Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
July 9, 2001
St. Joseph Sisters pull back
Age, declining numbers force order to sell regional headquarters
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — They built hospitals and schools and provided food, shelter and clothing to the needy. For almost 80 years their work was felt throughout the community in schools, parishes and hospitals.
They have served as schoolteachers, private tutors, librarians, music instructors, homemakers, volunteers, counsellors, nurses, parish secretaries, catechetical consultants, spiritual directors and administrators.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have served the Edmonton Archdiocese and the community well. But now, forced by their aging membership and their low numbers, the sisters have sold their former Western Canada headquarters, with only a few sisters staying in the archdiocese.
"We are closing this regional house," said Sister Loretta Manzara, a member of the congregation's leadership team. "The sisters are aging and the house is no longer a comfortable size."
The congregation already sold its convent at 10120-135 Ave. and is moving several members to the motherhouse in London, Ont.
Seven sisters will stay behind, including three retirees who chose to stay in Edmonton and four who will continue ministering to street kids, providing shelter to needy women and doing pastoral ministry at the Misericordia Hospital.
The rest, five retired sisters, will leave for London between the end of July and mid-August. The congregation held its closing ceremony at the convent July 1.
Aging, lack of vocations and the size of their regional house played an important part in the decision to leave, confirmed Sister Mary Diesbourg, general superior, who was in Edmonton for the ceremonies. "This place is just too large."
During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the house was a hub for sisters ministering throughout Alberta, B.C. and the Northwest Territories. No fewer than 35 sisters lived at the convent at any one time.
But numbers slowly began to decline and now only eight, mostly retired sisters live in the house, a huge complex with almost 40 rooms, a chapel, an infirmary, offices and a gym.
Last year the congregation sold the house to Venta Nursing Home for an undisclosed amount. Venta, a neighbour of the convent and where many of the sisters have ministered over the years, plans to expand its operations.
It took the sisters years to decide whether to leave the city and all members had a say in the decision, noted Diesbourg.
However, the sisters appear to be looking forward to their move East.
"It didn't take me very long to decide (to leave for London)," said Sister Caroline Strauss, 85. "I'm not dissatisfied because I have relatives in Ontario."
The Daysland native entered the congregation in 1933 in Edmonton and spent most of her life serving as a teacher and health care worker. "I was in Killam for 20 years and many times in Galahad," she said. "I've been happy as a sister wherever I've been."
Sister Desales Roth, 88, says she has no problem leaving Edmonton, a city she loves. "I will take the memories with me," she said. "I have family here and no one there (in London), but I'll have the sisters."
Roth, a native of Foremost, entered the congregation in 1929 in Edmonton and has served as a kindergarten teacher, pastoral care minister and spiritual director of the Legion of Mary.
When she is not visiting families, Roth is out visiting prisoners at the Max or coordinating pastoral care at Venta nursing homes.
Sister Vincent Bain has been confined to the infirmary for some time but she is ready for new challenges in London. "I don't mind at all," she said. "(Going to London) is the best thing for me to do."
A native of Scotland, Bain came to Canada in 1911 and joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in Edmonton in 1932. She taught school in St. Paul for seven years before returning to Edmonton, where she taught at Sacred Heart, St. Basil and Archbishop O'Leary schools.
After retiring from teaching in 1974, Bain served in pastoral care at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. She also served as treasurer for the sisters for 40 years, from 1952 to 1992.
The Sisters of St. Joseph originated in Le Puy, France in 1650. During the French Revolution, the congregation's convents were closed, the sisters disbanded and some were imprisoned. The order was re-established at Lyon in 1807.
The first Sisters of St. Joseph came to Canada in 1851 at the request of the archbishop of Toronto. They established their first foundation in London, Ont., in 1868.
In 1922, responding to an invitation from Archbishop Henry Joseph O'Leary, seven sisters came to Edmonton to work at Sacred Heart Parish. Soon they were teaching at Sacred Heart School and at a school in Fairview. So began a teaching ministry that touched the lives of thousands of children throughout Alberta.
In 1926 the sisters also moved into health care, soon founding hospitals in Stettler, Galahad, Killam and Rimbey.
In 1961, they moved into their new regional house on 135th Avenue. The new convent provided a spacious chapel, community room, refectory, kitchen and 37 sleeping rooms, as well as several offices, guest rooms and a music school.
In 1984 the Breads and Threads clothing bank opened in the regional house's gym, helping people in need for the next 12 years.
In 1988, the sisters purchased a large house that they converted into a home for women released from prison and mental institutions. Elizabeth Place, as the home is called, continues its work today coordinated by Sister Alice Caza. The same year, the community bought another house to accommodate troubled teens.
In 1993, the community opened Kirwin-Lucier House, a 15-bed rooming house to provide a functional, caring environment for people with chronic mental health disorders and substance abuse problems. And a year later, it opened Crossroads Two, a shelter for women 18 and over trying to make the transition from prostitution to mainstream life.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have also worked in the marriage tribunal, prison ministry, teaching English to new Canadians, and teaching religion in rural areas and on military bases.
Even though the sisters are closing their main house in Edmonton, they will maintain sisters in Yellowknife and British Columbia. There are a total of 200 Sisters of St. Joseph of London in Canada.
In the Edmonton Archdiocese, there are also Sisters of St. Joseph of Peterborough and Sisters of St. Joseph of Sault Ste. Marie.
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