Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 6, 1999
Mary Jo Cassidy promoted contemplative life
By GLEN ARGAN
Mary Jo Cassidy, one of Alberta's most dedicated proponents of contemplative prayer, died here Aug. 25. She was 76.
Cassidy, a former Precious Blood nun, launched the Way of Holiness Retreat Centre northwest of Hinton in 1981 with little more than prayer and a lease on three acres of Crown land.
There, she has organized retreats, provided counselling and built ties with a wide variety of people and organizations.
"She took in just about everybody who came," said Trudy McKinnon of Hinton who was involved with the centre from its beginnings. "She had a gift for hospitality that you couldn't match."
Cassidy, a native of Edmonton, joined the cloistered Precious Blood order in her late 20s, but left 19 years later to share the prayer and spirituality of the order with a broader community.
She began an ecumenical prayer community, known as Emmaus House, in Edmonton and became involved in the charismatic renewal.
The community had 15 members but ultimately didn't work - in her mind, because it was located in the city. "I was hoping we could get more time for prayer and more time for solitude. But the pressure of city life was there and we couldn't do it," Cassidy told the WCR in 1983.
So she moved to Hinton with her dream still alive.
She found an old nurses' residence abandoned and vandalized in a garbage dump and, in 1980, had the residence hauled up a hillside to her newly-leased property.
There, she lived a rustic lifestyle and began drawing people from far and wide who were seeking a deeper spirituality or just a place to sleep and eat.
Cassidy relied heavily on donations and Providence for even the basic necessities. Whenever she needed something or people with special talents, it seemed as though it or they would show up on her doorstep.
"The only thing I had going for me is that I knew the Lord," she said.
Eventually, her retreat house was finished and then expanded and began hosting events. Today, it provides accommodation for up to 24 people and has held workshops and retreats both for local Catholics and for families from further afield. Recently, native groups from across Alberta have been using the retreat centre for training sessions.
The Way of Holiness Retreat Centre has also built strong ties with the John Paul II Bible School in Radway.
John Connelly, associate director of the Bible school, called Cassidy "a great woman of faith" who inspired many of the school's students. Six to eight of them went on to serve on her staff.
She "lived an extraordinary life and was a witness to all of us of the power of faith," Connelly said.
McKinnon said Cassidy was "an incredible woman" who touched many people's lives. "She built that place with nothing, just faith in God."
"She was never swayed by the world. There was comfort and there was peace there, but everything was simple," she said.
Kathleen Giffin, a current board member for the centre, said Cassidy had "tremendous trust in God. She didn't need to take charge herself. She trusted God completely."
Giffin noted that she had the quality of "being able to give even when those you're giving to are hurting you."
On the other hand, she said, Cassidy called people to develop virtue in their lives and not just to be content with what God had done for them. "She really wanted to see a spiritual maturity of the people in the Church."
Bishop Emmett Doyle and nine other priests celebrated a funeral Mass for Cassidy Aug. 27 at St. Albert Church in St. Albert.