Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 3, 1999
Sisters have served widely
Srs. of Charity of Immaculate Conception mark 75 years in Alberta
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
They came to Edmonton to teach but they soon found themselves immersed in a variety of ministries across Alberta.
Today the Sisters of Charity of Immaculate Conception are fewer in number but are still active in a wide variety of ministries.
This energetic group of women religious is now celebrating 75 years of service at St. Alphonsus Parish and in Alberta.
"These past 75 years have been fruitful for us and we hope they have been fruitful too for the people we've worked with," said Sister Aline Roulston, local superior.
The order of the Sisters of Charity was founded in 1854 in Saint John, N.B. at the time of the Irish famine. To fulfill their mission to help the poor and marginalized, the sisters set up many schools, hospitals and orphanages in New Brunswick and other parts of Canada.
In 1911, they expanded their ministry to Western Canada, setting up a hospital and an orphanage in Prince Albert, Sask.
When St. Alphonsus Parish was established in early 1924, the Redemptorist Fathers, the order of priests that has served St. Alphonsus for the past 75 years, started a Catholic school and asked the Sisters of Charity to staff it.
The sisters responded to the call by sending three of their members to Edmonton in August 1924. They were welcomed by the Grey Nuns until they were able to rent a small house on 92nd Street.
By May 1925, the sisters had a convent across from St. Alphonsus, at 11825-85 St. Three pioneer sisters began teaching in two buildings at 117th Avenue and 82nd Street. The present St. Alphonsus School opened in September 1927.
The sisters did whatever needed to be done, becoming deeply involved in building the parish. Besides teaching in the school, they served as sacristans, decorated the altars, played the organ, and sang at morning Masses, Benedictions and weekly Marian devotions.
They also prepared children for First Confession and Communion.
"We certainly helped in building up this parish," said Sister Mary Ell. "We were co-founders of the parish."
The 88-year-old nun taught at St. Alphonsus School for 30 years and has been active in the parish throughout her 50 years in Edmonton. Currently she is a member of the parish council, is in charge of eucharistic ministry and distributes Communion to the sick.
Anxious to serve, the sisters set up new ministries in Alberta a few years after their arrival.
By 1928, they had opened a small 20-bed hospital in Radway, which now is occupied by the John Paul II Bible School.
In 1942, as an extension to their work at Sacred Heart School in Wetaskiwin, the sisters opened a convent there. At the convent, they did parish work and music ministry, and taught catechetics to children from outlying districts.
In 1946 the sisters opened a home in Hanna for high school students who came from out of town. Over the years, they expanded their work to the St. Paul and Calgary dioceses. For a number of years they have had a mission in Peru and recently they began work in Nicaragua.
The sisters' work in Edmonton expanded to six schools, including three located within St. Alphonsus Parish.
More sisters had to be called from Saint John to handle the workload. Their small convent across the street from St. Alphonsus Church became overcrowded and an addition was built in 1954.
By 1968 the sisters were teaching in schools throughout Edmonton. Three of the sisters served as reading specialists for the Catholic school system.
As well as their teaching and hospital ministry, the sisters were also active as parish workers, choir directors, coordinators of rural catechetics, catechetics for adults, and as part of the staff of the Alberta Marriage Tribunal.
Over 100 sisters have worked in Alberta since the order arrived and about 25 of them were recruited in Alberta.
Currently 12 sisters are in Edmonton out of about 200 across Canada. They also have about 30 lay associates, most of whom work among the poor. In the early 1970s, they had more tham 350 members in Canada, including 23 in Edmonton.
Most sisters are still active parishioners at St. Alphonsus.
Redemptorist Father Joe Murphy, who has been at the parish since 1985, said the order has contributed significantly to the development and growth of the parish.
"Their contribution has been invaluable," he said, noting the sisters have not only helped staff the parish but also to prepare parishioners to face the changes following the Second Vatican Council.
"The parish is better because of them," Murphy said.
The Sisters of Charity provided St. Alphonsus Parish with at least three pastoral assistants over the years, he noted.
The first pastoral assistant, Sister Agnes Kurk, made history in the early 1970s when she became the first woman ever to be appointed to such a post in Canada.
The sisters recently sold their properties across from the church because they don't have the personnel to administer them. That, however, is not a sign they want to leave the parish, as the Redemptorists will do in June due to a lack of personnel.
Five sisters still live in one of the houses, renting back from the new owners, and remain committed to their ministries as well as to St. Alphonsus Parish.
"It all depends on what the new priest and the parishioners want," Roulston said. "We have experience in small Christian communities and that could be useful to the parish."
The Sisters of Charity also have a house in the heart of the inner city from which they minister to the poor. St. Alphonsus Parish will mark the 75th anniversary of the sisters' arrival in Edmonton May 16.