Sr. Mary Jeanne Davidson, left, assists Fr. Cornelio Esguerra with a baptism in Cadotte Lake, Alta. Photo courtesy of Fr. Cornelio Esguerra

No day is typical in northern Alberta mission area

By  Anne Hanley, Catholic Register Special
  • April 20, 2012

PEACE RIVER, ALTA. - For Sr. Mary Jeanne Davidson, pastoral assistant at three First Nations missions in the northern Alberta archdiocese of Grouard-MacLennan, every day is an adventure.

“There is no typical day — except that I arrive in each community to spread the Good News of God’s love through my love for the people.”

For the past decade, Davidson, a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, has served more than 500 First Nations people in the Peace River area communities of Little Buffalo and Duncan First Nation, about five hours north of Edmonton. Her territory has recently grown to include Cadotte Lake, home to about 800 people. 

“I’m on the road a lot,” she says simply.

Davidson’s ministry is one of presence, of walking with the people she serves.

“As the day unfolds,” she explains, “I find myself offering hope to parents struggling with addictions, comforting the sick, providing blankets, sheets, food and clothing to needy families, preparing children for Baptism and opening up the Scriptures for children and their parents.”

While residents of Duncan First Nation and Cadotte Lake have adequate housing with running water, Little Buffalo residents are among the most impoverished in Alberta. There is no safe drinking water in the community nor indoor plumbing.

“Social challenges are everywhere,” said Davidson. “Poverty, widespread unemployment as well as suicide and alcohol-related deaths mark each community.”

Davidson works to build and sustain relationships with members of each community through family visits, phone calls, participating in wakes, funerals and Eucharist. She is also welcomed at community events such as healing days, addiction awareness workshops, traditional ceremonies, Round Dances and Tea Dances.

“I am called to comfort the sick, accompany the grieving and tenderly pray with families,” she said. “My deepest joy is in spreading the Good News of Christ’s love in the world.”

This past summer saw Davidson and youth leaders in Little Buffalo partner with youth and co-ordinators from St. Joseph’s parish in Grand Prairie, Alta. They worked together to repair a building for future use as a youth centre in Little Buffalo, as well as repair the boards on an outdoor rink.

“There is little provision for youth in Little Buffalo and so they wanted to provide a healthy environment where youth could gather,” said Davidson.

The building isn’t yet fully operational, but she is excited by its future opportunities.

“It’s well on the way. It’s all part of our hopes for this mission community.”

An example of Davidson’s pastoral work and ministry in the three mission communities occurred one Christmas a few years ago in Duncan, when, in the absence of a priest, Davidson prepared a Christmas prayer service.

(Hanley is publications and communications officer at Catholic Missions In Canada. This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Catholic Missions In Canada Magazine.)

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