Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 10, 2002
Simple, yet profound, service
Devoted sisters joyfully perform pastoral duties
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Daughters of Jesus, now marking 100 years of service in Alberta, is a congregation of simple but committed religious women whose goal is to imitate Jesus in everyday life.
They came to Alberta in 1902 to cook and clean for the bishops, but soon they found themselves immersed in many other ministries, from teaching poor children, to running hospitals and schools.
For the past 40 years they have served in a variety of parish ministries and today, despite their age and declining numbers, they continue labouring in the vineyard of the Lord.
"What makes us tick is the simplicity of life, being with ordinary people and the humanity of Jesus," explained Sister Frances Schlemmer, provincial superior of the order's Western Canadian chapter.
"We try to live the love that Jesus brought to earth," said Sister Georgina Morin, the congregation's archivist. "We have a special devotion to the humanity of Jesus. Wherever we are, we associate closely with the people in simple ways."
The congregation was founded in France in 1834 to teach poor children and care for the sick in a rural parish in Brittany.
When the political crisis of 1902 blew over France, 80 of their schools were closed and hundreds of sisters were expelled from their convents. From all parts of Brittany, in small groups, the dispossessed sisters arrived at the motherhouse in search of refuge. They had to be sheltered, fed and relocated at once.
The superior general immediately sent letters of request to the British, Belgian, Canadian and American bishops.
Bishop Emil Legal, who in June, 1902 succeeded Bishop Vital Grandin as Bishop of St. Albert, replied by asking for a few sisters to come to Canada. He welcomed 10 Daughters of Jesus in Calgary that October.
A month later, Quebec and the Maritimes also opened their doors to the exiled sisters.
"In Alberta they needed sisters to help out, to prepare meals for the bishops," noted Schlemmer. "We came here to cook for the bishops, but our mission expanded quickly.
"Two years after their arrival, the sisters had opened hospitals in Pincher Creek, Lac La Biche and Lewistown, Mont.
The Daughters of Jesus also administered and taught in schools, mainly in the countryside, including Morinville, where they opened a boarding school in 1904, Plamondon, Beaumont, Pickardville, Vimy and Pincher Creek.
In the early 1970s, after they sold their hospitals and retired from schools, the congregation became heavily immersed in parish ministry, although some sisters continued doing pastoral care in hospitals and teaching in rural schools.
"For the past 40 years we have worked with people in parishes to empower them so they can take charge," said Morin.
"We work with them - not for them - so that when we leave they are able to continue on."
A team of four sisters served in Leduc as pastoral assistants from 1981 to 1987 and every program they started, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults included, is still ongoing, Morin noted.
In Edmonton, the Daughters of Jesus served at Good Shepherd, St. Theresa, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Patrick and Assumption parishes.
Despite its decline in numbers - 40 sisters today compared to 100 three decades ago - the congregation continues to serve. It has a sister serving at Sacred Heart Parish in Edmonton's inner city and two sisters doing RCIA work and sacramental preparation at St. Patrick's Parish in Calgary. It also has a sister serving at Elizabeth Settlement.
The congregation also has members doing pastoral care at the Grey Nuns and Royal Alex hospitals in Edmonton and teaching the poor at the inner city's learning centre. Another, Sister Doreen Victoor, does retreat work at Providence Renewal Centre.
The 40 Daughters of Jesus currently serving in Alberta, including 35 in Edmonton, are part of a 2,000 army of sisters serving all over the world, including France, Ireland, Belgium, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, the West Indies and Jamaica.
Whatever country they serve, the Daughters of Jesus have one focus-to pursue their mission of proclaiming the Gospel values of love, simplicity, peace and justice, said Morin, the order's secretary.
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil paid homage to the congregation and thanked them for their service in the Edmonton Archdiocese at a May 31 Eucharistic celebration at the St. Joseph Seminary Chapel.