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Good-humoured nun Sister Mary Alban Bouchard devoted her life to peace

Toronto Star, Sept. 16, 2013 — For Sister Mary Alban Bouchard, on a 1978 trip to New York for a UN special session on disarmament, it was meeting the Hibakusha — the survivors of the American atomic bombs dropped on Japan — that made her a fierce proponent for peace.
As she would recall in 2001, “I realized more and more the importance of what was happening with the arms race and the division of the world, and the great danger that was being created by the arms race. So, I got more and more involved in the peace movement.”
And so this petite member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto would lead peace education and non-violence workshops, join an anti-nuke walk from Toronto to Ottawa, organize rallies, fast for 30 days in Washington, D.C., and write numerous books and pamphlets on the subject, in both English and Kreyòl, the language of Haiti, where she spent most of the past 24 years.
“The whole thrust of her life was peace,” Sister Pat Dowling recalled Friday.
Just two weeks before she died, on Sept. 10 at age 81, Pax Christi Toronto (Catholics for Peace) presented Sister Mary Alban with its first ever Teacher of Peace Award. The ceremony took place at the new Sisters of St. Joseph residence, where Broadview Ave. curves into O’Connor Dr.
“She was a laughing concern,” said Sister Marie Bouchard, Sister Mary Alban’s older sister, also a member of the St. Joseph community. “She was happy all the time.”
Born to homesteading parents in Saskatchewan, the youngest of eight children, Sister Mary Alban is survived by brothers Ben and Francis and her many nieces and nephews.
It was in one of her family’s fields that she would, at the age of 6, decide to enter the sisterhood, and actually did so 10 years later, in 1948.
“She really had a high IQ,” her long-time friend, Sister Rita Marie McLean, remembered. “One of the sisters who taught us said she was one of the smartest students she had ever taught. She was multi-gifted. She wrote stories and poetry and music. She would perform. She could even paint.”
But it was her natural business acumen that would serve her best in Haiti, where, since 1989, she worked in both Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien helping women in poverty launch micro businesses. She began by supplying them with initial inventories of rice and beans to set up shop on tables in local markets, but then, thanks to a “parish twinning program” with U.S. churches, she branched out.
Sister Mary Alban’s Hospice St.-Joseph was linked with St. Bernard’s Church in Crawfordsville, Ind., which at her request began collecting, repairing, polishing and packaging donated costume jewelry and sending it to Haiti for “Sister Mary Alban’s women,” as they became known.
She also taught the women to write their names — and then, as soon as they could, get them to sign the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which, as she would teach, included them.
Nancy Coyle of Crawfordsville, who met Sister Mary Alban in Haiti, would marvel at her energy.
“We would call her the little dynamo,” she told the Star in a telephone interview. “She was very, very tiny, but she never walked, she always ran. She just got around to a lot of places.”
It was that peripatetic mission that probably saved her life in the apocalyptic 2010 earthquake, which flattened her convent room. She was at a conference a short distance away but, when the earth stopped shaking, found herself, at age 79, with nowhere to sleep but the trembling ground.
But on the day the Earth
beneath my feet
Failed me
Nor I nor anyone could save me,
Only God...
That day guaranteed
When my time comes
I shall recognize
The approach of death
When things fall apart.
Still, she would go back, creating new programs for peace and ways to improve the lives of the poor.
“She knew that Haiti’s poverty was extreme, but she had a lot of experience dealing with people,” said Sister Rita Marie McLean. “She wasn’t afraid of anybody.”
By Antonia Zerbisias
Reprinted with permission of the Toronto Star, Sept. 16, 2013.



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