Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 13, 2004
Sisters of St. Joseph retire
Nuns leave Wainwright after 73 years
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
After 73 years of faithful service to the town of Wainwright and surrounding community, the Sisters of St. Joseph (of Peterborough) have closed their convent and retired.
Sisters Mary Ludwig, Marie Benoit and Stephanie Ruzicka were the three remaining nuns of the 63 sisters who served the parish since first arriving in September 1931 at the request of Father Hugo Doyle.
The three sisters discerned, prayed and discussed the decision before sending their request to the superior general in Peterborough.
"We aren't getting any younger and there are very few younger sisters. Our numbers are dwindling," said Ludwig, of the order that established a strong Catholic presence in the east-central Alberta community.
"And because of health and age reasons, we felt it was time to leave. I have been a sister for 56 years and 36 of those years were in Wainwright."
Only 15 Sisters of St. Joseph remain across Western Canada, several of whom attended a large celebration in Wainwright, July 4.
"I first arrived in 1955 and was there on four occasions," Ludwig said in an interview at her new residence in the Grey Nuns Community Centre in Edmonton. Benoit also lives at the centre.
A former Grade 1 teacher at Blessed Sacrament School in Wainwright, Ludwig worked on the archdiocesan catechetical team for 16 years. She also helped with the RCIA program.
A happy time
"Being a sister in Wainwright was a happy life," she said. "There were so many good things. It wasn't easy to leave because it was home for so many years. But we know there are committed lay people who will carry on any work we have done in the past."
Benoit agreed it was difficult to leave. The former Grade 7 teacher also helped with the CWL team and served many years as school librarian.
"A small community like Wainwright, you get very close to people," she said. "I was there on two occasions, for a total of 22 years. Being a sister hasn't always been easy, but it has been very rewarding. I have no regrets. I am very grateful for everything the people did for us through the years."
Ruzicka was well known for her hospice care in the hospital. Now in her 80s, she returned to Peterborough to retire.
Ludwig and Benoit, in their mid-70s, experienced difficult times in the rural community, but they agree perhaps the worst was when the school burned down three years ago, shortly after the terrorist attacks in the United States.
"I remember the younger kids thought the school was being bombed," Ludwig said.
"I was working in Lloydminster two days a week and I heard about the fire on the radio," Benoit said. "My first thought was that the children, and everyone, got out safely. There were about 600 people."
Everyone did, and the cause was deemed to be a spark that ignited the roof above the library during renovations.
The sisters said they were amazed by how the community rallied together to re-establish a Catholic school. Ludwig and Benoit entered the order in Peterborough in 1948, and quickly became friends.
Blessed Sacrament Parish pastor Father Josef Wroblewski said losing the sisters is a great loss. "Sister Mary was a great help with catechetics and Sister Stephanie was such a great help in our program to visit and offer services at the hospital," he said. "Some of the residents in the auxiliary hospital miss her very much. I know, myself, I will miss them greatly."
Shirley Witholt fondly remembers the sisters and the influence they had on her life. They inspired Witholt to enter education; she is now the religion teacher at Blessed Sacrament School.
"The sisters had a very positive impact upon my life," said Witholt. "Certainly they had an impact on my religious education because at the time, there were a number of them teaching at our school. I specifically remember Sister Mary and Sister Marie as being very gentle souls who reflected very much, everything that is good about our faith in terms of God's love for us."