Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 31, 2009
Sisters of Charity mark 100 years of service to Trochu
Eight brave religious created the foundation for schooling and health care for struggling settlers, plus an orphanage and granaries
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Joy-filled Sisters of Charity of Notre Dame d'Evron from Africa entertain the Trochu parishioners with their music ministry.
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Eight pioneering women, forced out of their native France, arrived in Trochu in August 1909. Their aim was to provide health care and education to the province's new settlers - a goal they have continued achieving for the past century.
"The sisters came here 100 years ago with a strong spirit, a strong missionary spirit, to serve children by teaching them and to serve the sick in the hospitals," said St. Paul Bishop Luc Bouchard, reflecting on the numerous travails the Sisters of Charity of Notre Dame d'Evron have endured in Western Canada since 1909.
The Sisters of Charity date back to 1682 and the order encompasses more than three centuries of struggle, violence and perseverance. They were dedicated to the service of the poor and ailing and contributed to the well-being of young women, yet at times were killed for their act of benevolence.
In 1902, a newly-elected government in France passed laws forbidding religious teaching. One by one, in the space of four years, the 318 houses of education run by the sisters were secularized. Without work, the sisters were forced to mission elsewhere, including Western Canada.
"Around the same time in the Trochu area, a group of military people had actually resigned from their military careers because they were obliged to go into the schools and convents and confiscate religious materials," said Sister Mary Ellen O'Neill.
The Sisters of Charity, outcasts in France, set up house in the Trochu coulee on what is now known as St. Ann's Ranch, donated to them by a local rancher.
"In Trochu there was no health facilities at all and very shortly after their arrival, they set up some temporary beds to look after people who had been injured. Within a year the sisters had built a hospital," said O'Neill.
Thanks to these nuns, granaries, an orphanage and a convent were soon opened. They taught catechism to children in the rural communities. They established St. Mary's Hospital in 1911, which remains in use today as an acute care facility and seniors lodge.
St. Mary's School, which later became Pontmain Roman Catholic School, opened in 1914 - the first of its kind in the town - and finally closed its doors this past spring.
Theirs has been a century of accomplishments, including the opening of hospitals in Vegreville, Bonnyville and Tisdale, Sask.
The sisters' service to the Lord and service of the poor and ailing is the very same attitude that is still needed today, said Bouchard.
"A sister will encounter the sick 10 times in a day and each encounter is an encounter with God," he said.
"When you visit prisoners in chains, you encounter God."
The Sisters of Charity took on many assignments, and remain active today in nursing, teaching, homecare, Bible camps, promoting adult literacy, working with the handicapped, pastoral care to prisoners, and directing retreats for school-aged youth.
"This all started with just eight women coming to the bald-headed prairie here in Trochu," said Maxine Haggarty, who helped organize the celebration of the congregation's 100th anniversary of ministry in Western Canada.
The first celebration was held in Trochu, where the sisters had an active presence until 1999 when, mostly due to declining numbers and changes at the hospital, they departed.
About 385 people attended the Aug. 14-16 celebration, including more than 50 sisters, friends and associates from France, England, Peru, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
"What we wanted to do was have a western theme showing gratitude and so we planned a wiener roast, which none of them knew what a wiener roast was. It was cold, rainy, and blustery. In a four-minute phone call we had the Trochu Baptist Fellowship Centre where we moved everything.
"We had boiled hot dogs and had entertainment from volunteers who play at the hospital and in the nursing home," Haggarty told the WCR.
"One lady was playing the accordion when everybody came in, as the bus arrived, and even before they came in the door, they were doing a little two-step.
"They were just such a warm, warm group of people. They thoroughly enjoyed the evening. They did a line dance, the bird dance, and they were doing a Conga line around the hall, and this was all just spontaneous."
On Sunday the sisters toured Trochu's arboretum, referred to by the late Lt. Gov. Lois Hole as Alberta's best-kept secret.
The Sisters of Charity moved their convent to Edmonton, where a second celebration was held Aug. 21 at St. Thomas d'Aquin Church.
"One hundred years - think of it," said Bonnyville/Cold Lake MLA Genia Leskiw at the Edmonton celebration. "It's proof that God wants this sisterhood to flourish."
Despite their storied history, the Sisters of Charity intend on continuing their great works for years to come.
"We are certainly an aging group in this part of the country, but we have great hope because of the young women in Africa who are entering the sisterhood. We recently opened a mission in Peru where we have two Canadian sisters," said O'Neill.
"We would like to say that we need their services here, but we also have to think of the Gospel's being spread throughout the world."
The general superior of the Sisters of Charity in France is Sister Cecile Goyer, born and raised in Arborfield, Sask. She is the first non-French citizen to hold this position.