Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
Sr. Helen Edward's: This sisters work is never done
Palliative care patients welcome Sr. Edward's compassionate touch
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
I'm a yoyo," laughs Sister Helen Edwards as she talks about her busy schedule. The amiable white-haired nun is a busy bee at 77. When she is not providing comfort to the sick and the dying at Capital Care Dickinsfield, she can be found at St. Dominic Savio Parish cleaning up the church or serving in a ministry.
"I am on the liturgy committee, I am on the CWL executive, I am a eucharistic minister, I am a reader and I clean up on Saturdays. I'm a yoyo," she laughs. "I am appreciated, though; it is rewarding."
Born one of 11 children in a Saskatchewan farming community, Edwards was 14 when she moved to Battleford to live with her uncle and attend a Catholic school. There she got involved in the local parish and soon began to feel that God was calling her to something special.
One day, as she entered the church, she heard a voice urging her to become a religious sister and to pray for her family. She resisted. She was only 14. "I just didn't want to be a nun," she recalls. "My life was just beginning."
However, Edwards' growing faith would determine her path. When she told her parents that she was thinking of entering a convent, her father was happy for her.
Her mother, however, wanted to see her married and surrounded by children.
At age 15, Edwards entered a convent-school in Vibank, Sask., where she spent time studying and discerning. She was still torn between the life her mother wanted for her and the life God was calling her to.
When she went home for Christmas her father called the local priest for his advice. The priest said, "Let her go if she wants to." So in January 1945 Edwards entered the congregation of the Ursulines of Chatham as a postulant.
"He was my lifesaver," Edwards said of the priest.
Six months later, Edwards donned the habit and white veil of a novice. She took her temporary vows two years later, wearing the black veil and habit of the order.
After taking her final vows in August 1949, Edwards finished high school and went to teachers' college. As she started her teaching career with a Grade 1 class back in Vibank, there was no doubt in her mind that God was calling her to be a sister.
Over the years Edwards taught in Saskatchewan and Ontario and came to Alberta in 1967. After an 18-month sabbatical in Spokane, Edwards returned to Edmonton where she organized and ran a daycare.
"I have no regrets about becoming a sister, but I have a big regret about having to close the convent. That was very traumatic," she lamented.
"It's very hard to go and live on your own. I'm in an apartment now."
The Bonnie Doon area convent closed in 1989 because it became too big for the 10 sisters who lived there at the time.
Edwards came to Capital Care Dickinsfield as a volunteer chaplain in 1991, after doing pastoral work in a few parishes, including St. Dominic Savio. "I wanted to be with the dying," she explained.
Care for God's people
"I had always wanted to be a nurse and take care of God's people."
Part of her job consists of providing tender care to long-term care residents, many of whom are in the last stages of their lives. She visits patients individually, spends time chatting with them, organizes religious services for residents and residents' families and makes sure dying patients receive their last rites.
She has a team of 25 volunteers who come every Friday to help take the residents to Mass or pray the rosary with them.
"This job could be a bit sad sometimes but it is rewarding," Edwards said. "I have seen a lot of people come back to the Church here."
Sandra Troughton, volunteer coordinator for pastoral care, thinks Dickinsfield is lucky to have Edwards as a chaplain. "She is very approachable, very compassionate and has that safe presence about her," she said. "People feel comfortable around her and she is very loyal and never misses a day."
Edwards said life as a nun has been great and vows to continue to serve while her health is still good. "I'm going to die with my boots on," she laughs.