The 2012 Jubilarians: Nurturing Community for 60 Years
Ellen Leonard CSJ
I am a teacher. My teaching has taken different forms but all of them have focused on nurturing community. I began my ministry as a Sister of St. Joseph with 51 Grade 1 students followed by eight more years in primary classrooms. At that time we prepared children in Grade 1 to receive the sacraments (First Eucharist and First Reconciliation).
Those years included working with parents and other teachers. I was principal for four years at Holy Spirit School in Agincourt followed by three years as a religious education resource teacher. These positions offered many opportunities to nurture community.
My experience of communities was shaped by Vatican II (1962-65). In 1969-70 I studied theology at Manhattan College in New York where I met women and men from different countries and religious congregations. When I returned to Toronto I moved to a small community of six Sisters. Our life in that community was about nurturing community. Three of us worked in religious education. Many evenings were spent at meetings of parents and priests as we attempted to pass on the teachings of Vatican II among the people of God. My work with elementary education led me to doctoral studies in theology. I realized the need for a better background in order to respond to teachers and parents as they struggled with changes in religious education.
Teaching theology has been my passion. Most of my teaching has been directed to persons preparing for ministry. When programmes are completed most of the male students are ordained. The female students have a more difficult journey as they struggle for acceptance in a patriarchal church. My experience with students has made me conscious of the gifts of women. My efforts to nurture community have been directed toward empowering women.
Betty Lou Knox CSJ
As I reflect on the variety of my ministries over the years, so many memorable comments surfaced. I will share a few:
My Grade Five students stunned me, requesting, "Can we invite our parents to tea and to listen to our presentations of 'Please Touch'?" They had struggled through the chaos of working in groups and proudly shared their slides, choral reading and nature displays. I recall the happiness of a shy girl who had learning disabilities as she took her place.
In Guatemala, one of the blind adults who celebrated a fiesta with us, remarked, "La musica es el alma de la vida!" (music is the soul of life).
"Betty Lou, are you O.K.?" whispered Pat who in his sensitivity had noticed my pain at a L'Arche, Winnipeg event.
"Why do staff love me so much?" questioned a woman in Palliative Care when I was at Providence Villa (now Providence Healthcare).
I founded Catholic Latin American Welcoming Service in Vancouver. During a critical moment in a refugee hearing, Rosa commented, "Sr. Betty Lou can explain Base Communities." My presence assisted in her receiving landed status.
"This place is GOLD!" said a participant at Creative Works Studio, an art program for adults with mental illness where I volunteered for thirteen years.
Since studying Creation Spirituality, I offer sessions on Hildegard of Bingen. "We love the earth together," wrote a participant.
Gwen Smith CSJ
Looking back, I can see I have been nurtured by community all my life and raised to nurture others. Mom looked after her immediate and extended family and friends. The mentally and physically challenged were part of our family life. The Depression and the war years pulled an exchange of neighborliness out of us.
Although I loved the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught me from grade one through university although I did NOT want to become a Sister. A friend's sudden impaired vision began my turn-around: her struggle opened my spiritual eyes to the possibility of a deeper relationship with God through religious life.
The community at St. Michael's College with Marshall McLuhan made me aware of the manipulation of words in ads (my chosen profession). Sister Blandina brought me cookies while I studied while Young Christian Students drew me to become a Sister. When I was missioned to teach high school, the students pulled out all my creativity.
An NFB screen education course led me to 17 years with the Youth Corps team. We led groups in parishes, prisons, and with the handicapped; sponsored events with people like Jean Vanier and Mother Theresa; ran Christian Family Peace Weekends and retreats. When sent to Prince Rupert, I was asking questions raised by the churches and D & P about the causes of social issues. CSJ Federation Sisters had created a workbook on our charism and justice. The community asked me to return to Toronto to be social justice coordinator: my community was becoming global!
Listening to the poor, refugees and the homeless in Parkdale and working in community gardens and kitchens nurtured me to literally and spiritually nourish others at Fontbonne Ministry's Mustard Seed. This nurturing obviously came from Christ who loved table fellowship so much that He told us to "do this" in memory of Him.
Irene Butler CSJ
Newfoundland was not even part of Canada when I entered the novitiate of the Sisters of St. Joseph as a landed immigrant. After my novitiate, my ministry in food supervision took me right across Canada: to Comox Hospital; then to a small community in windy Prince Rupert; returning east to a high school in Oshawa; then to larger institutions, Morrow Park and Providence Villa; followed by years as hostess at our summer residence in Orillia.
It didn't matter what city or what province I was in, it was just wonderful to be part of the lives of so many people and to share so many different experiences. At Providence Villa (now Providence Healthcare), as coordinator of volunteers both youth and adult, I was impressed with the spirit of generosity in people and their compassion for others. After Invermara, I moved to the college to work in a Drop-in on Bond Street in Toronto, for women living in hostels.There, we tried to give the women back their respect and to make a difference in their lives. Staying at our university residence for young women allowed me the opportunity to support and encourage young women. Interacting with them was great fun, while they inspired me with their youthful ambitions. Now at Morrow Park in pastoral ministry with our Sisters, I am happy in their service. It has been wonderful to walk together toward God with so many people.