Sr. Marlyn Matz, Pat Halpin, Yvonne McKinnon and Margaret Mary Benoit (seated), members of the Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus congregation in Edmonton.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Sr. Marlyn Matz, Pat Halpin, Yvonne McKinnon and Margaret Mary Benoit (seated), members of the Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus congregation in Edmonton.

June 29, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

One might wonder how the women of the Gospel, especially those who stood beneath the Cross of Jesus, might live out that devotion on earth today.

Those women at the foot of the cross are the inspiration that drew Madame Marie Madeleine d'Houët, a mother and wife, to establish the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus, founded on Holy Thursday 1820 in France.

For members of the congregation, inspired by their foundress and the Ignatian spirituality, spending their days ministering to people with developmental disabilities, mentoring at women's prisons, offering pastoral care at hospitals, and tutoring at group homes, is the same as standing beneath the Cross.

"The truth is, we all fell in love with Jesus and whatever we do we do because of that," said Sister Marilyn Matz, of Edmonton.

"I think too we try to see Jesus in other people since we believe that every person has been created in the image and likeness of God and so we try to see God, Jesus, in others," added Sister Margaret Mary Benoit, who made her first vows in 1950, drawn by the name of the congregation.

"I sometimes feel it should be the other way around, companions of faithful Jesus," Benoit said. "But we try to be faithful."

Sister Pat Desnoyes, executive director of L'Arche Edmonton, a faith-based organization for people with and without developmental disabilities started by Jean Vanier, had never been exposed to nuns growing up, short of The Sound of Music.

Desnoyes wanted to get married and have children when a religion teacher asked her if she had ever considered being a sister. She was in a dating relationship but the call to be a sister kept coming.

The only way for her to find out if it was her call was to go and meet sisters. So she knocked on doors to a number of different orders in Edmonton and the FCJs were one of them. She entered the congregation in 1982.

One of the things that attracted her to the FCJs was the Ignatian spirituality which seeks to find God in all things, she said.

"Being faithful companions of Jesus is therefore companioning with others, it's companioning with the environment. It's finding Jesus in all aspects of our world and so finding Jesus in everyday life," said Desnoyes, 53.

Sr. Pat Desnoyers, a Faithful Companion of Jesus, is director of the Edmonton Shalom l'Arche community.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Sr. Pat Desnoyers, a Faithful Companion of Jesus, is director of the Edmonton Shalom l'Arche community.

The FCJs marked 125 years of service and presence in Edmonton in 2013.

They first arrived in Canada at the invitation of Bishop Vital Grandin of St. Albert, who dispatched them to serve at a mission school in St. Laurent near Prince Albert, Sask., in 1883, and then to Calgary in 1885.

The sisters arrived in Edmonton in 1888, and about 140 sisters have lived and served in the city since.

The FCJs started the first Catholic school in Edmonton, and played a major role in having Catholic education in Alberta publically funded. They not only provided schooling up to the high school level, but also ran convent boarding schools that gave students from the country their only opportunity to continue their education.

Mother Margaret Mary High School in southwest Edmonton is named after the first principal of the school, who was an FCJ sister.

Early encounters with FCJ sisters in their schooling played a large role in most of the sisters' decisions to join the congregation.

"I appreciated the fact that the nuns were very good teachers," said Sister Pat Halpin, who grew up in Bow Island and attended boarding school with the FCJs in Calgary.

Two of Halpin's aunts were FCJ sisters. Halpin got used to the idea of seeing nuns while growing up and had great respect for them.

The FCJ's focus on education, originally the main ministry of the congregation, was driven by the foundress, who established schools for the rich and the poor. Marie Madeleine saw education as the best thing you can do for the Church, for people, and for God.

BROADER PASTURES

After Vatican II, the FCJs, who were for many years cloistered, broadened the concept of education to include pastoral work, retreats and missions.

Outside Edmonton, the congregation has members running a refugee centre in Toronto, a retreat centre in Calgary which served 20,000 people in the last year, and in nursing, chaplaincy and spiritual direction.

In Edmonton, the six members devote their time to tutoring with Catholic Social Services, mentoring at the women's prison, visiting hospitals, serving with the Catholic Women's League, and leading the L'Arche Edmonton community.

The order also has sisters in Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, across Europe, Britain, the United States and Argentina. The novitiate in London, England, currently has two novices preparing for first vows and the congregation also has young women pursuing vocations from countries such as Argentina, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

LAY COMPANIONS

In addition to international vocations, the sisters also believe that their work will continue through Companions in Mission, lay people who are inspired by foundress Marie Madeleine and the Ignatian spirituality. They try to live the spirituality in their families and workplaces.

According to the FCJ archives, foundress Marie Madeleine was happily married but widowed after just ten months. She gave birth to a son a month after her husband's death. This sad time led her to realize God was calling her to a different way of life.

The foundress is known as a companion, intercessor, and as a source of hope, because of her largeness of heart, the all-encompassing scope of her intercessory prayer and ongoing concern for the coming of the Kingdom.

The sisters are encouraged to live their FCJ vocation to the fullest. They strive to embody the charism of their foundress Marie Madeleine as one way of contributing to her cause for canonization.