Stella George’s secret is to leave worries in God’s hands

By 
  • July 10, 2008

TORONTO  - She’s been to a thousand birth days as a former midwife in Nigeria.

Now living in Canada, Stella George’s friends and family have planned multiple parties to celebrate a milestone birthday of her own: George turned 100 earlier this month.

At two celebrations, there were relatives from overseas, a card from Queen Elizabeth II and birthday blessings from the Pope.

George’s close friend Teresa Alary calls her simply “amazing.”

George lives in her own apartment, shops for her own groceries and cooks for herself — sometimes the Guyanese food of her childhood — and even owns a computer.

Alary, 81, has known George for close to 20 years and often drives her home from church on weekdays. Alary said George’s devotion to daily Mass is formidable. When George’s ride didn’t show up one morning, George walked close to an hour to make it in time for the 8 a.m. Mass.

Despite her petite frame, they say George is a spiritual dynamo whose energy for life could easily surpass those who are decades younger than her.

Fr. Vito Marziliano, her former pastor, once joked that the only thing George wasn’t a part of at church was the Knights of Columbus.

“My friends used to tease me,” George said with a hint of a British accent. “I never had a big appetite, so they used to say my physical appetite is small but my spiritual appetite is big.”

In her usual spot for Monday night prayer group at Scarborough’s Epiphany of Our Lord Church, George sits beside one of her trademark hats and smiles warmly as she reminisces about her life.

From a “frightened student” to a chief nursing officer, George retired as Nigeria’s top administrator in the federal health ministry in 1965.

A Third Order Carmelite, and a Member and Officer of the Order of the British Empire,  George is humble about her accomplishments.

It was her only son, Albey, 73 and living in England, who brought up their meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace when George became a Member of the Order in 1949. She became an officer seven years later.

“I was amazed and I knew it was for my mom’s hard work and long service as a nurse and matron,” Albey said during a visit in Toronto.

In Nigeria, George worked for 20 years at the health ministry as administrator, head nurse and midwife. She opened maternity clinics as hospitals were overcrowded. To the expectant mothers, George was known as “mother.”

Born Stella Agnes Leopoldina Charles on July 5, 1908, George grew up in what was known as British Guyana. She is the only survivor of nine siblings and step-siblings.

As a 14-year-old Girl Guide visiting a nursing home, George said her interest in volunteer work and caring for sick people was born.

Years later, she met her husband, Joseph, after moving to England to study nursing. They married and relocated to Nigeria where their son was born.

George attributes her strong faith to her parents, who took the family to Sunday Mass and to the nuns at the convent school. It’s a devotion she continued in Canada when she came to join relatives and retire here in 1985.

Now, George starts her day with prayer after rising at 5:30 a.m. She attends daily Mass and is a member of three prayer groups and two Bible study groups at different parishes. On Fridays, she brings communion to a sick person living in her building.

She does all of these things, she said, because she loves “spending time with the Lord.”

One of George’s “adopted” children, Monique Mitchell, said George divulged her life-long secret: “It’s very clear,” Mitchell said. “Leave your worries to God.”

An avid world traveller, George has had a lifetime of memories, including sailing on the famed Queen Mary during its 1936 maiden voyage to New York, travels through Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Land, camping out at Downsview Park during Toronto’s World Youth Day and attending the recent Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City.

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