Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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Sister Penny McDonald: 50 years in ministry

This year, Sister Penny McDonald is celebrating the golden anniversary of her entrance into the Congregation of the Sisters of St Joseph. She came to the novitiate from Edmonton where she was a cheerleader for the Edmonton Eskimos. She was also a recent graduate of St Joseph's High School in Rosetown, Saskatchewan.

After obtaining a B.A. degree, her main ministry until 1995 was in education, as a secondary school teacher and administrator at St Joseph's High School, Islington, St Joseph's Morrow Park, St Joseph's College School on Wellesley Street, and at Caritas High School in Edmonton, Alberta. Teaching English and Religion as well as Grade Nine Science, Sister Penny enjoyed the students, and appreciated the support and friendship of colleagues throughout her time of teaching.

Among her highlights was travel with students and fellow teachers to Egypt and Greece, for which she earnestly prepared and which she thoroughly enjoyed. She was awed at the realization of the depth of religious feeling among these ancient peoples and the brilliance of their monumental art. The Grade Nine Programme in Religion she remembers with enthusiasm, noting how the regular teacher meetings that she chaired were fun as well as an opportunity for the teachers to share their ideas and ground their theology in the present tense. Being with students and colleagues was rewarding. In each of these schools she saw herself as part of a great tradition, a special place where our Sisters had gone before.

While education was her main ministry, she was also involved in extracurricular activities with the students and within the congregation. She was a faithful volunteer for years with the programme providing night school accompaniment and transportation for physically handicapped adults attending evening classes at Central Tech High school. She was responsible for Emmaus House, at that time a residence building community with young laywomen, and she acted as Vocation Director for the congregation. Sister Penny realized her need to deepen her theological understanding for her work with students and in the field of vocational discernment and so she studied Theology and obtained a Master of Divinity degree at St Michael's Faculty of Theology.

In 1995, Sister Penny moved from teaching to volunteering at St Michael's Hospital in the HIV clinic, working with men and women who were HIV positive or had AIDS. Later, for seven plus years, she directed the Drop-in for women who were homeless or under housed. Working with other Sisters of St Joseph, Sisters from two other religious communities and several volunteers, the centre was able to provide a practical, accepting, nurturing place of safety and welcome which responded to the needs of women living in poverty in downtown Toronto. The most important service provided was a non-judgmental companionship, friendship and a caring and compassionate presence.

For the past four years, Sister Penny has worked at Providence Healthcare as a volunteer in the Adult Day Program. The joy and satisfaction of serving in one of the original ministries of the Sisters of St Joseph in Toronto, and of being part of a welcoming community of compassion, hope, and healing has been for her a source of joy. Her own contribution to the ministry at Providence Healthcare was recently recognized by the award for the core value of Sanctity of Life: that every life is a sacred gift and has meaning and value. In thanking Providence for the honour accorded, Sister Penny noted that she has learned from the club members the gift of the present moment with its simple joys. Among the staff she has witnessed the living of that core value in their relationship with each other as team and with the club members.

The thanks she expressed for the award somewhat summarizes her life, in Shakespeare's words, "I can no answer make, but thanks and thanks, ever thanks."

Written by Mechtilde O'Mara CSJ
Photo by Ms. Terry Mason


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