Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 3, 2008
The sisters’ proud legacy
Red Deer celebrates 100 years of Catholic education
By RAMON GONZALEZ
Mother Marie Agathe, one of the original four Daughters of Wisdom to arrive in Red Deer.
At 8 o’clock in the evening on Oct. 8, the sisters arrived in Red Deer.
“As it was too late to make the rest of the trip to their new home on the North Hill, the sisters spent the night in the Arlington Hotel, one of the best hotels in Red Deer at that time,” Dawe wrote. “It was to be one of the last days of comfort for a long time to come.”
The next morning Father Henri Voisin and Camille Lerouge, 15, transported the sisters to the new St. Joseph Convent in a horse-drawn democrat.
Sister Rosalie wrote, “There is no road up to the convent: the country is too new. The ascent through brush and up the hill is so steep that the democrat we rode in seemed about to tip backwards”.
The convent was not yet finished, but the sisters quickly made it their home, recounted Dawe in his article. “They cleaned up the lime, plaster, sawdust and shavings. On Oct. 13, 1908, the first Mass was celebrated in the little convent chapel.”
Because the autumn season was well advanced, the sisters initially had a great deal of difficulty in attracting boarders. On Oct. 21, the first two pupils arrived.
Christine Moore, current chair of the Red Deer Catholic school board.
Gwendolyn Gover, an Anglican, became the first boarder and her $12 boarding fee was all the money the sisters had at that time. In November, two more boarders arrived and after Christmas, four children from a local Chinese family came to live at the convent.
In November an application was made to create a separate school district in North Red Deer. On Jan. 8, 1909, the North Red Deer Roman Catholic School District #17 was formally established. By February, 21 names were on the school register, with Sister Marie-Aimee as the first teacher.
Over the succeeding years, the school was expanded and the convent enlarged. The St. Joseph Convent School closed in 1960 and the boarding program ended in 1962. However, the convent continued to be a place of community service.
In 1978 a new convent replaced the old one. In 2005, with a number of sisters dying or moving to other locations, a decision was made to close and sell St. Joseph Convent. While an era had come to an end, the legacy of many decades of faithful service continued.
Today, Red Deer Catholic Regional Division has grown to more than 6,700 students in 17 schools, including a new school in Sylvan Lake and funding in hand for a K-to-9 school in Olds.
The division staff has grown to 598 from six in 1908. And while the finances were scarce in the beginning, today the school division has a budget of $61million a year.
St. Joseph Convent and the cottage hospital on Red Deer's North Hill are shown in this photo taken circa 1914.
“I say ‘Wow! What did our founders start?’” commented Sister Harriet Hermary, who studied at St. Joseph’s Convent and then taught at Sacred Heart School. “I’m very impressed. This school system has grown beyond expectations and I think has done an excellent job in forming Christians.”
Moore says the school board is “very proud of our reputation, our academic success and the really good citizens that we are producing in Catholic education.”
One of the main focuses of the Catholic system is to bring Christ to children, she said. “It is the focus of everything we do. We do it through social justice projects (and) through permeation of faith in everything we do.”
Moore said whomever graduates from Red Deer Catholic schools comes out with a good knowledge of the Catholic faith and “with a personal relationship with Jesus.”
“They learn how to be followers of Jesus and good citizens so that they can make a difference in the world. Our mission is to make this world a better place.”
Members of the Daughters of Wisdom were to hold an informal gathering with friends, family and the public on Nov. 1 at Sacred Heart Church to celebrate their centennial and their contributions to Catholic education in Red Deer.
Red Deer Catholic had its centennial celebration set for Nov. 2 with two special Masses followed by ceremonies at Notre Dame High School. Archbishop Richard Smith was to preside over the Masses.
(With files from Michael Dawe and the Red Deer Express.)
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