 1989-1990
1984-1985
1987-1993; 1993-2006
1988-1991; 2007-2009
1989-Present
1997-2004
1997-Present
2003-2007
2007-2010
2008-Present

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Post-Vatican II Ministries

With the post conciliar renewal came shifts in ministerial emphases. Besides classroom teaching, Sisters became involved in:

And all of this as our numbers diminished!

Many of these works were at the personal initiative of a Sister. Others were more “embedded” in the Province, either because of the number of personnel involved, the financial commitment of the Province, or the historical legacy of the work. These are listed in figure 7, and we will look further at three of them – ministry with the mentally challenged, ministry with First Nations peoples, and ministry with refugees.

Foundations in Canada, 1968 – Present

House Date of Opening Date of Closure Founding Members
72 University Crescent,
Winnipeg, MB
Juniorate and then
Provincial House
1968 1982 Melvina Hrushka
Marjorie Beaucage
Mary Anne Jelinski
Denise Kuyp
Patricia Orban
Moquegua, Peru 1968   M. Jean D’Avila Roche
Irene Oliver
Loretta Bonokoski
Brault St, Longueuil, PQ 1970 1982 Marcelle Granger
Oxford House, MB 1972 1997 June Lenzen
Gertrude Zepp
Garrity Home, Regina, SK 1973 2006 Marion McGuigan
Isabel Rabnett
Agnes Fillion
Lavallée, Longueuil, PQ 1975 1988 Germaine Guénette
Léa Beaudin
Sandy Bay 1968   Germaine Zentner
Aileen Gleason
Pinewood/Rainy River 1986 1994 Teresa Kreiser
Millie Knipshield
Kramer Home, Regina, SK 1988 2006 Marion McGuigan
Isabel Rabnett
2710 22 Ave. Regina, SK 1988   Irene Oliver
Theresa McCutchon
Hilda Gelowitz
Elaine Thompson
M. Martin Zwina
Cathedral Courts, Regina, SK 1991   Melvina Hrushka
EuphrasieNguyen
Imelda Taylor
Victoria Seibel
Hospitality House,
Winnipeg, MB
1992 2006 Aileen Gleason
Sheila Madden
Ile-a-la-Crosse 1997 2008 Maria McMahon
Santa Maria, Regina, SK 1998   Irene Oliver
Regina Ann Boechler
Agnes Blaquière
Broadway House,
Winnipeg, MB
Novitiate House
1990 2004 Frances Bonokoski
Sandra Stewart
Norway House 1995 2001 Marie Finn
Edmonton, AB 2003 2009 Veronica Dunne
310 Provencher Blvd,
Winnipeg
Provincial House
2007   Denise Kuyp
Sandra Stewart
Christina Cathro

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Ministry with the Mentally Challenged

This initiative was begun when three Sisters opened a small class for children with cognitive disabilities in Regina on the top floor of Sacred Heart College. Eventually the Separate School Board recognized its responsibility for these youth, adopted the name “Jean Vanier School”, and moved the school to a more accessible site. The Sisters administered the school for some years and then shifted focus from the school to establishing Garritty Home, a residence for mentally challenged young adults. In time this work expanded to two more facilities.29 Over the last five years, the ministry of these Homes has been entrusted to others, and the Sisters are no longer directly involved.

This work had a wide appeal for other RNDMs, and numerous volunteers came to help from various Provinces: Aotearoa New Zealand and Samoa; the British Isles/Ireland; Bangladesh; Myanmar. In addition, over the years numerous Canadian Sisters also served in these Homes.

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Ministry with First Nations in Canada’s North

For some Sisters in Canada, the call to work with First Nations people was a loud persistent and multi-faceted call. For some, it was a matter of sensing a personal “fit” of sensing a need that the Sisters could meet, for others it meant being part of addressing historical injustices, of returning to the Congregation’s unfinished relationship with First Nations peoples. In August 1972, after considerable research and “testing of Spirits”, Gertrude Zepp and June Lenzen arrived in Oxford House, an isolated Cree settlement in northern Manitoba, accessible by air in the summer or across the frozen ice in the winter. They were to begin teaching the following week.

Two months prior to their arrival, eight Oxford House youth, returning for summer holidays from southern schools, were killed when their plane crashed on takeoff. After that horrifying accident, parents refused to let their children leave Oxford House to access high school education, and pressed harder for local access. Thus Lenzen found herself unexpectedly teaching a Grade 9 class. In time, a well equipped high school was built in Oxford House, and no student had to leave the community to get a secondary education.

For the first years the Sisters lived in the “teacherage”, and then made the decision to move across the lake to a site on the Reserve land adjacent to the church building. They look back on that move as a very significant choice, one that identified them as part of the local community and not as transient northern teachers.

Zepp taught in the primary school grades, and Lenzen in the high school, so they were soon involved with multiple generations of learners. Within a decade Zepp would be teaching the children of Lenzen’s former Grade 12 students. Today, the teachers in Oxford House are mostly local. Many students who completed Grade 12 in Oxford House have gone on to post-secondary studies, and now swell the ranks of numerous professions, many of whom remain, or return to, their home community to help improve conditions.

