Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 15, 1999
Blessed by religious life
Sr. Marion Garneau grateful for a life sharing others' joys and sorrows
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Sister Marion Garneau likes being a sister. And it shows. "It's been a good life, full of blessing," she says.
Her reasons are simple. Religious life has allowed her to serve as Christ did and to live life to the fullest.
She has taught school, has lived among the poorest of the poor in Peru, has been in positions of leadership and now works and lives among the poor of Edmonton's inner city.
"There is so much blessing in my life," she says. "Each day has its share of the joys and sorrows, the hopes and fears of the human community."
Currently Garneau is a member of the Inner City Pastoral Ministry, an ecumenical faith outreach for street people, and ministers to sexually abused and battered women as well as to women prisoners.
Garneau, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception, was born in Edmonton as were both her parents - Marion and Robert "Alf" Garneau. Her paternal great-grandfather came to Edmonton in 1874 from the Red River; his farm in southwest Edmonton is part of today's Garneau district.
"I grew up in a home where faith and spirituality were important," she noted. Her mother is 88 and still runs a prayer group at St. Alphonsus Parish.
Garneau joined the Sisters of Charity at the young age of 16 and credits her Grade 3 teacher with planting the seed in her mind.
The teacher, a lay woman, simply asked Garneau if she would consider becoming a sister. "She asked the question," recalled Garneau, wondering if today's apparent lack of vocations is due to the fact the question is not asked often enough.
As a teenager Garneau met several congregations in Edmonton but as she began to think seriously about religious life during Grade 11, she felt drawn to those she knew best - the Sisters of Charity. A number of them taught at St. Alphonsus School at the time.
"Strangely, my vision was of working with children in Africa, yet I joined a congregation that at that time was in ministry only in Canada." Years later the Sisters of Charity would expand their ministry to foreign soil allowing Garneau to live in Peru.
When she approached St. Alphonsus pastor Father Bernard Johnson with the idea of joining a congregation, the priest said, "Too young, too young." But when Johnson found Garneau was determined, he supported her decision to enter on finishing Grade 11 - something unheard of today.
Upon entering, she set off for Saint John, N.B., where the Sisters of Charity have their headquarters. There she finished high school, earned her teacher's licence, earned university degrees in science and education, and taught high school for a number of years.
She enjoyed teaching and expected this would be her life. However, God is full of surprises.
In 1972 she responded to her congregation's invitation to ministry in Peru. "What a gift," she said. "The parish on the fringes of Lima, where I lived, had at one point 150,000 people and one priest. There was no way that the model of Church that I had known in Canada would fit."
Peru was not an easy place to be. "People face relentless poverty that could destroy a person's spirit and yet these people are so hopeful, so ready to work together, to envision a better world."
In Peru, Garneau witnessed the power of small Christian communities and their ability to draw out leadership.
"I learned a whole new model of Church. Lay people led the Church." She also had the opportunity of dining with Mother Teresa when she visited the poor of the area and began ministry in a wretched part of Lima.
"There have been so many unexpected blessings in my life." In 1981 Garneau returned to Edmonton to do formation work for the congregation. Four years later she was elected general superior of the Sisters of Charity and had to return to Saint John.
She led the congregation for nine years, returning to Edmonton in 1994. Since then Garneau has lived and worked in the inner city, volunteering in projects such as a resource centre for prostitutes, for survivors of sexual abuse, for battered women, women in prison, housing.
She has been a member of the Inner City Pastoral Ministry for over two years and, among other things, she helps the group serve Sunday lunch to 200 to 300 inner city people.
"It's wonderful to live and work in the inner city. I'm very grateful to be able to walk with the poor as Jesus did."
There are close to 200 Sisters of Charity of Immaculate Conception across Canada, including 12 in Edmonton.