Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 29, 2007
Pioneer sisters made their mark in northern diocese
Srs. of St. Chretienne have served Aboriginal people for 50 years
By BERNADETTE GAUTREAU
Sisters John Marie Vianney and Marie Donat (with two Oblate brothers) travel up the Peace River in 1959 to give religious instruction to children at Garden River.
The residents of this community were at the mercy of the weather and the elements as to whether the plane could fly in or radio communication would be clear.
Founded in Metz, France in 1807, the Sisters of Saint Chretienne this year mark the 200th anniversary of the foundation of their pontifical order of teaching and nursing sisters.
They came to the United States in 1903 and later to Quebec. Originally known as the Sisters of the Holy Infancy of Jesus and Mary, the order was put under the patronage of "Nino" a third century woman apostle who converted the country of Iberia, now known as Georgia.
Because of her simple Gospel way of life, she was known by the people as "the Christian." Known as "illuminator" and "woman apostle" in the Eastern rite, Nino was canonized by Rome with the name the people had given her "the Christian" in French, "Saint Chretienne."
Since the first sisters' arrival in the Grouard-McLennan Archdiocese, 22 other Sisters of Saint Chretienne have come to serve in five reserves or communities - Fox Lake in 1957, Trout Lake in 1961, John D'Or Prairie in 1965, Garden River in 1970 and Fort Vermilion in 1974.
On Saturday, Feb. 3, the parishioners of St. Joseph's of John D'Or Prairie will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the sisters by hosting a traditional feast, round dance and "give away" ceremony.
Two sisters from the U.S. and two sisters from Quebec, all former missionaries to the Little Red River Cree Nation, will attend these festivities.
On Sunday, Feb. 11, our new Archbishop Gerard Pettipas will celebrate a solemn Mass of thanksgiving in the unique "teepee church" the people of John D'Or built in 1991.
Sisters (and boys from the day school) gather with the order's mother general who came to Fox Lake from France in 1964.
Father Vantroys, the missionary priest who graciously welcomed the sisters to Fox Lake in 1957, will accompany Pettipas in concelebrating the Mass.
At the present time, only two Sisters of Saint Chretienne remain in John D'Or Prairie - Sister Jeannette Berger, one of the three pioneers of 1957, and Sister Bernadette Gautreau who arrived in Fox Lake in 1962 and who started the school in John D'Or Prairie in 1965.
Both sisters have retired from teaching and are now full time pastoral workers in the absence of a priest in their community.
The pastoral ministry consists of preparing and leading the weekly Sunday celebrations, preparation for the sacraments, bringing Holy Communion to the sick and elderly, animation of wakes, Bible study and keeping their home open and accessible to the many people who visit.
One of their main concerns is to prepare and to involve the local native people in the various ministries of the Church.
The challenge of living and working in the North, plus the age factor has sometimes taken its toll on the health of the sisters, but it has never dampened the enthusiasm of those who heard and answered the call to come and serve.
As the years go by, the sisters see their ministry as one of "presence" to God's people. The people know that the sisters are there for them. They know that they will always be welcomed, no matter what time of the day or night. They know that they can confide themselves to these women who know them and who accept them as they are.
As the Sisters of Saint Chretienne celebrate their 200th anniversary of foundation, they thank the Lord for having allowed them to serve in the vast vineyard of our Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan. They pray the Lord of the harvest to send other labourers to the vineyard.
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