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Sr. Emily Schietzsch gets a hug during her daily work as an education assistant at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School in Winnipeg. Photo supplied

Sister Servant fulfils her childhood dream

By  Kyle Greenham, Canadian Catholic News
  • October 6, 2019

EDMONTON -- It has been 20 years since the seeds of sisterhood were first planted in Emily Schietzsch.

Reading through a book on the lives of the saints, 12-year-old Emily discovered a world of courageous martyrs, rigorous ascetics, and the pious devotion of consecrated virgins. From that moment her faith was set afire; she desired a life of total devotion to God.

Now at 32, Schietzsch is the youngest Sister Servant of Mary Immaculate in all of Canada.

“It’s starting to sink in — I’ll be a Sister forever,” Schietzsch said just before professing her final vows on Aug. 10 at the parish of her childhood, St. Josaphat’s Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in downtown Edmonton. It’s also the parish where she was first introduced to the religious community she would one day join.

“I’ve lived this vocation for nine years, so in some ways I’m just continuing to develop a lifelong journey I’m already on. In another way, I’m finally saying ‘forever.’ I’m not saying, ‘God I will serve you today, I’m serving you for tomorrow, or for one more year.’ Now it’s ‘God, I’m yours completely and totally forever —  no matter what happens.’

“I know that it won’t always be easy, I know I will struggle at times, but I really do want to be God’s forever.”

The Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate (SSMI) are a Ukrainian order founded in 1882 and their presence in Edmonton dates to 1902. It was their charism of service — in parishes, nursing homes, hospitals, schools and social services — that particularly drew Schietzsch into their mission.

“When I started thinking more seriously about being a Sister, I started researching a bunch of communities, but none of them captured my heart quite in the way the Sisters Servants did,” she said. “There was something about being balanced between prayer and service that really captured me. The contemplative tradition didn’t quite speak to me as much; I wanted to be out and among the people serving and helping wherever the need was the greatest.”

In those early teen years, Schietzsch grew into a more personal relationship with God and her discovery of the lives of the saints brought her faith to a new level.

“As I got to know God, I wanted to do more for Him,” she said. “Reading the lives of these people who gave up everything for God, I really became enamoured by that.

By age 14, Schietzsch was already feeling certain that God was calling her to sisterhood. Even so, she decided to continue her discernment past high school graduation. She earned a degree in psychology at the University of Alberta and spent a year working with adults with special needs.

But the vision of a life in the blue habit of the Sisters Servants never left her mind, and in 2010, at age 23, she entered the SSMI formation house in Winnipeg for her postulancy and novitiate.

Her decision surprised many of her peers. Some friends were supportive, some were shocked and dismayed, and others were worried she was being naïve in taking such a step at a young age. But the support of her parents never waned.

“When I was a shy teenager, my mom would arrange for me to go talk to the Sisters at our parish and ask questions,” she said. “My dad would always emphasize ‘If you’re happy, I’m happy. I want what’s best for you.’ ”

With nine years devoted to sisterhood, it has been a long journey of discernment, prayer and toil. Along with her years of study, daily prayer and meditation, she has worked with the sisters across British Columbia and in Winnipeg and Toronto.

Schietzsch currently serves as an education assistant at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School in Winnipeg, the last school in Canada still run by the Sisters Servants.

Her advice to anyone trying to discern God’s will in their lives is not only to find time for silence and contemplation, but also to seek relationships with others that go beyond the artificial and often-isolating world of social media.

“There’s always that barrier in the online world. Now people spend more time with friends online than in person, and it can take away opportunity to really know people heart-to-heart,” said Schietzsch.

“That makes things difficult when it comes to experiencing God too. God cannot be understood through saying ‘Alexa, teach me about God.’ You need that heart-to-heart connection.”

(Grandin Media)

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