November 7, 2016



Many Religious Sisters gathered at the Albrechtsen Research Centre on the campus of St. Boniface Hospital for an extraordinary event to celebrate the climax of the almost two-year celebration of the 175 Years of the contribution of Women Religious to the mission of the Church in Manitoba.
       The event began with the first of two premier screenings of the film “Soul Sisters” in the Sam Cohen Auditorium. The film included a number of interviews and visual vignettes about the experience of the Sisters in their 175-year service of the people of Manitoba. The pre-eminence of French-speaking communities was obvious as that reflected much of the early Church in Manitoba. However, the various English-speaking and Ukrainian communities were very well represented. Sr. Darleane Pelechaty of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate featured prominently in the film.
       The film was followed by an amazing wine and cheese social in the foyer where guests could mingle and meet some of the “legends” of religious life that were either just seen on the big screen or are otherwise known in the community. It was a grace to meet and chat with Sisters that one may otherwise never meet, but who had lived and worked in Manitoba most of their lives. This was also an opportunity to view a very engaging exhibit of select representatives of some of the women religious congregations.
       At the close of the evening, everyone gathered around a central podium and seating area for the formal book launch of a collection of some materials gathered since the Sisters’ legacy project was first initiated. The title of the 56-page booklet that was edited by Sr. Dora Tetreault,  says it all - "175-Year History of Women Religious Congregations in Manitoba: A Legacy of Care, Courage and Compassion". The book, published by Winnipeg's Vidacom Publications, unfortunately missed a few of the congregations, but the presenter explained that not all the histories were readily accessible. Perhaps a second edition or second volume will expand on this facinating history.
       It is believed that the Grey Nuns were the first Congregation of Sisters to come to stay in Manitoba in 1844. Some 52 other Congregations came to stay or to serve for a period of time. This includes, of course, the Ukrainian communities of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate that came in 1905 and the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1985. It is interesting that all the Sisters shared a similar story of their work in Manitoba. Some came from more monastic and even cloistered backgrounds in Europe or Eastern Canada. However, when they arrived in Manitoba they fast adapted the motto – officially or otherwise - “wherever the need is greatest”. They served in parishes. They taught. They built schools, daycares, hospitals and various pastoral centres. They gave their attention to children and to families and to seniors. They were there for the hungry and the angry, for the lonely and the imprisoned. They did all these things, and they still do. Some went away for missions and for further training, but then came back with new insights to serve again in Manitoba.
       To be honest, there was a lot of grey hair in the film and among the Sisters that gathered in the theatre together with their many supporters. In the film and at Sunday's Legacy event, there were not a lot of younger Sisters oberved among the elderly. But there are some! Now this observation surely proposes a conversation that the whole Church needs to have. The great legacy of the Sisters is obvious in every aspect of Church life. Now, how will that work be sustained? By whom? What is God’s Will for the many and various congregations to which He called so many dedicated and selfless and gifted women? What is the voice of God speaking to the heart of each of us?
       The above-mentioned “Sisters Reflections” exhibit was set up in the great foyer and featured the pictures, mini-vocation stories and some personal reflections of member of some of the 50+ congregations that served in Manitoba. The idea of the exhibit is to present, “a synopsis of handwritten letters by the Sisters who are graciously sharing some of their personal stories as they reflect back on their lives” The letters of the exhibit and MORE can be seen at the SISTERSLEGACY website.
       The “Sisters Reflections” exhibit (partially visible in the photos) will be on display at Holy Family Home (165 Taras Shevchenko Way)(a.k.a. Aberdeen Ave.) for the month of December, 2016. Make a point to come out and spend some time reading the thoughts of women who dedicated themselves to the service of the Lord and His People. Then, take the time to meet them...

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