June 11, 2017


The church of Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Parish was the site of the Winnipeg celebration of 125 years since the founding of the Congregation of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate. In the afternoon of the Sunday of All Saints (June 11), the Archbishop of Winnipeg, Metropolitan Lawrence Huculak, lead a moleben’ prayer service focused on the intercession and the life of the founding superior of the SSMI, Blessed Josaphata Hordashevska. He was joined by dozens of priests, deacons, altar servers and girls of Mary as well as a filled church and choir loft of Sisters and lay faithful that wanted to be part of the special event to honour and thank the Sisters for all that they have done for the Church community. The Metropolitan preached at the Moleben’ and the St. Basil Parish choir together with other singers under the direction of Sr. Ruth Aney, SSMI lead the responses.

At the end of the service, Archbishop Lawrence blessed two baskets of commemorative lapel-pin medals with an image of Blessed Josaphata that were minted specially for this anniversary year.  The Provincial Superior of the Canadian Province of the SSMI, Sr. Christina Syrotynska, stepped forward to invite everyone to come forward to venerate a special icon of Blessed Josaphata and receive an anniversary pin before going down to the reception. The icon which depicts Blessed Josaphata in Byzantine iconographic style, also contains an actual relic of the SSMI co-foundress. Sisters Christina and Sr. Jean Zemliak, a member of the Provincial Council, carried the icon from the church to the reception hall where it was prominently displayed for the evening.

The evening continued with an inspiring program of song and reflection and fellowship. The children from Immaculate Heart of Mary School, which has operated in Winnipeg - in one form or another by the Sisters since 1905 - performed a series of songs. One of the highlights of the program was the keynote address delivered by Sister Christina Syrotynska, from Toronto, who was elected to be the SSMI Provincial Superior in August of 2016. The reception was an opportunity not only for wonderful refreshments, but a chance for fellowship among the friends of the Sisters as well as all those that collaborate directly with them – such as the “Associates” and the staffs and families of the various places where the Sisters serve, like Holy Family Home, the School and various parishes. A number of individuals and groups expressed their support - both personally and via the microphone - for the Sisters throughout the evening.

The Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, which is considered to be the “first apostolic congregation” of women in the Ukrainian Church, was founded in the western Ukrainian village of Zhuzhel in 1892 through the efforts of Parish priest Fr. Cyril Seletsky and Basilian hieromonk Fr. Jeremiah (Lomnytsky). They chose Blessed Sr. Josaphata (Hordashevska) to be the founding superior and the rest… is history. As the Sisters were not cloistered but active in the parishes right from the beginning, they soon were in demand throughout present-day Ukraine. The Sisters wholeheartedly strived to live their fundamental mission to “serve the people where the need is greatest”. Because of this, in the area of Halychyna itself, within the first decade they had over 100 Sisters working from 20 homes. They taught children, tended the elderly, help grow parish life and so much more. In 1902, after only 10 years, they already sent the first members of their religious congregation to Canada. The circumstances were truly rough in those pioneer days of the Ukrainian Church in Canada. This was a full decade before the first Bishop and shepherd for the Ukrainian people arrived in the person of the saintly Blessed Hieromartyr Nytkyta Budka.

       Of the first Sisters to come to Canada, one died within half a year, the other three soon moved to Mundare, Alberta nearer to the Basilian Fathers who were their patrons back in Ukraine. They started a novitiate in 1903 and in fact, they so inspired the young women that observed their zeal that three candidates came forward immediately. They soon were able to send Sisters to Winnipeg, which they did in 1905.

       It was in 1905 that two energetic Sisters started a school for the children of Ukrainian immigrants at a community hall at the corner of Selkirk and McGregor. In a couple of years they moved up one block on McGregor to a church basement. Finally in 1911, the French Archbishop of St. Boniface, Adelard Langevin, gave the funds to build a new proper school which was named St. Nicholas School. Eventually another newer school was built on the same site in 1961 that has served until today as Immaculate Heart of Mary School. In the Archeparchy the Sisters Servants opened two nursing Homes – St. Paul’s in Dauphin and Holy Family Home in Winnipeg where they have cared for hundreds of the elderly. The latter (HFH) is now undergoing a major renovation and expansion. The Sisters have operated other smaller schools (e.g. Sifton); they developed and ran the Archeparchial Religious Education Centre for many years; they offered training and assistance for many Catechism programs in many parishes throughout the province. By their tireless efforts, they endeared themselves to countless grateful parish priests and faithful over the years for striving to bring quality programs and life to their parishes.

      The numbers and missions of the Sisters kept growing at such a pace that in 1936 there were already some 126 Sisters in 15 homes in major centres where the Ukrainian Church was established. Yes, over the years in Canada they have established and run schools, hospitals, nursing homes, retreat houses and spiritual renewals, catechisms and youth programs. They served in parishes and chancery offices. They served on health commissions, and school boards. Sisters from this congregation have surely touched the lives of everyone in the Church in one way or another, each of us either personally or by attending to one of our loved ones … either as a catechism teacher, healthcare provider, choir director, college academic dean, youth leader, etc., etc. 

     The Sisters Servants have recently consolidated the fundraising efforts to support all their ministries throughout the country in the Lubov SSMI Foundation Inc. under the direction of CEO Lesia Sianchuk. Everyone interested in the ongoing projects of the SSMI are encouraged to contact the foundation.  

       May our good Lord richly bless the Sisters for their many years of selfless and zealous and competent service of the People of God. May He bless them with many more years of service and many more women to join their numbers in the fulfilment of their mission. Mnohaya Lita! Многая Літа!

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