Alberta government recognizes sisters’ contributions to province

By  Chris Miller, Canadian Catholic News
  • October 4, 2011

EDMONTON - Alberta’s Catholic sisters are being honoured for their pioneering contributions in education, health care and social welfare.

The Catholic Sisters Legacy Recognition Project honours the legacy of 74 founding congregations who have served in Alberta.

Women religious built hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, immigrant services and boarding schools for unwed mothers across the province as early as 1859.

“They taught school, fed the hungry, visited the distraught, housed orphans and tended the sick,” said Gordon Self, an executive sponsor of the Catholic Sisters Legacy Recognition Project.

“These were no small tasks when you consider how little they had and how primitive conditions were. It is from these humble beginnings we have been able to build Catholic schools, hospitals and social agencies that we are so proud of today.”

The sisters established 44 hospitals, 67 schools and 62 social services. Religious missions played a key role in the founding of 49 towns and cities in Alberta.

The highlight of the Sisters Project was the celebration Sept. 28, which began with the unveiling and dedication of a special tribute to the sisters at the Alberta Legislature grounds. The dedication ceremony was followed by Mass at Edmonton’s St. Joseph’s Basilica. Premier Ed Stelmach, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith and Bishop David Motiuk participated in the special ceremony and service to recognize how Albertans have benefited from the sisters’ care, compassion and resourcefulness for over 150 years.

Leading the sisters project is Fr. Thomas Stefanyk, Covenant Health’s director of mission services.

“The project basically pays tribute to the Catholic sisters and that pioneering spirit and leading attitude they had in the areas of education and social welfare,” said Stefanyk.

Herman Poulin, an artist from St. Paul, Alta., was commissioned to create a bronze sculpture to be on permanent display at the Legislature.

“The monument is called Service Through Christ. It’s an image of a generic nun with her full habit on,” said Stefanyk.

“Certainly not all sisters wear habits any more, and today there are very few of them who do, but we felt that looking at the history of the sisters, this was the most recognizable image of a sister we would find.”

The three-metre bronzed sculpture depicts a sister holding a huge piece of stained glass that symbolically depicts the breadth and depth of the sisters’ service to the province, Catholic traditions and values that guided their work. The stained glass creatively shows a stylized cross, chalice, host and a baby’s head in a cradle.

“We’ve been trying to figure out if there’s anywhere else in the world where there’s a combination of bronze and stained glass, and we haven’t been able to find any so far. This is a very unique statue,” said Stefanyk.

He described the image as “a sister moving through a cross that is falling backwards, basically her continuing service through Christ to carry on the legacy of the sisters.”

The statue will be Poulin’s second creation on display at the Legislature. He also created the francophone monument, L’empreinte francophone.

Poulin said working on the sisters project has been an honour, and is “full circle” for him.

“In my primary years of school, it was the sisters who helped me discover my talent as a young artist and made me realize to hold on to it. They called it a gift,” he said.

Sept. 28 was his turn to honour his mentors. Another highlight of the project is a video being created to commemorate the sisters’ work. It was to be shown Oct. 4 at Covenant Health’s annual community meeting.

(Western Catholic Reporter)

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