Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 3, 1999
Sisters witness to love
Halifax Srs. of Charity celebrate 150th anniversary
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, better known as the Sisters of Charity of Halifax, marked 150 years of service to Canadians with a Mass April 25.
"Congratulations on your 150th anniversary," Archbishop Joseph MacNeil told the sisters at a Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica. "We've made sure we had a beautiful day for this."
On a hot Sunday, some 700 people, many of them religious women from other congregations, joined Alberta's 15 Sisters of Charity of Halifax in the celebration.
MacNeil described the celebration as "a celebration of 150 years of joyful witness to love" and thanked the sisters for accepting Jesus' call to make the love of God visible among the poor and the sick.
"Their influence has been enormous," the archbishop said, giving the example of Sister Annata Brockman, the basilica's pastoral assistant, who has influenced hundreds of people through her kindness and dedication.
"Sister Annata can fill this church at any time and she does a couple of times a year. Who knows how to measure the influence of one person?"
"This celebration shows how much we are appreciated in Edmonton," said Sister Mary Louise Brink, the Sisters of Charity's congregational leader, who was visiting from Halifax.
In Alberta, the Sisters of Charity of Halifax are pioneers. They have taught in schools in Edmonton and other communities, cared for the sick and worked in many other caring professions since their arrival in 1927.
The sisters established hospitals at Jasper, Hardisty and Westlock. While some of the 15 remaining sisters in Alberta are retired, they continue to volunteer in hospitals, churches and schools.
The Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul were founded in 1808 in the United States by St. Elizabeth Seton, a debutante, wife, mother, widow, convert to the Catholic Church and educator.
Inspired by the rule of St. Vincent de Paul, the sisters reached out to the poor around them. The sisters themselves lived a simple life, being often cold and hungry during the winters of their early years.
On Jan. 4, 1821 Elizabeth Seton died of tuberculosis at age 47. On Sept. 14, 1975, she was declared a saint.
After her death, her sisters went throughout the U.S. founding schools, hospitals and orphanages.
In 1849 four Sisters of Charity from New York came to Halifax to serve the poor - thus the name Sisters of Charity of Halifax. They came to teach but soon were helping in the parish, visiting the sick and caring for orphans.
Like Elizabeth Seton, these sisters took risks to be with the poor. In 1866 a ship of cholera-stricken Irish immigrants entered Halifax Harbour and was quarantined at McNab's Island. The Sisters of Charity went to the island to help the sick, to comfort the dying and to care for their orphaned children.
Today the sisters work in Canada, the U.S., Bermuda, the Dominican Republic and Peru, always responding to the changing needs of society.
They work with the elderly, immigrants, abused women and children, the homeless, people with addictions and with AIDS. They minister in emergency rooms and children's wards, in schools, parishes, in mental health clinics, in single parent centres, in hospitality houses for hospital patients and their families, in literacy centres for women and children.
"The Sisters of Charity, at this time in our history, enflesh the thread of faith that was so alive in Elizabeth Seton, by choosing to stand in solidarity with the economically poor, by ministering to a world wounded by violence and stripped of hope," states a pamphlet distributed before the Mass.
Sister Annata Brockman is a good example of what a Sister of Charity is, noted Brink, the congregational leader. "She makes people believe in God."
A member of the order for 50 years, Brockman taught in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and 20 years in Edmonton. Since 1980, she has been a key member of the pastoral team at the basilica, working with people of all faiths, handling educational, counselling, and other duties.
She is known for her deep faith, her smile, her kindness and her unparalleled dedication to her work.
In her quiet ways she does what a Sister of Charity is supposed to do: "Let the light of Christ shine through them."
"I just do my best and I let the Lord do the rest," Brockman said modestly in an interview.
"I really believe that the mission of Christ is the same mission that we have. If we give our talents for the good of people then we have fulfilled our mission on earth."
There are 380 sisters working in Canada out of a total of 800 in five countries. There were 1,600 in the 1960s.
"Our numbers have declined but we are still a large congregation," noted Brink. "The future holds great promise. There are still lots of needs to be served and there are a lot of people being called (to religious life)."