This Mission also provided an opportunity for numerous others to experience and share life in a remote First Nations community. Other Sisters served as teachers - one in the school and several who taught Summer School Religion classes. Some Sisters in formation spent their “apostolic experience” there and three lay Associates lived and worked with the Sisters for extended times.

Oxford House was the first of several post-Vatican II missions among First Nations people, and for that reason has been given particular focus in this narrative. Like Grande-Clairière it became a kind of prototype for those that followed. Subsequent foundations included Sandy Bay SK, Norway House MB and Ile a la Croix SK. Along with Canadians Germaine Zentner and Aileen Gleason, Marie Finn (ANZ) and Maria McMahon (BI/I) have heavily invested themselves in this work.

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Work With Refugees

Moved by the plight of Vietnamese “boat people” in the late 1970s, many Canadian RNDM communities joined Refugee Host Programs in their parishes to sponsor families in need. In addition, we welcomed two Vietnamese Sisters, Euphrasie Nguyen and Bich Hong Doan, who were part of this exodus into our Province, and glimpsed first-hand the suffering they endured. At the Canadian Provincial Chapter in 1986, a ministry to refugees was affirmed, funds were made available and Aileen Gleason was missioned to coordinate and develop this work. The Provincial commitment was further strengthened when in 1990 the Congregational Chapter named “refugees” a top mission priority.

In 1991, Gleason began planning for a home to receive refugees, and in 1992 Hospitality House was opened and its first refugee was welcomed. Hospitality House, owned and financially supported by St John’s Anglican Cathedral, is an ecumenical venture, with other faith communities offering financial support. Since then, many persons have found safety and a home at Hospitality House, where they could transition into Canadian society, learn English and find work.

In 2002, Gleason retired as Refugee Coordinator, and Margaret Purdie (ANZ), accepted to serve in that capacity. In 2006, Purdie returned to her home in New Zealand. John and Fatuma Mukesa Salumu-Kasongo, from Congo became House Hosts, and Tom Denton became director of Hospitality House Refugee Ministry.

While the RNDMs have handed over full responsibility for the refugee ministry to the Hospitality House Board, with gratitude for their competence and dedication, an emotional bond to the ministry remains strong. One Sister serves on the Board and we continue to contribute financially to the ministry.

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Other Modes of Mission

Over the years, some Canadians have also served the Congregation in various aspects of leadership and administration:

Canadian Sisters in Congregational Leadership and Administration: 1900-Present

Name Date Begun Date Ended Service Rendered
M. Thérèse de l’Enfant J. Desrosiers 1947 1966 General Councillor
Roberta Morrissey 1966 1978 General Councillor
Victoria Seibel 1973 1984 Congregational Bursar
Aileen Gleason 1974 1983 Congregational Archivist
Claire Himbeault 1972
1984
1984 1996 General Councillor
Superior General
Winifred Brown 1983 1993 General Secretary

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The Grace and Gift of Fewness

Today, we are fifty-six Sisters in the Canadian Province. We have let go of many of our corporate works, and divested ourselves of numerous properties. One satisfying aspect of “down-sizing” has been the creative use made of the properties which our predecessors acquired and built with both wisdom and foresight.

In Regina, part of Sacred Heart Academy land now serves as a school playground and another part functions as a small city park. One of the buildings and a tract of land is home to the Early Learning Centre for low-income families. The Academy, designated as a heritage property, houses the Holy Rosary Cathedral parish office while the major portion has been converted into housing for seniors, and is now known as Cathedral Courts. Retaining its beautiful chapel and some gathering spaces, Cathedral Courts provides twenty six dwellings, including residences for six of our Sisters.

In Lebret our convent has been sold to a holistic teaching centre, concerned for the health of the whole person. In Brandon, the former St Michael’s Academy is now a retirement residence. Our former convent in Ste Rose-du-Lac is an alcohol and drug treatment centre. St Edwards in Winnipeg has been taken over by a group who provide assessment, legal, medical and psychological services for at-risk First Nations youth.

Most of the Sisters who make up the Canadian Province are women whose roots are in the land. This may contribute to the sensibility Province members have for earth, for our need to learn from earth, and take our place as part of the earth community. Over the last decade Sisters have been involved with organic gardening movements, ecological justice movements, ecological literacy movements, and faith communities whose prayer is grounded in the new cosmology. We are always called to mission, and today we sense ourselves called to be missionaries to the planet itself.

In July 2007, Canada hosted the “Forum of the Five”. This meeting was to address the emerging realities of the five “western” Provinces where the majority of Sisters are aged, there are few new members, and a minority of Sisters are engaged in active ministry. In these Provinces the future viability of our Provinces is uncertain. At this Forum, we came to the insight that “Fewness is gift and grace to our world”. We looked back to the beginnings of the Congregation when there were few Sisters with modest or no resources. They had gifts of youth and vigour; we have gifts of wisdom and faith tempered by experience. Like the few loaves and fishes that became abundance for the many, our fewness is a gift that we offer gladly for the sake of humanity, for the sake of earth.

