Sr. Fay Trombley preaches to the community at Our Lady of Grace Church in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. Photo by Michael Swan

Sister’s ‘retirement’ in Tuktoyaktuk earns Polar Medal

By  Andrew Ehrkamp, Canadian Catholic News
  • April 14, 2018

Many of us have visions of retiring to a warm spot and taking it easy, but not Sr. Fay Trombley. The 77-year-old former professor at Newman Theological College in Edmonton is spending her “retirement” in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., tirelessly working to ease the hunger, unemployment and spiritual needs of people in the Arctic. 

For that, she is among a select group of individuals honoured with this year’s Polar Medal for exceptional contributions to Canada’s North. She received the honour from Gov. Gen. Julie Payette at a ceremony in Victoria, B.C., on March 21.

With help of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Edmonton, Trombley helped start the North of 60 Project in Tuktoyaktuk, a hamlet of 900 people on the Arctic coast. “Tuk” also receives assistance from Food Banks Canada, the Canadian Bible Society and Catholic Missions In Canada.

“By reinvigorating the food and clothing distribution centre, she demonstrated remarkable determination and leadership,” states her award citation. “The success of this partnership has become a blueprint for multiple northern communities similarly struggling with food insecurity.”

Born in Powell River, B.C., Trombley entered the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception in 1956 and later taught school in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and B.C. She served on the faculty of Newman Theological College from 1983 until retiring in 2005 at age 65. 

“Our congregation always said: Retire at a point in your life when you can still prepare yourself for a second career,” Trombley said in explaining her move to the north. “So I figured when I’m 65, I can still prepare myself.

“I always wanted to do some missionary work. Basically I had a choice between Peru, where our Sisters were, or the Arctic. Bishop (Denis) Croteau at the time said that he really had needs. I said I’d like to be in one spot so I could get to know the people, and he said, ‘Good. I have nobody for Tuktoyaktuk.’ It was as simple as that.”

Since then, Trombley has been the pastoral leader at Our Lady of Grace mission in Tuktoyaktuk in the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith, which is twinned with the Edmonton archdiocese. 

“It’s home for me,” said Trombley of her northern base. “I love it. And I say, ‘God willing, I’ll die there.’ 

“When I absolutely first went to Tuktoyaktuk — you know the kids are always the first ones to come to you and talk — so they’d say, ‘Sister, how long are you going to be here?’ I don’t know where my answer came from, but I said ‘I’m here until my teeth fall out!’ I was telling the bishop at the time — I guess it was Bishop Croteau — and he said, ‘Sister, keep brushing!’”

(Grandin Media)

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