Sisters' lives express Jesus' compassion for the sick and poor

Members of the Daughters of Wisdom in Edmonton (clockwise from top left) Srs. Eleanora Baier, Harriet Hermary, Margaret Suntjens and Rosalie Gaukler.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Members of the Daughters of Wisdom in Edmonton (clockwise from top left) Srs. Eleanora Baier, Harriet Hermary, Margaret Suntjens and Rosalie Gaukler.

September 14, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

When Jesus Christ lived on earth, he showed compassion for the poor and searched for those rejected and marginalized in society and alienated by the Church.

The Congregation of Daughters of Wisdom, a religious order which has served in Western Canada for more than 100 years, lives out their spirituality by imitating the actions of Jesus, whom they see as Wisdom Incarnate.

Founder St. Louis de Montfort "fell in love" with the continual search for Divine Wisdom through the study of Scripture, said Sister Eleanora Baier.

"That is really our charism - the love of Incarnate Wisdom and our participation in wisdom's search for the

rejected of the world, the poor and those who were and are alienated from the Church," said Baier.

"Of course, in our continual search for wisdom, we talk about Jesus. When the eternal word came down from heaven, it was as the Son of Mary, the eternal word of God - Jesus."

The Daughters of Wisdom, Brothers of Saint Gabriel and the Company of Mary (also known as the Montfort Fathers), are three congregations who all practise and live the spirituality of Montfort.

The Daughters were founded in 1703 by Montfort, a missionary priest who served the poor, and Blessed Marie Louise Trichet in Poitiers, France.

They worked in a poorhouse, taking care of the sick, the mentally and physically disabled, and others who were rejected and abandoned in society.

Trichet, whose father was a notary, came from a middle class family but chose to dedicate her life to live among and teach the poor, said Baier.

A HAND UP

"That was both Montfort's dream and Marie Louise's wish - that they look after these people who were so rejected and had no chance of learning anything or becoming anything in society."

Their services were often given for free, so as to never neglect or refuse the poor. The congregation expanded across western France, providing education, treating the sick.

The Daughters of Wisdom arrived in Western Canada in 1908 at the request of the Tinchebray Fathers, a French order which had established parishes and schools in Alberta. They ran a boarding school in Red Deer and, in 1911, the sisters were called to Castor, where they founded a hospital and boarding school.

Sister Harriet Hermary of Edmonton got to know the Daughters of Wisdom when she was growing up on a farm next to St. Joseph's Convent in Red Deer. Hermary, whose family was poor, found the sisters "gracious" as they helped her family with clothing and educated her from Grade 1 on. She entered the congregation in 1950.

Over the years, the Daughters have followed in the footsteps of their founders, serving through education, health care, pastoral ministry and social work. Their focus was on helping vulnerable women and children.

Baier, one of four remaining daughters in Edmonton, spent much of her religious life serving immigrants with Catholic Social Services.

Sister Margaret Suntjens, 90, worked in northern Alberta at Whitefish Lake. For many years she embodied the charism of the original Daughters of Wisdom, teaching students with various mental disabilities in Red Deer and L'Arche in Edmonton.

"Margaret has the patience of Job," said Baier. "She sees Jesus in all of them."

At one time, there were 80 Daughters of Wisdom in Alberta. Today, only four remain, all retired and living at Providence Centre.

The Daughters have served in 23 countries, including the United States, Colombia, Indonesia, Madagascar and Haiti. The congregation had more than 5,000 members at its height in the 1950s.

Today, the Daughters of Wisdom number approximately 1,400 throughout the world, with 23 novices, plus a growing number of associates known as Friends of Wisdom.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

With women entering the novitiate in the Southern Hemisphere, the Daughters are hopeful about the future, said Baier.

"Our big wish is simply to spread the love of Eternal Wisdom," said Baier. "We rely on the providence of God for whatever will happen in the future - but we do remain hopeful.

"Our dream is that the needs of the world be looked after - especially those who are rejected and marginalized and alienated. I think God will provide."