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Conclusion

We began by saying that “To tell the story of anything, you have to tell the story of everything”.30 In this brief snapshot of RNDM history in Canada we have offered glimpses of a story woven of joys and sufferings, of bold choices and timid steps. It is a story of exile, of a displacing people, as well as a story of reconciling and numinous relationships with Native peoples and settlers. It is a story of struggle, both transformative and troubling, between British and French, Protestant and Catholic. It is a story of exceptional RNDM educators and visionary leaders; of courageous women who also struggled with fear and doubt. It is finally a story of God that we continue to write with our lives, and continue to offer to the world. We face challenges our fore-Sisters could not imagine, as they faced challenges that now seem so daunting to us. Across the ages, we join hands to draw strength and courage from them, and walk together into whatever the future holds with serenity and hope.

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1 Thomas Berry in Neal Rogin & Christine Funk video. “The Awakening Universe” (San Francisco: The Pachamama Alliance, 2006).[Return to 1]
2 Women religious were highly valued as educators in Canada. They embodied Catholic values, cost little by way of salaries, sought no personal gain, and lived out an ideal of nineteenth century religious life: total abnegation of the self.[Return to 2]
3 Among these challenges were: relationship with Aboriginal peoples; relationships between English and French, Catholics and Protestants; concerns with European wars and politics; issues of publicly funded religious schools, professional accreditation in a new country, questions around indigenization of a European religious congregation, etc.[Return to 3]
4 The Canadian Province is fortunate to have two written histories, one covering the first twenty-five years of RNDM life in Canada and the second looking at the first fifty years. The first (1923,) was by Marie de la Ste Trinité (Francine Goutelle, translated from French by Bérénice Houde, RNDM), and the second (1992) by Alice Vandendriessche, RNDM.[Return to 4]
5The political units that comprise Canada are called “provinces”, so to distinguish between the ten Canadian provinces and the Congregational designation, I capitalize the word when I am referring to the latter.[Return to 5]
6 Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (London: Penguin Books, 1945), 43.[Return to 6]
7The Government of Canada offered free land to men willing to settle on the prairies. For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion_Lands_Act and http://olc.spsd.sk.ca/DE/saskatchewan100/womeanwontheweSt.html Accessed August 20, 2009.[Return to 7]
8Marie de la Ste Trinité, Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions in Canada 1898-1923, 10.[Return to 8]
9Ibid.,11.[Return to 9]
10Ibid., 13.[Return to 10]
11Ibid., 14.[Return to 11]
12The Feast of Our Lady of Snows was also the day the founding Sisters arrived in Canada, landing at Quebec on 5 August, 1898. In the years of foundation, the convents were called monasteries.[Return to 12]
13When the convent of Our Lady of the Snows burned to the ground in December 1923, Brandon became the Congregation’s oldest foundation in Canada.[Return to 13]
14The Faithful Companions withdrew after a painful experience of anti-Catholic sentiment brought on by economic realities tied into the question of funding for Catholic Schools. This “Manitoba Schools Question” was to plague Manitoba Catholic schools for decades.[Return to 14]
15Ibid., 39-40.[Return to 15]
16Marie de la Ste Trinité notes: “Besides the joy that this title gave to their Marian piety, the name strengthened a more intimate and indissoluble link between this little family and the mother house on the slope of the holy hill in France” Ibid., 56.[Return to 16]
17Ibid., 57.[Return to 17]
18Ibid., 12.[Return to 18]
19The novitiate remained at St Eustache until 1926 when Sacred Heart College, Regina became the Novitiate House for the Province.[Return to 19]
20Ibid., 78[Return to 20]
21Ibid., 119.[Return to 21]
22Ibid., 35.[Return to 22]
23A responsibility which the Sisters held until the 1960’s when diminishing numbers obliged the high school students to go to nearby Fort Qu’Appelle. The Sisters continued to teach in both towns until 1980.[Return to 23]
24In 1924 the Academy received the status of Junior College from the University of Saskatchewan with accreditation to teach 2nd year Arts.[Return to 24]
25Pope John XXIII, Address at the opening of Vatican Council II, 11 October 1962. Available from http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/pope0261i.htm; Accessed August 2009.[Return to 25]
26Perfectae Caritatis or “Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life” in Walter M. Abbott, ed., The Documents of Vatican I I (London-Dublin: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966).[Return to 26]
27Gaudium et Spes, no. 16. Available at http://www.vatican.va accessed July, 2009..[Return to 27]
28Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 32.[Return to 28]
29These were Kramer and Fraser Homes. After two years, Fraser Home closed, and it became a residence for Sisters involved in pastoral work, known as “Wheeler Crescent”.[Return to 29]
30Ibid., Berry in Rogin & Funk.[Return to 30]


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