The Heil twins, Srs. Roselyn, left, and Carolyn. Carolyn marked her golden jubilee as a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration this year. Photo courtesy Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration

For 50 years, Sr. Heil has strived to be a Eucharistic presence

By  Sheila Nonato, Catholic Register Special
  • October 5, 2023

For 50 years of vowed religious life, Sr. Carolyn Heil, the sole Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) living in Canada, has been committed to radiate the love of Christ as an educator to Canadian and American youth and retreat participants in Ontario.

Heil, 73, celebrated her golden jubilee this summer at the order’s St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, Wisconsin, after the celebration was postponed for three years due to the pandemic.

“Our charism is that of presence, of Eucharistic presence,” said Heil.

“I make the commitment daily to be a Eucharistic presence to whom I’m serving and with whom I’m living. (From the beginning, we have been) radiating light, divine light, that gives joy and love to those around us.” 

Over the years, the FSPA sisters have served in schools, hospitals and on First Nations reserves.

“We’re that prayer powerhouse, that balance with service, both contemplative and apostolic,” she said.

Heil, born in the United States, comes from an extended family of women religious, including her twin sister, Roselyn. The sisters, who answered the call to religious life together, share a special bond that bridges the gap of physical distance that came after Carolyn moved. Heil said they stay connected by praying together every morning.

Of her twin, Roselyn said, “She has much wisdom because she reflects on her experience and integrates her experience with knowledge. I think that’s also a gift of being twins … We can struggle and wrestle with ideas.”

Heil is very good at finding the “gift in the experience,” Roselyn said.

“My vision of what my life is about,” Heil reflected, “is to be that Franciscan Eucharistic presence at all times.”

Heil is a teacher by training and completed a masters degree in the Culture and Creation-Centred Spirituality program at Holy Names University in California. In 1991, she was sent to Orangeville, Ont., to start her ministry at the Ecology Retreat Centre, where she joined two former classmates and began as a cook, gardener and housekeeper.

“We came with the intention of creation-centred spirituality, recognizing God is in all of creation, and that we are all sisters and brothers — which is very Franciscan — and to live the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words,” Heil said.

She also served as the sole elementary school teacher at Stoney Point Reserve School in Forest, Ont., for one year.

In Kilworthy, Ont., Heil helped found Camp Winston which welcomes youth with neurobiological disabilities.

Heil said the nature program is designed to nurture interactive social skills and build interrelationships between people and all of God’s creation.

At the nature school, about 150 children attend each summer where they interact with animals like rabbits, llamas and guinea pigs, and learn to develop a love, appreciation and respect for nature, she said. Her connection to nature comes naturally, having grown up on a farm.

On what she has learned over the past 50 years, she said the children have been wise teachers.

“I continue to learn patience and acceptance because you don’t know what’s going on with the child. You don’t know what they bring from home. I’m accepting them where they’re at and learn to be attentive,” she said.

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