The Sisters of Holy Cross in Edmonton include Sr. Lucile Verreault, associate Madeline Landry, Srs. Lise Veillette, Suzanne Baron, Doris Giroux, Liliane Mercier (kneeling), Catherine Coté (seated) and Sylvia Landry (kneeling).

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

The Sisters of Holy Cross in Edmonton include Sr. Lucile Verreault, associate Madeline Landry, Srs. Lise Veillette, Suzanne Baron, Doris Giroux, Liliane Mercier (kneeling), Catherine Coté (seated) and Sylvia Landry (kneeling).

September 28, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The Sisters of Holy Cross laugh as they recall the time a young Sister Liliane Mercier was put in as goalie in a university soccer match, stopping the ball with her long habit.

The sisters, in their distinctive religious black dress, were part of the setting across the University of Alberta campus starting in the 1950s, often taking classes themselves, teaching, being a witness to male and female students, and providing a safe refuge for those girls on campus who lived in their residence house, St. Jude's.

While the habits were great for stopping balls, the sisters, during the time of the Second Vatican Council, decided the habit was a barrier to their relations with others.

In 1962, they started wearing lay clothes and also changed their religious names back to their baptized names.

"It's like a block of ice melted; I was human," said Mercier. "The kids were just flabbergasted; 'Oh my gosh, you have legs!' We felt closer to the students."

After all, they needed to relate with the people around them in order to accomplish their mission.

That mission was to educate others in the fullest sense of the word - to help them explore the meaning of life, to develop their talents and gifts, and to become involved in building a better world according to God's plan.

STILL RECOGNIZABLE

The sisters quickly found they did not need the habit for people to recognize them as sisters.

"They see it somewhere else - in your face, your attitude and the way you treat people," said Madeline Landry, an associate member of 37 years. "When you're called to witness, it's more than wearing a habit.

"We are carrying the best message in the world, that the God of Jesus Christ is a God of infinite kindness, infinite mercy and infinite love. What more can you ask for? I feel we're called to give that message to the world."

Known as the Soeurs de Sainte-Croix, the French congregation was founded as the Marianites of Holy Cross in 1841 by Father Basile Moreau. In the same period, Moreau established three congregations including priests, brothers and the sisters. They comprise a family of congregations known as the family of Holy Cross.

Their name comes from a geographical location, a section of the French city of Le Mans called Sainte-Croix.

The family of Holy Cross was approved by the Holy See on the condition they be established as three distinct congregations of priests, brothers and sisters. Their common mission, set out by Moreau, was to be educators in the faith.

Their services were especially needed following the French Revolution, which had largely stopped schooling in France, especially in rural areas.

Moreau believed the work of Holy Cross was also to be extended to the rest of the world, and soon sent priests, brothers and sisters to North Africa, the United States and Canada.

The sisters first arrived in Saint-Laurent, Que., in 1847.

GROUARD'S INVITATION

In 1920, Bishop Émile Grouard asked the sisters to come west, to establish a boarding school in Grouard-McLennan. The sisters went on to establish many boarding schools across Western Canada, teaching religious education, and also specializing in French, music and drama.

They describe their work during this time as spiritual, charitable and social teaching, especially as they replaced the parents for the young students at their boarding schools.

Today, there are about 450 Sisters of Holy Cross around the world, devoted to education in Canada, the United States, Haiti, Bangladesh, Mali, Peru, Chile and Burkina Faso.

The ministry of education has taken on different forms including faith education and pastoral ministry; teaching at all levels; formation of committed laity; promotion of human development; and action on behalf of social justice, with a solidarity with all people, especially the poor.

RESURRECTION THROUGH EDUCATION

Sister Sylvia Landry of Edmonton, describes their charism as "resurrection through education," not resurrection as Jesus Christ rose from the tomb, but as giving life through education by enabling others to become fully human, fully alive.

In places like Burkina Faso, this has taken the form of nutrition education because "if people don't eat, they can't learn," Landry said. In Peru, the sisters also run a house for abused women.

About 20 members of the congregation, all retired, now live in Edmonton.

CHANGED CALLING

Sister Lise Veillette said they are still committed to Moreau's dream "to build a better world," but their calling as religious has changed to a more reflective ministry, from the active works of their past.

"We cannot be on street corners or at schools anymore so our ministry right now is prayer and nurturing our relationship with God," she said. "If we change ourselves for the better, I think we change our world for the better."