Nuit Blanche project highlights Sisters of St. Joseph’s

  • September 28, 2011

TORONTO - The Sisters of St. Joseph are lighting up Nuit Blanche. They are featured in Cloister, a multimedia art installation spotlighting the Sisters’ nearly 160 years of service in Toronto.

“We want to emphasize their amazing contributions to the city. They are amazing leaders and an inspiration to young girls,” said Judy Pregelj, teacher-librarian at St. Joseph’s College School.

“They have a long tradition of helping the poor,” she said, referring to the Sisters of St. Joseph’s outreach to the poor through numerous operations, including the Furniture Bank and Mustard Seed ministry.

From sunset on Oct. 1 to sunrise on Oct. 2, the exhibit will be projected on the school’s front gates for Nuit Blanche. The sixth annual event is a free, sunset-to-sunrise contemporary art event featuring hundreds of artists in more than 130 locations across the city, including churches, storefronts and parks.

Five St. Joseph College teachers, led by art teacher Paul Sabyan, and about 20 students are involved in the project.

The project features video footage of eight Sisters of St. Joseph which will play throughout the art installation. Text and archival images will accompany the video. Also, St. Joseph College music teacher David Jager produced an original song incorporating the Prayer of St. Joseph.

A candle will be lit for every year of the school’s 156 years in existence.

The title Cloister is meant to be ironic since the Sisters of St. Joseph did not lead a cloistered life but were an active part of the formation of Toronto. Since arriving in Canada almost two centuries ago, the sisters spearheaded projects that built several of Toronto’s longstanding institutions, including St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and Providence Healthcare. Several Catholic schools like St. Joseph’s Morrow Park and St. Joseph/Michael Power High School and more than 30 elementary schools were built through their efforts. And they taught in many of the schools.

For the exhibit, students participated in the project by videotaping interviews, helping to choose and organize slides. Their involvement was intended to “show that there is a seamless (thread) between what the sisters have started” and what continues on today, Pregejl said.

She added that the school serves a similar demographic to the students whom sisters served when the school first opened: inner city young girls from immigrant backgrounds.

Pregelj said the school wanted to open up the sisters’ story to the wider community beyond the school’s doors.

“There’s an assumption that everything in Toronto was built by men, by men in authority. But these women didn’t have a lot of money or power,” she explained.

It’s also part of educating Toronto residents about the order’s history. “It’s a history that many people don’t know. When I tell people (about the sisters’ work), they’re surprised. They think hospitals were built by the government,” Pregelj said.

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