Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 26, 2009
Grey Nuns mark 150 years of service in Alta.
Sister wants gov't to do as her order has done – care for the sick, elderry
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ALBERTA BEACH - The Grey Nuns have been providing health care and education to Albertans for 150 years.
In the face of great hardship but fortified by great faith, they built convents, schools and Alberta's first hospitals, serving as teachers and nurses.
Today the sisters are elderly and the order is a shadow of its glorious past. In this secular world, young women no longer rush to join the convent. The sisters no longer run institutions the way they once did, but their presence is still felt through their ministry among the sick and the needy.
But one local sister says while she is grateful for the order's past, she says if she were starting a new religious order today, she would "punch on the government" to do what St. Marguerite d'Youville did - meet the needs of the sick, the elderly and the unborn.
Sister Elisabeth Coulombe said, "We care about the life of the elderly, the unborn. There are so many needs right now and we don't even look at them. Sometimes it is very sad to see.
"How can we get organized and wake up our government?"
The Grey Nuns - the Sisters of Charity of Montreal - held three days of special events Oct. 15-17 to mark their 150 years of service in Alberta.
There was a Mass of thanksgiving at St. Joseph's Basilica, another Mass at St. Albert Church marking the Oct. 16 feast day of St. Marguerite, their foundress, and a Mass at the Lac Ste Anne Shrine to commemorate the 1859 arrival of the Grey Nuns.
In an interview, Coulombe said the three days of celebration were important to remember and honour St. Marguerite d'Youville and the first sisters who came out West to spread the good news of Jesus.
"There is so much we have to be grateful for. Most of the time we are not grateful for what we have, and what we have came from somebody else before us.
"That's why we have to talk about the past. We tend to say that we need to build anew, but the new is built out of the past."
Especially in Alberta, people tend to complain about what they don't have rather than being thankful for what they have, she said.
Those first sisters in the West had nothing when they arrived, save for the clothes on their backs, but they were grateful. That same spirit of thankfulness, generosity, and caring for the sick and elderly continues today.
While Premier Ed Stelmach bumped up his pay by 34 per cent last year, making him the highest paid premier in Canada, schools and hospitals face cutbacks, and some Albertans continue living in poverty.
As a rich province, Coulombe said the government ought to do more to help seniors.
"We have a minimum wage. Why can't we have a maximum wage for these government people? They have all of their expenses paid for. Then they cut our health care.
"We should have more religious orders start something because the elderly have no say.
"They are waiting in nursing homes and people at home are waiting for assisted living but there's no more spaces anywhere," she said.
IN THE BEGINNING
In another interview, Sister Eveline Gagnon said the Grey Nuns began their journey to the Northwest at the invitation of Oblate missionaries.
Three sisters were sent west from Quebec to Lac Ste Anne to meet the material and spiritual needs of the mission.
On Sept. 24, 1859, travelling by horse-drawn buggy, they arrived at Lac Ste Anne. They spent 52 days plodding across 1,400 km of rough prairie roads between St. Boniface, Man., and the Alberta mission.
"The Metis and Indians welcomed them with a dance," said Gagnon.
The sisters visited every family, learned Cree, treated the sick, taught children, and shared in the poverty and severity of the time.
After almost four years in Lac Ste Anne, Father Albert Lacombe found a more hospitable place for the sisters.
In 1863, the three Grey Nuns arrived in St. Albert, where the town soon became a beehive of activity as the sisters continued teaching and caring for the sick and elderly.
"Generous local young women came forward wanting to become Grey Nuns," said Gagnon.
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